By John Paul Stangle
I grew up in a military family and neighborhood. Both my parents were Army-Air Force and then Air Force officers. Most of our neighbors were military families. The neighbor kids were military kids. We were all normal in each other’s eyes. But is it normal for a mother to say, “When I say, ‘march’, you march!” or, “When I say ‘jump’, you jump”? For us kids, that was normal. So was the statement, “If you get a spanking at school, you’ll get two when you get home.” Kids were not asked; they were commanded. We were, in fact, a mini-reflection of boot camp.
For me, actual Navy boot camp wasn’t too different from normal home life. It was just an intensified few months of being controlled and hassled. It was my initiation into eventually becoming a Vietnam-era hospital corpsman who worked as an EMT and in nursing, emergency rooms, and medical laboratories. But keep in mind – home boot camp may not be the experience of all the kids on the block. To some, entering into the military can be a shock and even an unbearable experience.
All veterans have gone through boot camp of one sort or another. It serves as a sort of trial, a trying out, a test of receiving discipline. Discipline, it turns out, is what defines a veteran. Veterans learn to take orders and to follow them and give them. Things are done a certain way, and this certain way is not an option. Veterans may not all like the discipline, but they have all experienced it, lived it, and perhaps hated it.
Whoever needs to deal with veterans can be greatly aided by knowing about military discipline. Most veterans tend to follow orders, be polite, and respect authority. A smaller group rebel and despise orders, are brash and crude, and dismiss or reject authority. However, in either case, all veterans know what discipline means, as they have all experienced it in the military. A helper or provider who has not been in the military may be somewhat discounted and minimized; the converse is true if one has been in the military. This is just something to keep in mind. One could argue that the kind of discipline I’m talking about is not limited to just veterans – many have experienced it in home settings, athletic and school musical programs, job situations, etc. But vets remember being under 24-hour discipline, and for this they claim a certain uniqueness of experience.
Veterans have many resources available that are not accessible to others. However, many vets do not, cannot, or just won’t access that help. This includes housing, job opportunities, education, and medical care including nursing homes and counseling. The main port for access to help a vet is the Department of Veterans Affairs, whose website provides 24/7 crisis lines. Also, all states have their own departments of veterans affairs that can be accessed for consultation and advice. Besides these, many veterans groups are available, such as the congressionally chartered American Legion and AMVETS organizations. Both groups help vets access help. And of course all other social service and help programs available to citizens – and non-citizens – are available to veterans.
John Stangle, BCC, is a chaplain advanced (mental health) emeritus in Angel Fire, NM.