Monday, May 14, 2012

A rant on the substitution of "veteran" for expertise

"I would love to give my medals directly to a NATO official," said Broseus, 28. "I don't feel like I earned them in a just manner. I felt I was more of an occupier In Iraq than anything else, and I want them to know how that feels."
So was Iraq veteran Greg Broseus quoted by Dawn Turner Trice in the Chicago Tribune. Yes, you read that correctly. An Iraq veteran who is opposed to military interventions wishes to protest against the war in Afghanistan by returning his medals earned in Iraq to a NATO official.

This post is not about returning medals as a form of anti-war protest or protesters, veterans even, against the war. I may not chose the same courses of action, but have at it. As a veteran, I served ostensibly to defend the rights of our citizens to generally do as they please. This post is about veterans and the media.

Broseus, the focal point of the Trice's column, was a HMMWV gunner in 2005 from the Ohio National Guard. I think it's safe to assume that Broseus was a Specialist or Sergeant in such a position, give or take a rank. It's not that I expect every Spec-4 in the Army to know the theater campaign plan and all of the key players of that plan, but how does a soldier not know who he works for? How does he not know that NATO was entirely uninvolved with warfighting in Iraq?* These are things you might want to double-check before doing an interview on your protest.

Mr. Broseus, you can't return medals to someone who didn't give them to you in the first place. I get that you're upset at being activated (let's not touch the subject of duty today...) and that you oppose war.  But for heaven's sake, make your protest meaningful. Because most vets who read that piece are going to think you're an idiot for "returning" your medals to NATO when it was the U.S. Army that awarded them to you in the first place and that NATO was never in a position to award you medals for Iraq. If you want to return them in protest, do it smartly or the quality of your protest is cheapened. Because as things stand right now, I thank you for your service but I don't think you have the knowledge base to comment on national security policy in a way that should be influential based on your status as a veteran.

I understand this is a lengthy rant on a minor incident, but it was a minor incident that was indicative of something that's been bothering me for a while.  I am tired of veterans using their veteran status to give validity to their pet causes when this status does not in actuality provide that validity. This is true for both anti- and pro-war types or any number of other issues surround the military. Your opinions are your opinions and they may be shaped by your experience as a veteran. How could serving not shape your opinions on the world?

But we have to understand that there is no uniform veteran experience or thought process. A former HMMWV gunner has every right to comment on whether we go to or remain at war.  However, unless s/he adequately frames his pro/anti-war argument in a way that shows how his HMMWV gunning enlightened his thinking, then I put his opinion in the same category as the general public's and measure it by the quality of the reasoning. This problem is not limited to lower-enlisted veterans and is in fact more egregiously perpetrated by former officers. Generals who specialize in logistics have lots of standing to opine on logistics. But I really don't want to hear you talk about strategy or operations. Stay in your lane. Wearing a uniform once does not give you the standing to talk about all topics military. Nor does your rank.

The vast preponderance of the blame for this sorry column rests with the columnist. I think Mr. Broseus feels very strongly about his opinion that seems to have been significantly shaped by his experience as a HMMWV gunner. I hope that his protest helps him deal with his experiences. But Trice should know better than to flaunt Broseus' veteran-ness as a reason to give his anti-war stance and ability to classify the war in Afghanistan as "occupation" any validity because he is a veteran. Shame on you and your newspaper for not at least commenting on it.

The bottom line to this is that our news sources should be more responsible in how they use and sell veteran commentary to ensure that when adding the gravitas of "veteran" to said commentary it is appropriately used. I don't have much faith of this occurring. So maybe the answer is that veterans should only comment on things as veterans if their military experience gave them special and expert opinion on the topic. Of course, that's not going to happen either, is it? It's up to you, readers, to understand the font of expertise and the quality of argument and reasoning. Good luck.

*Yes, I am aware that NATO has been funding and manning slots at the Iraq military school at Camp Rustamiyah. But that's not warfighting.


  1. In fighting for our fellow citizens' right to do what they want...being stupid and uninformed and an attention whore are among those rights. God bless America.

  2. Not to mention that he's projecting his narrow experience onto A) all of Iraq, B) all of Afghanistan, and C) the entire world. That's just bad anthropology!

  3. Well, it's not like the Trib is, you know, a real newspaper. That paper is as dead as Mike Royko, what we have now is the press release service of Sam Zell

  4. Americans give too much prestige to a military service background (especially "veteran" or "SF") anyway.

    Evidence #1: Fake claims about the same are practically no problem elsewhere, and I'm not aware of anything such as a "Stolen Valor Act" anywhere else.

  5. MK

    Is projecting anthropological or psychoanalytic?


    Royko was God. God is dead.


  6. returning vets face tough questions our free TALK WITH THE LORD program inspires daily talks catch they need your help with first question our blog helps g hubbard po box 2232 ponte vedra fl 32004

  7. Actually, the Iraq veterans who returned medals were fully aware that NATO is part of the Afghanistan war. The majority returned their Global War on Terror service medals, the greater conflict within which the Iraq war was fought, which NATO is part of. Further, every veteran on that stage had their service verified with DD214s. No one there could be accused of "Stolen Valor." I have a lot of respect for what these veterans did, and how much effort they put into the event. They served, and for many of us who suffered moral injury or offense because of our experiences in combat during the GWOT, when we realized that we were not liberating anyone, or creating the space for healthy democracy, or rebuilding... renouncing the wars, the justifications... apologizing... sharing experiences with the community... these are all part of the way these veterans reintegrate and heal. Especially, since they did so with tens of thousands of people there in support. It was powerful as well that their ceremony included a portion where the Afghanistan veterans and Afghan women spoke about building peace together, and when the Iraq veterans offered a flag, respect, and a voice to the mother of a soldier who committed suicide after two deployments to Iraq. I can't say a thing against them and what they did.

    1. Please read my post again Anon. I have no issue with returning medals and everything else that happened. The issue was the return to the wrong people. Your logic on the relationship between GWOT and NATO is inaccurate and i suggest you do some reading up on that. The fact that OEF is part of GWOT and NATO operation does not make NATO an appropriate recipient for returned medals earned in Iraq. Period. These are facts.

      I would have said nothing if they had had returned them to a US official instead - that would have been appropriate.