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?