Welcome Aboard: An essay about leaving the military and joining the transnational world.

Each and every person is different in their experiences and knowledge; however servicemembers’ and veterans alike share a common bond that most civilian will not understand.  Transiting from one life to another is difficult no matter the situation but when you have been taught to do as you’re told and not think, returning home is complicated.  Joining the corporate world as soon as possible may help to ease the transition but is it the best option? For some it may be, for myself it was an eye-opening experience for sure.

Joining the military is something that is often undertaken as a youth and, although most everyone talked to about it says to really think the decision through, we jump without true contemplation.  I can only talk to my experience and a little to those that I have talked with about this but having dealt with students and Truth in Recruiting most stories are quite similar.  Joining the military is an experience that many will agree changed them and the shared experience of Boot camp and reporting to the first command create a culture of close knit comradery that extends beyond time served.  No matter the experiences gained through service one thing is true about all who transition from servicemember to veteran; there are no training programs to teach how to be a civilian again.

As time counts down to the final days attached to the command feeling are aflutter thinking and planning ones return to the life they left before joining.  Returning gear and partying harder than ever before, then when that final day comes and the last signature is put on the service record, which is if you’re not Stop-lossed, you’re given copy 4 of the DD214 and told to have a good day.  The thought of freedom sets in and the idea that one no longer has to shave twice a day to simply stay in regulations dawns and life seems pretty good.

Returning home is a great pleasure and people around town will thank the veteran for their service, only not truly understanding what their job was or what they did in the name or patriotism but they thank them anyway.  If ones lucky then a job will fall into their lap which pays better than the military, hourly at least, and just like leaving your parents’ house for the first time, freedom sets in again and crazy nights follow.  Slowly learning that the people you are spending time with have little in common and can’t even understand that sticking together and taking care of one another is all you know at this point.

Speaking from my experience leaving the military and turning straight to the corporate world was easy, for a while.  Taking advantage of the “tools and skills” that I learned while in the service and how they looked on paper I found myself working for one of the largest service provider in the world of oil and gas.  I was like many still quite brainwashed into believing that the means were justified by the ends.  I felt right at home in the hierarchy and how the system worked listening and doing whatever my managers asked of me.  Striving to make a higher wage and reach the next milestone of status within the organization.

Working hard and showing that I was not just Joe Schmo but that the military taught me how to work and treat others I quickly found myself watching after the managers in all that they did.  Knowing the job of the person below and above you has always come easy but when the lines are pushed and one tells their manager that they can do their job and they are not needed it puts a damper on the moral.  Finding little things wrong with paperwork and having more experience than the manager are not bad things, but voicing them can be detrimental.

Open door policies and handling things at the lowest level are preached in the corporate world as well as on board ship but they are not followed.  There are no shared experiences, communication, and a lack of trust is felt in a workforce that has nothing to bind it together.  Many veterans hold with them a feeling of isolation due to their experiences as well as the token “thank you” received when they come home.  In the corporate world there is little difference, unless other veterans or active reserve members are also working there no amount of explaining can make civilians understand just what we were a part of.  Paying attention to detail will most likely be the trait that moves to the forefront which sets veterans aside in the corporate workplace.  Being able to understand and follow procedures and write them if they are not there proved to one of the few useful skills that transferred into the corporate world in my experience.  Those same traits were the reason why I am where I am today.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that no person should be subject to discrimination in hiring, promotion, or pay due to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  These laws have been in place for almost 50 years now.  One area that is not covered is discrimination due to military service.  Having the manager call you into a meeting with HR to tell you that “your military background is influencing your thinking and performance to much” is not touchable from a standpoint of the EEOC.  Although this treatment can be seen as discriminatory, abusive, unethical, or immoral there is no protection under the current law that protects the veteran in the workforce. When an action or comment like that is made to a someone who has relied on their training in situations that could never be understood by the person saying them it may tend to make the veteran question what they actually know.  Or think they know.

