A Veterans Day reflection from the desk of Nick Belinski
My grandfather, like many Americans, served in the military. Although he only served for two years during the Korean War, his service to his country has remained a part of his identity for his entire life. His license plates have always been labeled “Veteran,” he gets all his medical care from the VA, he wears his Notre Dame ballcap above the crown of his head like an Army patrol cover, and he still shines his Sunday church shoes like there’s a drill sergeant watching. Up at 5:00am daily with a routine PT regimen, even now at age 86, sixty-five years removed from Active Duty, he still carries with him the discipline of a soldier.
Also, if you’re like I was in high school, your Grandpa who served in the military fifty or sixty years ago might be one of the only people you know who is a Veteran. Out of 330 million Americans there are currently about 19 million Veterans and just under 2 million men and women actively serving (less than one percent of the population). Before I joined the Air Force, I could count on one hand the number of people I knew who had served in the military and did not know anyone serving on Active Duty. However, despite this, I joined the ranks of those who serve as I attended Basic Training and swore the United States Air Force Academy Cadet Oath of allegiance on a hot summer’s day in 2012.
I remember the words spoken by our Commandant of Cadets as my fellow cadets and I raised our right hands beneath a billowing American Flag. The Commandant explained that America is asking us to work harder than we ever have before, for rewards that may never be seen by our own eyes. He imparted to us that with this oath, we write a blank check to the American people for a value up to and including our lives. “Some of you in this crowd” he said, “may pay that price.”
A civilian spectator looking on that day may have said it was the uniforms and crew cut hair that unites us, but in fact what unites veterans is a commitment to the nation, and to each other.
I remember in my first weeks of Basic Training the chaos of learning about this whole world I had never been exposed to seemed overwhelming. Memorizing ranks, uniforms, and countless acronyms and adapting to the new lifestyle I signed up for felt impossible. But in surprisingly quick order, I found my identity shift to embrace this new structure and with that shift, I gained a confidence and deeper sense of purpose.
Veterans share a common language, a common history and a shared backstory. Not all of us hold the same beliefs, in fact they vary as wildly as the rest of the nation’s, but our common experience as veterans ties those beliefs together in a unique way. When you put on the uniform and serve, whether it’s for 36 months, or 36 years, you build an unbreakable bond that provides a shared perspective with some of the most incredible, competent, and resilient men and women in our nation. Without even a word, something as simple as a bumper sticker, a hat, or an energetic “huu-rah” can build trust and immediately establish common ground between any person who has served, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or political party.
Three years ago, I sat down on a first date with a woman who I had met online merely a few hours earlier. She said she had reservations about meeting a stranger alone in person so quickly without hardly knowing who I was; however, she shared with me that our shared background of service provided an inherent trust that brought us together that fateful night. We had a common history, a common language, and it immediately ignited a deep relationship with instant trust. Next summer, after 6 moves across 3 continents, that woman and I will be getting married.
As we celebrate Veterans Day, I wonder what it would be like if we all shared the same kind of commitment to a common bond? In the Air Force we refer to all who have served as The Long Blue Line. Maybe it would help heal the nation if we could rediscover our own “long line” — with all its diversity and painful truths — and at the same time rediscover trust, perseverance and commitment to the nation and each other?
Beautifully said Nick! I’m so happy for you to have reached your goals, and I thank you for both your service and your articulation of this focus. May we all begin to rebuild the trust and unity that truly makes America the best nation on earth.
Very impressive – and inspiring – story, Nick. With gratefulness for you and all in the military for your deep commitment to, and care for, your fellow Americans. Sadly, we do not honor your courage and sacrifice nearly enough. Stay safe.
So beautifully written, Nick. Everything you say resonates deeply with me (albeit mention of your granddad’s continuing propensity to spit shine his shoes may reawaken nightmares of boot camp!) I am a Vietnam War era veteran (Army). I consider that service a gift to me, as among other things it has given me profound appreciation of the sacrifices young men and women like you are willing to make. Even while they are fully free not to. So today is to me THE most meaningful day of every year. Thank you for this exemplary note, and thank you for your service. (And huge congrats on your upcoming marriage!!)
Hello, Nick, and Happy Veterans Day. I’m a veteran and have lived here for several decades, but we’ve never met. When we do, we will undoubtedly have that bond you speak of so inspiringly. This morning I described it to my friends in a vet chat group we have like this: there are a lot of things to dislike about the military, like being one of the worst polluters on the planet, or being so slow to compensate vets for some of the toxic things it exposed them to, but it is the ONE place where I truly experienced that in spite of differences in beliefs or race or religion or whatever, we found that we had relationships with people – lots of people – who truly would risk their lives for us. This is an incomparable experience, and one we never forget. We simply can’t help but honor THAT kind of service.
THANK YOU, and C O N G R A T U L A T I O N S!!
Thank you Nick for sharing this story on Veterans Day. Thank you for your service and the beautiful story of your grandfather.
Thank you and your fiancé for your Service. It is a beautiful love story. Thank you also for the beautiful story about what it means to be a veteran.
You make us all so proud!
Thanks Nick. As someone from the” long grey line” I embrace your message and stand beside you as a fellow veteran. Together we served, although many years apart, expecting nothing in return and only doing our duty. Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials. I hope we catch up the next time your back in Roaring Fork Valley.
Your message is an inspiration Nick. I pray for the unity and common purpose that you speak of. Thank you for your service and congratulations for your happy news!
As one who as served the military for 20 years I am very proud for you and our service to our nation. You are correct that too many people do not understand what military sacrifices we are tasked to perform. This is a great day to remember those that have served our country and hope others love our nation as much as we do.
Thank you Nick for your service and inspiring story. Thank you to all those who serve and who have served.
Thankyou Nick, for fighting for America!
We are proud of you and depending on you.(: