As I devour my complimentary pancakes from IHOP this morning as the first stop on my Veterans Day Restaurant Crawl, I reflect on where I’ve been thus far in the course of my 12-year Army career.
I enlisted as a fresh faced 17-year-old in Brooklyn, unaware of what road my journey will travel. Since I completed basic training in 2003, I’ve lived in Germany, visiting various countries in Europe and learning new languages, way before it became a trend. I have also served two tours in Afghanistan, in which both were eye opening experiences in various ways. Seeing the people live in makeshift homes made out of scrap material, while the children run around barefoot or wearing tattered shoes reminded me of when I go to Jamaica to visit family and see them living under the same conditions. As a military journalist, I covered the opening of an all girls school and met a brave young girl who risked her life everyday walking to school because it was practically illegal for a woman to be educated. When I interviewed her, her only wish was for more schools to open to educate more young girls. These are the images that aren’t shown publicly while we’re overseas.
I appreciate the support I have received over the years from friends and strangers because being a veteran hasn’t been easy. From losing friends to war and losing friends due to the effects of war, to me being unemployed and struggling to readjust to society as a Black woman veteran. It’s hard. Yet while I enjoy this free chicken from Buffalo Wild Wings (second stop on the crawl) there are thousands of homeless veterans and hundreds of thousands of unemployed veterans where this day may be the only day they are being acknowledged for their service and given a plate of food to eat.
So, today I am a grateful veteran. I took advantage of my GI Bill and got a degree I don’t have Sallie Mae hotline blinging me. I traveled the world. I met some amazing people and I’ve been connected to some great opportunities. I’ve held leadership positions that are preparing me to run my own business in the future. I told myself that in this career choice, I sacrificed a lot to help my family be in a better place as well as get the things in life I wanted for myself. I don’t know what kind of life I would’ve had if I didn’t become a soldier, but I have made this life make me be all I can be. (See what I did there)
As I go home to take a break before going to Olive Garden (for my final stop on the crawl) and see the pictures on Instagram of other veterans, I realize I’m a part of a small, hubris community. We have our own issues and struggles and we have a long way to go to resolve the issues, but I am prideful of the years I’ve committed and still have years to go. As I always say, you don’t have to respect what we do, just respect the people that do it. That’s all we ask.