Questioning the impact of the military experience and how the current culture of America has shifted is a slow process and one that will take a veteran by surprise over and over again.  Finding a reason to break out of the comfortable and into something that is not so is hard but one thing that we share as a community is just what we miss in the civilian world; comradery.  Iraq Veterans Against the War is the community that I truly call home.  Production is seen through the work that we are currently undertaking and shows true resolve and the real character of each and every one of us; weather veteran, active duty, civilian, or supporter.

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Appeal for Redress

I was able to have a conversation with Jonathan Hutto this evening about the original Appeal for Redress.  I spent a good 30 minutes on the phone and was able to get a feel for some of what they did.  He is also sending a copy of his book and I hope to have it before convention.

In regards to confidentiality – They set the website up and used that as the main source of active duty members signing.  No one outside of the webmaster (who did the task pro bono) and congress men and women knew the names of those who had signed.  Jonathan knew only the numbers and had the numbers broken down into areas and bases as well as totals.

In regards to set goals of numbers – When they started they did not have a set goal for the number of signatures that they were looking for.  When they went public, to the best of his knowledge, they had around 600 signatures.  One point that he made very clear was that the numbers are not the most important part, but having the interest and support from active duty members shows that there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

When asked about pushback from active duty members or supporters Jonathan stated that in his experience there were no issues.  The PAO (Public Affairs Officer) of the ship did however sit him down and explain the Navy’s stance that as long as he was off duty, out of uniform, and not on base, he could say and do what he wanted.  This was in contrast with two other supporters; one faced minimal pushback from the command in an informal manner while the second faced formal reprisal.  Making the point that strong ties with the GI rights hotline is an important and needed step to have in place prior to going public.

The last question centered around how he felt they did at accomplishing their goal and if any changes could have been made what would they be.  in light of these questions Jonathan felt that the process as a whole went well and he was pleased with the results.  One thing that he would change was how they implemented the process.  Starting as a task force initiative they did not have the proper backing to create an institutionalized basis for continued work.  Set as a moving model there was no infrastructure in place for them to start setting up actual spaces for continued organizing.  Having a space that can be set up as a base for advocacy and continued training for active duty members and helping transition from active to veteran would have been a long range goal.  The focus was on enlisted members and they did not target officers at all.  From talking with Jonathan, this still seems to be the basis of how he would move forward but with an understanding that officers may also be included and targeted but in a lesser extent.

Solidarity with Afghanistan

In any given situation, if we chose to judge a group of people because they look differently than we do, then we are wrong; the culture is wrong.

I am a veteran of the Global War on Terror and served in support of both OIF and OEF, as such I have come to question the actions that the military has taken in nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq.  Having the opportunity to speak with people from Afghanistan and knowing Suraia personally, has allowed me to understand to a greater extent how my actions and the actions of the current UN forces are having in oppressing the people of these nations.  I am an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and I call into question the expansionist ideals and militarist mindsets that are driving the U.S., and consequently the UN, to oppress people of other nations while not focusing on the problems at home.  Peace starts at home in our local communities, not in a distant land forcing others to struggle to survive.  I stand in solidarity with Suraia Sahar, Laila Rashide, as well as Afghan Peace Volunteers.

Luke Daniel
U.S. Navy 2004-2008
OIF / OEF

A poem from APV to IVAW (11/4/12):

Sleepless nights
Wondering if tomorrow will be like today
Futureless,
driving a dirge without music

Lost
On an upside down weighing scale
As if the world were
somewhere else

Even promising young hearts
choose the one doomed road
out of the hundred other
more imaginative ways.

But warm hands from friends
offer a shift
out of stubborn uncertainty,
suggesting that not all men are corrupt.

The changes in your lives,
your decisions to leave the frenzy,
and to tell and to cry,
are revolutionary.

How can we not hope
that the human family will awake
because each of you
worked to preserve love.

This time, I decided to piece together the sentiments of the APVs in the verses below.
Thank you for gathering together in solidarity.

Love and thanks,
Hakim and the Afghan Peace Volunteers

Link to a fellow Afghanistan veterans Statement: Afghan Women

The original story that brought this to light: Remembrance Day protest an insult to Canada’s war dead

The follow-up statement by Suraia and Laila.

