Is Being a Military Veteran “Worth It?”

Exploring the good, bad, and ugly of serving in the smallest US minority — the American military

Benjamin Sledge

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Photo of author with members of Air Force special operations | Afghanistan, 2003

Raymond Buchan passed shortly before arriving at the medical bay. Just before they laid him on the table, he died from the wounds he’d sustained after being shot through the collarbone and jaw. We held his memorial a few days later where I stood like a robot, uncertain of what to do or say. I checked out mentally and dreamed up some moment years from now where I could tell his wife and two sons about their dad. But Buchan’s wife died — from a bout of cancer, I’m told — two years before she turned 40. I’ve never had the courage, let alone the fortitude, to chase down his sons, given that it’s been some 16 years since that harrowing day in Iraq.

Like many who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, Buchan had already been deployed. In an old movie, Secondhand Lions, Robert Duvall plays an eccentric old war vet. During one scene, he beats up a bunch of punk kids who pull a knife at a local diner. When the teens ask just who the hell he is, Duvall remarks that he’s fought in two World Wars and countless other skirmishes on other continents. I saw the movie not long before deploying to Iraq and chuckled at the absurdity of someone fighting in two wars, only to realize that was about to be me. I’d already fought in Afghanistan, and here I was months away from an Iraq deployment. Like Buchan and others, those in the American military during the mid-2000s soon resembled Duvall’s character. It wasn’t even the Iraq or Afghan wars anymore. There was Syria, Libya, the Philippines, Yemen, and Ukraine. Recently, the focus is Israel and Gaza.

Sergeant First Class Raymond Buchan (Middle) | Photo courtesy of author

From 1975 to 2000, the United States engaged in a grand total of 12 days of conventional ground combat in various conflicts. That includes Grenada, Panama, the First Gulf War, and Somalia. Since the towers fell after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, ground combat hasn’t ceased. That’s part of why there’s a lack of military recruits from GenZ, as former red state recruiting grounds no longer want to involve their kids in proxy wars. Those that have joined…

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Benjamin Sledge

Multi-award winning author | Combat wounded veteran | Mental health specialist | Occasional geopolitical intel | Graphic designer | https://benjaminsledge.com