The Civilian-Mil Gap: Does it Weigh Down Troops?

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Sgt. Eric Williams was a combat flight medic, a son, a husband and a blogger. He was on his way home last week from a year-long deployment in Afghanistan when his forward operating base came under enemy fire. Just days away from reuniting with his family, he was killed.

The story itself is tragic, especially knowing how close this soldier was to coming home. But what is almost as tragic is his chilling final blog post, entitled “Coming Home.” Published less than a week before he was killed, it describes not only his own ambivalence towards returning home, but also the rest of the country’s ambivalence towards him and his fellow combat veterans.

“Veterans of these wars are living at an all-time high of homelessness and joblessness. You can’t throw a rock in this country without hitting dozens of heavily medicated veterans. But the general public cares less and less about them and us. For the general public, unless you have something personally invested in these wars they just want to get along with their day.  Without having to be reminded of what these men and women endure on a daily basis. Its unfathomable to them. Thus the widening gap grows.”

The post made me wonder how many other servicemembers feel this way. How many other combat veterans are coming home from war echoing Williams’ sentiments and questioning what kind of world they are returning to? And how is this sense of the widening gap between servicemembers and civilians affecting the morale of our troops?

Williams admitted he was angry and disillusioned. Here was a man about to come home, a soldier preparing himself for the process of reintegration with his family, while at the same time trying to reconcile his feelings about all he had experienced during his deployment. As if those stresses weren’t challenging enough, he had the added stress of anticipating the feeling of being lost in a world he no longer understood.

It’s disheartening to think that our troops are shouldering such a burden on top of everything else they have to cope with. And it saddens me to think that Eric Williams died believing the general public doesn’t support our servicemembers, that civilians are being trite and cliché and fake when they thank veterans for their service, and that “the general American public couldn’t give a s—” about him and his comrades.

If only he could read the beautiful comments that his blog post inspired. The friends and strangers offering condolences to his family, the co-workers lauding his accomplishments and leadership, and the civilians who, thanks to his words, now “see American servicemen and women on a whole new level with a whole new profound appreciation.” I think he’d be proud to know that, in some small way, he helped to make that gap between servicemembers and civilians a little bit smaller.

How do you think the perceived civilian/military gap is affecting our troops? Take our poll and check out the results below.

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Do you think it’s possible to close that gap (or at least make it smaller)?

About the Author

Heather Sweeney
Heather Sweeney is an Associate Editor at Military.com, former Navy wife, mother of two, blogger, and avid runner. She’s the blogger formerly known as Wife on the Roller Coaster and still checks in every now and then at her blog Riding the Roller Coaster.
  • Leon Suchorski

    The nam vet has been feeling this way for over 40 years, and the public still have no idea of feeling to help them get over it.

    • Viet Vet Too

      Guess what? : The Viet Nam war was a huge mistake and a total loss for the US, one never admitted. Now our military adventurism goes on elsewhere to keep the Defense budget ever increasing at the expense of the rest of society. This counrty has got to learn to stay out of other countries’s affairs on the manufactured premise that it is all in our interests. It’s not, and we are hated in much of the world.

      • mel

        For those who feel as you do, then they should get mad at the gov’t and not take their opposition out on those who go where they are told. If you don’t like the war, go to Washington and do what you gotta do to get your voice heard, but treat our military members with respect. They are following orders and their sacrifices deserve our appreciation.

      • Tim Neely

        Viet Vet also
        Yes the Viet Nam war WAS a huge mistake and like all wars started by those in power at the time. The individual service member has no say in these things but rather is deployed or otherwise sent to do their duty as directed by those in charge. The civilian population has no idea what it is like to be sent half way around the world into combat, so whether you agree or not with a certain conflict you still need to support the individuals doing their duty.

  • Bill

    When they did away with the draft the Nation split. Supporting the troops is reduced to flag waving. Those that choose to serve are not understood by many factions of our society. One group cant understnad how anyone would endure anything unless its to make a bunch of money. Another cant pass drug testing and wonders what it would be like. The only difference between Vietnam and now is 911 made flag waving popular and the main stream learned several support the troops slogans. The media has also picked up supporting the troops. Until everyone shares in the nations defense there will be a seperation.