UniversiTea with the Humanists Doing Good in Colorado

I had the chance to speak at one of the local humanists events a few months ago.  Below are the topics covered and just a few of the highlights from the conversations that followed.

Military

  • Working with military and veterans
    • There is a difference between military and civilians when it comes to a work environment.
    • Military, from my observations, have a different way and different culture that is ok when it comes to working with others.  Military will expect those around them to know the job they are assigned to do and how to do that job.  We are also trained to understand that we may have to do the job of those above or below us.  Understanding and being able to do the job above yours is what got me into trouble in my current employment.
    • Busy work is despised when it comes to simply filling time.  spending hours cleaning, stripping paint, painting, preparing for war, and so on has build a distaste for needless tasks like re-mopping an area that was just mopped.  In these cases we will tend to work much slower and use that power to show a kind of disrespect toward whomever tasks us with that task.
    • It was brought up that most of what we talked about could be compared to shared experience.  Not only a shared experience type of setting but also the upbringing of each other.  One member stated that his upbringing has played into his discipline in taking care of others.
    • Talking about transiting from one chapter to another, substance abuse is the topic, there has to be some sort of training that will indoctrinate the person as to how to act around others and not become selfish.
  • Differences between civilian and military
    • There are certain things that military have gone through that act as a kind of glue.  When you talk to a vet or active duty member, you know that they have spent time being beaten down and then built back up on the same basic principles.  every member of the armed forces goes through boot camp and that is one thing that most civilians will never understand.
    • For that reason, most military can fight with one another and the next day carry on like there was never an issue.
    • There is an unspoken understanding between veterans and military personnel that should something happen then they will not be left behind or forgotten about.  This will play heavily when talking about a large workload or partying.
    • We talked about one experience that a fellow veteran had where a friend was left at the airport and he had to drive to get him.  He was later accused of drug use because of the drive and lack of sleep that hindered his next day’s performance.
  • Differences between moral or ethical standards
    • What is moral in the civilian world is very different when in a closed system such as the military.  There are many different actions that can and will be taken in the military that would be looked at as unethical or immoral in a civilian stance.
      • Wire brush experience
    • Shared a story about one of my shipmates that chose to never shower or wash his clothing.  The process that we used to change this behavior was to throw him into the shower and attack him what wire brushes.
      • This behavior was allowed and even endorsed by the chain of command.  Dealing with things at the lowest level meant that we were to deal with the issue ourselves and correct that deficiency using any means necessary.
    • The use of ostracism was one of the main tools that we used to correct issues that we were unable to solve otherwise.  One of the most utilized and overlooked of all tools that we were trained in.
    • The cycle perpetuates itself.  crossing the equator or passing through the arctic circle are huge hazing accomplishments.

Transition: Civ to Sol, Sol to Civ

    • The transition going from a civilian to a soldier is one that each member will go through.  Boot camp is something that each of us completes before being called a soldier.
    • Boot camp = breakdown of the civilian and then the rebuilding of the soldier
    • No transition from active to civilian.  When you get out you sign the DD214 and then walk out with just what you are wearing.  All gear is returned and that is the close of that chapter.  There is no training, military feels that it is a waste of time as they do not receive any benefit from the time spent.
  • Organizations for veterans
    • There are many different organizations for veterans.  There are two major problems with the way that they are set up.  Much money is spent on advertising leaving a lack of funding for the actual program.  Or on the flip side, there is no money spent on advertising and an excess of funding at the end of the year.
    • VETS CAFE
    • IVAW
    • Wounded Warriors
    • America’s Wounded
    • Welcome Home Montrose
    • VA Rehab center
    • VA hospital
    • Veterans Court (in the works for mesa county)
    • Voc rehab through VA
  • Reasons for ways of thinking
    • Everything we have already talked about
    • The culture is aggressive and the members are trained to think and act in a certin way that will allow others to learn the ways either by choice or through actions taken against them.
    • Trained to not show weakness.
    • Hazing
    • Physical abuse
    • Mental abuse
    • Ostracism
  • Post 9/11 compared to pre 9/11 veterans
    • PTSD
    • No Gulf War Syndrome
    • TBI
    • Civilian murders
    • First war fought in the streets (urban)
    • MTS

