You’ve probably been hearing it not just daily, but in a dozen different places across the internet: taking a knee during the national anthem is disrespectful to those who sacrificed in the service of this country.
I’ve heard it so many times in the last week, from the President to random people with flags as a profile picture, that I’m exhausted by it.
What has been even more difficult when listening to this “you’re disrespecting our vets” argument, is watching people like myself be put at the center of it– often by people who are not one of us. These self-professed “great Americans” claim to be the ones who honor me, and that others are diminishing my service.
Well, I’m tired of random people on the internet speaking for me. I have a voice, and I am capable of using it.
I am a retired active duty member of the United States Armed Forces. I also have a 90% disability rating with the Veterans Administration for service-connected disabilities.
I gave this nation a significant chunk of my life– and gave it parts of me that I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be able to get back when it was over.
You see, when you talk about this specific group of people who sacrificed for the nation, I intimately know who you’re talking about– because I see it every time I look in the mirror.
I know what it’s like to experience every right of passage that military members experience, from that initial moment all your hair is cut off, to the first time you feel the recoil of an M-16. I know all the tricks to getting a boot to hold its shine, how to properly starch a uniform, which MRE people are most likely to fight over, and I can decode acronyms and phrases that might as well be an ancient language to civilians.
Oh, and I totally know what Birth Control Glasses are.
More than just those typical rights of passage, I know what some other military experiences are like, too.
I know what seven consecutive years overseas feels like, and how you can almost forget what it’s like to be in the nation you’re actually serving.
I know how painful it is to realize it’s been nearly three years since you’ve been able to go home because your duty station is in such a remote part of the world, that it is financially cost prohibitive to go back and visit.
I know what the lock-down on September 11th felt like in Korea, what it’s like to pick up the phone and hear “Threatcon Delta! This is NOT an exercise”, and what it’s like to deploy last minute to a hostile fire zone– prohibited from telling anyone where you’re going or when you’ll be back. I also know that instead of some huge fanfare when you return from down range, sometimes you don’t even have anyone to pick you up at the airport.
And when you’re done? Well, I know that dealing with the VA is the most devaluing and insulting experience I have ever faced as a veteran. I know how they will drag their feet as long as possible on disability claims, how they’ll send you letters for 3-5 years saying they’re “still reviewing your medical records,” and how the entire process feels like a game where they are constantly trying to find any angle to blame medical conditions on something before the military– as if rigorous medical screening weren’t part of the process to get into the military in the first place.
So you know what? I can speak for myself on this whole “taking a knee disrespects our vets,” because I’ve earned my right to speak.
Here is what I’d like to tell all of you who make this argument on “my behalf.”
On the day I entered the military, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. I didn’t take that oath lightly– it meant something to me.
While our constitution covers a lot of ground, what stood out in my mind all those years were the basic freedoms granted by the first amendment: the freedom of religion, freedom of speech/expression, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and the right to petition the government.
The chunk of my life I gave? All those things that I lost and can never get back? Well, I did that to support these core ideals that Americans have long cherished.
And what I need those of you who claim taking a knee disrespects my sacrifice to hear, is this:
Instead of disrespected, I feel my sacrifice deeply honored every single time I see a football player take a knee– because that represents the freedom of speech and expression that I gave so much of myself to uphold.
In fact, nothing honors my sacrifice more than the public exercise of these core freedoms.
What I’d also like you to know is that it is actually your position that disrespects what I have given for this nation.
When you vilify and harass someone for the peaceful exercise of their rights, and when you participate in a public campaign to harm or end their careers simply because they are using the very rights veterans like myself have sacrificed for, you disrespect me.
You insult me. You dishonor me.
You exploit me for your own cause.
In fact, there is nothing more opposed to the values I fought for than to use threats and coercion to force someone to express something they don’t wish to express.
You say you are offended when these players take a knee, and that they are disrespecting my sacrifice to the nation.
But the reality?
There is no position that disrespects me, or dishonors my sacrifice, more than yours does.