Since the white-stream media feels a need to tell the world how all of the military vets feel in regards to Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the playing of the national anthem, I figure it’s only right for an actual veteran to express his thoughts on the subject straight from the horse’s mouth.
That person shall be me.
I enlisted in the US Army on April 29, 2002. I didn’t enlist because I was running around high off of patriotism in response to 9-11 taking place. I enlisted to remove college debt from my life…that’s it. Prior to me enlisting, I was a college student at Tuskegee University majoring in aerospace engineering and I had ran up a tab of roughly $60K or so all before I was 21 years old. I didn’t have a job, I wasn’t excited about my major, I knew my parents didn’t have that kind of money to cover me…so I ran to my uncle, who just happened to be a US Army recruiter at the time & told him to sign me up. He signed me up & off to bootcamp I went excited NOT about being a US soldier defending my country, but excited at the fact that I just signed a contract stating that if I successfully complete 5 years, my college debt will magically disappear. I was also excited at the fact that the Army put $15K worth of enlistment bonus money in back account too, but that’s another story.
So fast forward a few years & my time in the US Army was coming to an end, but I decided to re-enlist for another 5 years NOT because I was patriotic but because I had met my wife a year or so earlier, we got married & had our first child. So now I went from being college debt free to being a 26 year old husband and father that had to provide for my family. Patriotism was the furthest thing from my mind. Providing for my family was the only reason I stayed in for another enlistment. Fast forward a few more years & I got medically separated from the military. I didn’t get out because I felt I had fulfilled my duty of being a patriotic citizen. I got out because I racked up 13 years worth of injuries that took its toll on my body (mostly my back) & I decided I was done. Plus my particular career field in the military was EXTREMELY way more valuable as a civilian than as a soldier. So I bounced to pursue more money to provide an even better lifestyle for my family to the best of my abilities. November 17, 2015 was my official last day as a member of the US Army. I got my full honorable discharge & now I’m enjoying every single benefit I earned over 13 years to the fullest extent.
Now, was I patriotic? Somewhat. Meaning, I accepted the roles & responsibilities of what I signed up to do even if that did require me to put my life on the line…which there were quite a few times I didn’t think I would be leaving Afghanistan alive. Did my “professional” patriotism define who I was in the military & what my life as a Black man in America meant? HELL NO.
You see, prior to me raising my right hand to swear an oath to defend my country, I was Black. During my 13 years on active duty, I was Black. After I got out of the military, guess what…I’m still Black. My awareness of my blackness before, during, & after my time in military never changed. The only thing that changed about me was what I did for a living. That’s it. Before I joined the military I can recall a lot of instances in my life where I was called a nigger or how I was looked at a certain way by white Americans. Hell, I’m actually mixed (black and white)…I’ve been experiencing the effects of racism since I was a baby by my own white side of the family. When I was in the military, I can recall quite a few times where we had to perform a military burial for a deceased vet in some country ass redneck town in Georgia and white people would be feeling a certain type of way because I (a Black soldier) was folding the American flag for their deceased relative. After I got out of the military, I’ve had a few encounters with some people recently where it was obvious my race was a problem. But in white America’s eyes (& a few coons), I guess I’m supposed to put my experiences as a Black man in America aside in order to make room only for American patriotism. Not about to happen.
I didn’t join the military in an effort to remove myself from the stigma of being Black in America. I didn’t join the military simply to defend my country against some scary Muslim boogey man. And I definitely didn’t join the military because I fully bought into notion of upholding American exceptionalism. I joined like THOUSANDS of other vets (especially Black vets) simply because it was the best thing going for me at the time. That’s it. Now I’m not going to pretend like I didn’t agree with the all of the reasons that civilians assume people join the military. I DO believe in freedom of speech & while I was serving that is one thing I strongly believed even though I was severely restricted as an active duty member from fully participating in. I didn’t join the military to defend the lyrics to a song or to defend people who believe standing up for a flag trumps the issues surround systemic racism & police brutality. I joined for people like Colin Kaepernick to proudly take advantage of their freedom of speech to express their views about our country in any manner they feel so as long as their freedom didn’t harm another person. And guess what, I’m not the only one who joined for those reasons. I’m not the only Black veteran who shares these same sentiments as Colin Kaepernick in regards to treatment of Black people in this country. The only difference between Colin Kaepernick & myself is, it was written in my contract that I had to stand for the national anthem because believe me, if I could have sat down to demonstrate my disdain for how our country treats its members of Black society…I would have sat my ass down too.
As a Black person, it is extremely hard to believe in the idea of patriotism & freedom for all when you know damn well the concepts of freedom & justice are NOT being applied evenly across the board. Sure some of you reading this will find a Sheriff David Clarke or Stacey Dash type of knee grow to flaunt around as “proof” that Black people can be patriotic, but even those knee grows know that they have to force themselves to get up every morning to put on an act to convince white America that they are one of the good negroes in oder to receive their coveted pat on the head. But regardless, if you are one of the idiots running around here thinking that all veterans were offended by Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to show respect to the flag & the national anthem, just shut up & stop assuming all veterans are monolithic in thought.
PS: Miss me with the “You hate America so you should leave!” talk as well. I am fully capable of loving a country & criticizing the shit out of it. Why? Because I expect this country TO DO BETTER. That’s why.