Environmental

  • Community gardening
    • Guy works over 12 plots in Denver (land that is not his but gained the approval to use), he is able to produce enough food for 33 employees and still sell $400 a week at the stand.
  • Guerrilla gardening
    • Using others land to grow food
    • Repurpose land usage to grow food
    • Grow food not lawns
  • Burn scars and the effect they are now having on the communities near Colorado Springs
    • Landowners near Co Springs are needing help with the burn scars.  The city is not willing to help the landowners pay to have mulch laid on the property.  They are laying mulch on the forest.  1600 an acre.  The burn scars have allowed the rain water to create mud flows that have washed out many of the private roads in the area.

I would like to hear the opinions of those in the group about the local police force as well as if anyone feels the nation is heading toward a society that is accustomed to dealing with violence in the community and if that is justification to allow officers to act with current levels of force.

Afghanistan Veterans Against the War retreat

Today is the second day of the AVAW retreat. Made it to Denver last night and am excited to meet some new people and make our way through planning the new direction that the organization is heading. Follow the blog and I will be updating it soon.

Update:

The retreat went great, and we were able to come together and hash out a vast majority of the goals of the newly formed AVAW group.   Walking away from Saturday we had the main goals set forth to draft a name change statement to be given to the board of directors at the national convention in Baltimore later next month. Veterans who served in Afghanistan on the ground as well as support came from each side of the country to meet, most for the first time, each other and a member of Afghans for Peace based out Canada.

Sunday we met at the organizers house to share breakfast and a Skype call to Afghanistan to speak with the Afghanistan Peace Volunteers.  After the call we closed the weekend by spending a few hours sharing our stories and listening to each other in the safe space that we had created.  Sharing stories of the carnage seen overseas at the hands of Americans as well as reflection that this day was the 11th anniversary of the first bombs dropped on Afghanistan.  After lunch and some time around the fire we decided it was time to head back to the real world and try to continue the healing we had started over the weekend.  We packed up and started our 4 hour drive home.

All in all we were able to accomplish a great feet and meet some new friends all the while helping each other to realize that we are not alone.

The Sunnyside Music Festival

The Sunnyside Music Festival is a gathering held each year of locals within the community near midtown Denver which is staffed entirely by volunteers.  As the summer starts coming to a close, these neighbours make one last stand to solidify the community they have spent so many years building.  Each home in the area is asked to judge bands throughout the summer’s Battle of the Bands, the final 11 are given a chance to strut their stuff either on the main stage or in the biergarten.

From the back of the park you can almost see everyone who came out for the excitement of the event!

This years festival was the greatest one to date, even after 10 years at least that is what we were told.  The first headcount that we were able to get was in line with 14,000.  There were not only people from the around the park itself but families brought friends, and friends brought even more friends.  Minimum advertising like signage posted in about a mile radius and a Facebook page allowed for the community to build this event to whatever size they chose.

As for how the festival was set up, there was a great deal of time spent on planning as to ensure this would be a community based event.  Everything from the beer served, local micro brew, to an activity intensive kids area were all put into place.  Breckenridge Brewing Co. was brought in and even sponsored the event.  There were other alcohol vendors and even included a tent selling Moscow Mules, with the copper cup to boot.  The section that was designated as the biergarten merged with the kid area to create a seamless transition for the adults that would prefer to have a cocktail while they watched their children bounce on the portable trampoline.  If there was a need to place your younger children in a safe zone while you went and danced to the traditional african music band then there was an area for that as well.  Staffed by volunteers, children too young to be left alone for short periods of time were given an exciting tour through the play area, run through an obstacle course on large tricycles, or spend hour after hour in the bump and jump.

Local venders were also asked if they would like to be part of the festival and there was a wide range of different items to be received.  A local yogurt shop was on hand selling frozen yogurt and even had the fluffy mascot out hugging kids and handing out vouchers for a free cup.  Even in the 80 degree weather many from the community stopped in to talk with the store owner and try his new flavors.  There were also local schools on hand with booths set up raising awareness for the different programs that were on the list to be cut due to funding lapses and fine arts cuts to the budget.

