By Chad Storlie
“Your generation does not have the motivation to be great soldiers.”
“Today’s soldiers will never have the warfighting focus to win on the battlefield.”
These two quotes were actually from that late 1980s when I was just learning how to achieve the semblance of a soldier and be a leader in the U.S. Army. The words were spoken by an Army Ranger noncommissioned officer who had participated in Desert One and by a Army Ranger who served two tours in Vietnam. Yet, these same words could have been spoken by my generation about today’s most recent military veterans and soldiers. Unfortunately, misunderstanding and ready access to a keyboard has made today’s veterans too often foes and not friends of today’s active-duty soldiers and recent veterans.
The central issue is that unfair judgment by yesterday’s veterans about today’s soldiers only leads to bitterness, contempt, a failure to teach and learn, and a lack of leadership by example. The older generation of military veterans have an obligation to support, to teach, to learn and to appreciate the active military force. Finally, when soldiers leave active duty, we have the obligation and the duty to show and to coach recent military veterans how to succeed in society following their military experience.
To help younger veterans and active military members, today’s older veterans must bury the hatchet on many critical issues to help and not to judge.
Don’t try to follow them on social media: I use social media a ton and I still do not understand the desire nor the personal energy it takes to photograph, to quote and to describe every element of your day and every trip to the firing range. So, I don’t follow younger veterans using social media, the easiest and most gratifying solution. I thank the stars that my battalion commander never saw pictures of what my platoon was doing downtown on a Saturday night outside of Camp Hovey, Korea.
Don’t begrudge them their better equipment: I’m glad today’s veterans have better (and more) equipment than I did. I remember when my boots partially de-soled one time in the field. Wearing the Vietnam-era style Load Bearing Equipment and Ranger Body Armor was an exercise in discomfort, and why it took over two decades to replace the Beretta M9 pistol is beyond me. Plus, today’s soldiers look cool in their great camouflage patterns. I want everything they have to be better than what I had.
Honor their choices to volunteer and reenlist: I grew up in a small farming community, so joining the Army was as common as working in a small business or going to college. There was no internet, amazing startup companies, living the “van life,” going to Thailand to surf, or wearing sweatpants in Silicon Valley to make $500,000 a year. Soldiers daily enlist, train, volunteer and reenlist when they have a buffet of cool stuff that they can easily do, but they chose to perform military service. Say what you want about Millennials, but they still join the military when they do not have too.
Step away from the keyboard and be the guy that helps: If I could pass one law, I would forbid older military veterans from online chat rooms and message boards, writing about their beliefs on today’s military service. Instead, I would have them write in professional journals, innovate new products for the military, volunteer at transition centers, review resumes, volunteer on post, help military families of deployed service members, and mentor younger veterans. Older veterans have a duty to assist, not criticize, today’s military.
Listen and learn the stories of younger veterans: The military is constantly changing and in a society when so few serve, older veterans have an obligation to sit down, hold their own stories back, and listen to younger veterans. You can learn so much by listening to the stories, lessons and feelings of younger veterans. No one needs another older vet telling them they carried four rucksacks on an easy day. Instead, military veterans and soldiers need people to listen, to learn and to understand what their stories of service have meant to them.
Today’s military members and recent military veterans need more understanding and support from older veterans. Let’s give that to them.
Chad Storlie is retired from the U.S. Army Special Forces and is an Iraq War combat veteran. He is an adjunct professor of marketing at Creighton University.