“A Veteran is a Veteran is a Veteran”
The statement above is one commonly heard, but what does it truly mean? Perhaps more importantly, why does it mean that?
The answer to what it means is simple, but worthy of examination. The meaning is direct: All Veterans; regardless of where they served, should be treated with the same respect, dignity and honour. There is no inherent difference between an Infantryman deployed to the Forward Edge of the Battle Area and a Supply Technician safely at home when it comes to being a Veteran. Both served. More importantly, in our modern era, both volunteered to serve. They wrote the exact same “Blank cheque payable in blood” that people talk about. It is that act, that willingness to sacrifice in Service to Country that makes one a Veteran. It is easy for people to look at the two career paths and proclaim that one is more worthy than another, that one deserves more accolades than the other. There is nothing wrong with this idea, except when we forget to honour those who served, when we push the qualification of “Veteran” to include only those whose service included combat. The accolades afforded a Veteran of combat must be above the baseline, above the basic dignity, honour and respect we afford all who served. To do less is to dishonour some simply because their “Blank cheque payable in blood” was less-likely to be cashed.
Why all Veterans are “Veterans” is more complex. To those who have never served, the military life is somewhat incomprehensible. The analogues available to the civilian mind are imprecise. A military base is imagined as little more than a neighbourhood where people share related jobs. Misunderstood is the camaraderie, the interconnections between personnel. Members of the Service are parts of a family, Service provides commonality of purpose, shared goals and a shared focus. On that base there are also interconnections between those at the “pointy end” and those in support roles. Common purpose binds even these individuals together. They may not serve the same way, but the serve the same goal.
The camaraderie extends outward even past the immediate base. All members of a Service share a bond, they share a single common goal and methodology of reaching that goal. They have been steeped in a shared mythos, a shared history. Military personnel will also have undergone training together, or perhaps have shared postings in the past. The net stretches even further, personnel will have shared common acquaintances, perhaps trainers at a course they both attended or people they both served alongside. This serves to bind a whole Service together.
Going further afield, we see respect a sense of common purpose even between Services. Army and Air Force may have internal disagreements, but push one in the presence of the other and you will likely draw the ire of both. Nor does the effect stop even at national boundaries. Service members who serve in allied forces share their own common goals, their own common focus. It isn’t unusual to see the Service member of one country come to the aid of those of an ally. It is, to put it simply, what we do. Any attack on our fellow Service members, those of our sister Services, or our allies is an attack on us all.
This bond, the camaraderie that cuts to the heart of why all Veterans are “Veterans”. When one falls, it is felt across the entire family. We’ve served alongside one another, trained together, shared common purpose and placed Nation above self. We feel the loss because, in many cases, we actually know the fallen. In far more cases we know someone who served with the fallen. As little as two or three connections may be all that is required to bind the newest recruit to it’s most senior officer. It is, by any measure, the extended family that so many proclaim.
It is that sense of connection that makes all Veterans equal at a most basic level. The”Blank cheque payable in blood” is deposited into a joint account. When payment is demanded from one, the loss is felt by all. Every Veteran, whether forward deployed or rear area, peacetime or wartime, carries with them ghosts. Those they touched, or were touched by, who fell. Every Veteran has paid a price, suffered a loss.
Every Veteran is a “Veteran” because they all carry with them a one or more ghosts. It is the sacrifices of all, living and dead that we honour.