Artists were on showcase as there were three different tents dedicated to painting and even a set of doors that were acquired from a recent remodel of one of the houses, these doors were set up and paint was given to all those who felt a need to express their creative sides.  As we watched the doors changed from a drab brown or cream color to a masterpiece of collective art as more than 200 little hands worked to remove the old and create something amazing.  not just the fine arts were on display either, there were multiple tents set up that showed the awesome ingenuity of artisans and the multifaceted talents that can come from a human hand.  Hand woven baskets, a local author of children’s books, and two different tents dedicated to airbrush tattoos and face painting.

We watched as the doors changed and evolved.

One thing that communities around Colorado pride themselves on is the fact that Colorado is one of the most progressive states when it comes to being green.  All around the grounds there were different trash bins staged.  Not your normal trash bins, but at each station there were three different bags.  A recycle bag for hard plastics, a compost bag for items that were not able to be recycled.  And the dreaded trash bag.  Just having the different bins was not enough, at each station there was a rotating crew that helped educate everyone that some of the items we normally throw away can actually be composted or recycled.  Breckenridge Brewing Co. was very proud that the cups they were serving were made not from plastic that had to be recycled but rather a corn based product that was placed in the composting bins.  After word got around that the cups didn’t need to be trashed but were actually aiding in lessening the impact of the event even the adults showed enthusiasm and starting moving trash themselves and talking with those around them who were making the same mistakes they had made earlier in the day.  One observation that stuck with me the most was when the owner of the yogurt company saw that his cup was hanging above the trash bin.  Once he noticed that his trash was setting the example of how not to be he made a pledge that next year his trash would not be trash.  He would be setting the example of zero waste for the event.

I guess it is time to give a little background as to how I was invited to attend this event.  We, my wife and I, are not from around the area but we were invited to help work the security for the event through Iraq Veterans Against the War.  At one of the planning meetings for the festival the revelation came to light that no one had worked out who would be working security.  Because this event was based solely on the community the planning committee was hesitant to pay for a police presents.  Amanda, roommate to the Colorado organizer for IVAW, asked if veterans would be able to cover that area.  The committee was ecstatic with this idea and expected to have at least 6 people brought in by IVAW.  We showed up with 17 total and even helped out in the other areas such as Greening.  

Through figuring out the plan after arriving in town, we had a few major roles at the festival.  IVAW was charged with keeping the peace and making sure that the majority of people were able to maintain and stay safe throughout the event.  Helping to reunite lost mothers with their children was the heaviest of roles and one that all should take seriously.  At the security table, we also maintained the lost and found of items like phones, wallets, and purses.  Over the course of the 9 hours we were able to gather 5 children and reunite them with their lost parents.  No other issues arose during the event.

Although we were helping out with the festival, we as an organization were also able to help spread the word about issues faced by post 9/11 veterans.  We were attempting to raise funds for the upcoming Afghanistan retreat, and in support of Operation Recovery we helped to spread our stories and learn more about the community we were there to support.  We were even able to get one of our newest member and her husband, victims of the Aurora shooting,  out to support the festival.

So all in all the Sunnyside Music Festival was a huge hit and created a fun and safe place for the community to settle their wild oats so to say as the summer was closing.  Everything from the way that the community came together to enhance the lives of each other to the meticulous attention paid to how the waste of the event was handled was planned out ahead of time.  Great care was taken to ensure that the gathering would go over without any problems and set the stage as an example of how we can gather, communicate, and regulate each other with outside influences.

A great ending to the night. Thanks everyone who was involved and made the festival the greatest one yet.

For my Brother

My brother and I have not seen eye to eye on many different occasions.  There are two that stand out as the main issues of our time.  There is much that we have each gone through that make us different from each other but as brothers we still share some of the same ideals.  That being said I will only go into one of the issues today.

