Recent landmark legislations and proposed policy directives such a President Barack Obama’s “jobs initiatives for veterans” and the yearly overhauls to the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, have certainly gone a long way in helping our millions of returning war veterans. No doubt, though, in the current political climate of debt crisis talks and reduced national credit scores, a certain segment of the population will bemoan all the attention on veterans.
The sacrifices service members make are often not considered or are misunderstood in this debate. And an entire segment of the military, reservists, are typically offered lesser benefits, despite comparable service to their active duty counterparts.
When I tell people of the educational benefits I’m receiving from serving as a reservist during wartime, I almost always get the same response: “Gee, that must be nice.”
I kindly remind them of donning a gas mask and hiding underground from Saddam Hussein’s surface-to-surface missiles in Kuwait in 2003, or about dodging mortars and snipers in Fallujah a year later on my second tour, or racing through IEDs on the Syrian border of Iraq, and that tends to silence them or change their minds.
But, in a larger way, whether the overall benefit is fair or not is not the point. Imagine, as a civilian, you took a full-time job that promised you two weeks of vacation a year, and then despite your diligent work ethic or your numerous instances of recognition and personal awards, they reduced those 14 days by 70%.
Everyone who joins the military is promised money for college as a condition of their honorable service. It is a benefit – again, whether fair or not – that we as a nation have decided is necessary to entice an all-volunteer force.
It is what was promised, and promises are supposed to be upheld. And our leaders have made the new promise as a result of these new wars, these unconventional wars that have dragged on for almost a decade and caused reservists to deploy at unprecedented rates, that “no soldier should be left behind.”
But this isn’t the case as a far as many reservists go. Let me take you to a conversation I overheard in my current higher education classroom.
Air Force veteran to another student: “I was supposed to deploy once, but I got pregnant and didn’t have to go."
Student: “Oh, that probably would’ve been very scary.”
Air Force Veteran: “Yeah, but I didn’t have to go any other time because of that, and now I’m here getting my education for free.”
I didn’t say anything; just shook my head. Here is this other veteran bragging about how she didn’t have to deploy, but at all state institutions of higher learning she gets 100% tuition and fees covered under the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill – and I only get 70%, no matter if I’m attending just a community college.
Overseas, as a reservist, I was attached to the 3rd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment, which is recognized as one of the roughest and most elite units in the Marine Corps. My civil affairs team even acted as a security detachment for their battalion commander. Seventy percent college tuition is what I get for my Combat Action Ribbon and Certificate of Commendation from that time.
And if you were to suppose that my experiences as a reservist weren’t typical of our “weekend warriors,” you would be wrong. Many reservists fulfill critical jobs – civil affairs, military police, infantry forces – that are often almost continuously deployed and put in just as much harm as the full-time warriors, with whom, they work alongside. At times during these wars, reservists have made up almost 50% of the entire forces deployed into a combat zone.
Why wouldn’t we give these combat veterans (that’s the key distinction I’m making here – “Combat”) the same benefit we’ve given the active forces? Historically, it’s been quantifiable that for every $1 the U.S. invests in educating veterans, $7 are returned to the national economy.
No doubt, the times are lean, the wars are unpopular, and the average American is rubbing their foreheads raw with anxiety and worry for the future. But we owe our vets, including all reservists who’ve seen combat, regardless. It is the commitment we’ve made to them. It’s the promise we’ve made to them.
Photo Credit: Dario DiBattista