As I have grown and gained much more experience in the past few years I have also gained the ability to see both sides of the story before making the decision on what I feel will lead to the better outcome in any given situation.  I am human and in being such I am at fault in my own ways but we seem to have butted heads on the issue of police more often than not.  As I was reading through some articles today another one popped up that sparked this.  The Sun Sentinel out of Ft. Lauderdale covered a story of a man who received 30K when a video contradicted the police report from the night he was arrested.  This is not the first story of its kind and it is not the last, but it should be.

This video and the comments that I shared as a reaction to this video are what caused the breakdown of our relationship.  I shared that there is an abuse of power and that I wish only once that the police officer that committed these acts would be met with the same amount of violence that they showed.  In response to this comment I got, “it saddens my heart to see you share something like this.”

A little background about myself and my brother, I am a veteran of the war on terror.  My ship flew more sorties before getting to the gulf than any other carrier had in the history of the U.S. Navy.  My brother is a police officer for a large metro area and has been on the force for ~10 years.

The next story that I will highlight is the recent shooting in NYC.  This shooting occurred killing two people and injuring nine others.  The suspect killed an ex-coworker and then fled the scene, two police officers followed and then when the suspect turned to engage police, they fired.  16 rounds were fired at the suspect, killing him and wounding nine bystanders.  This was in no case a mass shooting like we just had in Colorado but a lack of accountability on the officers for not doing the job, we as citizens, pay them for.  And in light of what seem to be daily shooting in America, how are we to expect that these officers will be held accountable for their actions?  we can not.  This fact that we will most likely see these officers get away with this is the one thing that makes me the saddest.  Having the knowledge that my children will grow up in a world that allows people to kill and wound others then walk away simply because they get to carry a gun and badge makes me angry.

This brave new world that we are creating where my children will fear police because of the actions they take rather than look toward them as someone who can help makes me depressed.  Being given the excuse that “I and the others I work with only want to help people protect their property” is one that I am unable accept.  The system is broken and it is admitted to being broken by those the statement was made about.  Working for the system thinking that there is a chance to change things from the inside is absurd.  When the brass from the department gets arrested this should show that there is no chance of change.  When a veteran State Patrol officer uses the excuse “I was not properly trained on Colorado search and seizure laws” and gets acquitted for murder, the system is broken.

There are now organizations that do nothing but try to keep police honest, as if they should need to be watched over like they were a for profit company.  Cop Block is one of the most active and has gained evidence against most major departments.  These organizations are now working on the front lines and gaining respect throughout the community with their tactics of documentation.  Everything from video recording a normal traffic stop to a journalist going undercover recording police and the violence shown through schools.

Now onto the assaults that are occurring against the mass’s.  There have been times throughout our history that civil unrests have been dealt with by means of brutal police actions and the protests that are occurring today are no different.  Just as the water cannons were used back in the 60’s the current police force is using means that are extreme at the least.  From a simple sit-in where the police force use riot cans to pepper spray kids or the most recent abuse of force in Anaheim CA police shootings.  Why do these people, the police, feel that following the orders of their supervisors is justification enough to break the codes that they have sworn to protect.  The military had problems similar to these awhile back and congress found that if an order is unlawful that it is the responsibility of the person receiving the order not to follow said order.  They stated that in the case where a soldier followed an unlawful order they were then required to accept the responsibility and the consequences of that action taken.  I fail to see the difference between military not following an unlawful order and a militaristic police force not following an unlawful order.  There is a lack of accountability on both sides the higher up the chain of command you go.

Re-learning how to survive in a civilian population is not something that is easy to do when coming out the military, there some things that veterans and active duty service members take for granted and one of those is the camaraderie that is felt between your self and the brothers and sisters that you served with.  The same can be said for a police force would be my guess.  I can no speak on this as it is out of my experience.  However, the ability to turn and not see what your brother is doing is an easy thing to do when everyone is close and shares the same experiences.  Taking a step back and spending some time reflecting on the choices that you have made and the actions taken in the name of others has done me well and may do the same for others.

For my brother whom I love, I hope this finds you well and you can gain an understanding of what and or why our issues are no larger than we make them.  In the words of a wise man, “be the change you wish to see in the world.”