  • John D

    In the beginning of the Afghan/Iraq wars, When I walked thru an airport in uniform the “Thank you for serving” ment something, as the wars dragged on it ment “thanks for not drafting my kids”! the military did shoot it self but asking for all that free stuff and the companies and oeplpe responded but eventually, they got tired of it. My own family still thought I lived in a tent and ate MREs while on my 4th Iraq deployment. I told them about my billet and KBR and the PXs but they didn’t believe me! In most larger bases we had it better than in the states except no car and no beer! Soldiers are appreciated in the emergency and treat, then they are put back in storage,a forgotten tax burden unti lthe next war!

  • mike z

    it’s been the same for every war in the history of this country – love ya while you’re doing it, but after it’s over – get on with your life and get back into society or else!!
    is it their fault? not totally
    is it our fault? not totally
    it’s just the way the country and attitude is. but, what we as vet’s and family members of vet’s is to remember this: WE HAVE EACH OTHER!

  • Coho 38

    I’m a retired AF Vet of Viet Nam, some people come up to you and say” thanks for your service”. Later I will hear the same people say that we retires ” recieve to much pay, we have to many benifits, and ONY LOOSERS STAY IN LONG ENOUGH TO RETIRE” I say the h++l with those hypocrits , they only say to you what is politically correct, they seldom mean what they say.

  • Patrick

    I am one of those ignorant citizens who absolutely Salute and honor the sacrifices of all the men & women & children who are sacrificing for me the right of liberty. Despite my ignorance of the way of life my heart breaks for each of you. I am putting together a celebration Aug 18th to Salute you in McKenna WA. Bands, speakers, car show, vendors all to celebrate the Soldiers & their families. You guys are appreciated greatly – despite the negative press & the direction the government has taken. Thank you for you service & I hope you can make it to the event to enjoy! God Bless each of you!

  • Lou C.

    I feel the general public supports & tries to understand, but most of the politicians don’t and don’t want to.

    • Ken , USN, CPO, Ret

      Most politicians seem to think that any military budget will come right out of their overpaid pockets and will delay any fat pay raises that they will vote for themselves – while telling the crappy, slanted news channels that the military is overpaid and should just get along with less. As a retired vet (USN, CPO) I am just waiting for them to say “the next battle/war you will have to provide your OWN ammunition and other supplies”.

  • By gone days

    I would like to start by saying “Rest in Peace” Sgt. Williams…I am a Army veteran who probably would be on a lot of different pills, if the VA had there way. I also have been and am often convicted of getting govt handouts…like I am suppose to feel ashame or guilty for receiving benefits. When I first returned home from military, I felt a sense of pride to say I a veteran. That feeling of pride has since then, been diminished into a hidden experience of just trying to live my life without the disclosure that I once honored my country by fighting for it.

  • Ray Barnhardt

    Three tours in Vietnam, wounded, fighting in the swamps (delta), came home, and a protester (let’s call him a citizen) spit in my face. I volunteered each tour, because I believed in what we ( my self, and my comrades in arms) were doing. Now they they tell me i have PTSD. I really dont care what the general public thinks. We made the choice, and were granted the honor of serving our Country. Combat veterans that I meet never regret their service, and those who who have not been in combat are proud to have served. The problem with my beloved country today is that we have too many “citizens’, and not enough true Americans.

    • R. MacKay

      SAME, SAME………….Good job brother..

  • spouse2000

    Serve because you want to serve not because you want someone to thank you.

  • Pete

    Viet vet here. Got treated pretty sh!ty from the time we were first in uniform until Grenada. Got to the point where I’m convinced the majority of the American public, and especially American politicians don’t deserve a dam thing the military has given them.

    The only Americans who have truly paid the price and earned the right to live in this great country are our veterans and their families. The rest of you, especially liberal politicians can all take a hike as far as I’m concerned.

    How many Americans are aware a democrat majority Congress supported two democrat presidents (JFK and LBJ) to get us involved in Nam, then did a 180 when a Republican (Nixon) was elected president?

    How many Americans are aware that, in order to get the Government of South Vietnam to agree to the 1972 peace accords, that same democrat majority Congress promised military support short of troops on the ground to stop any attacks by the North Vietnam aggressors?

    How many Americans are aware that the same democrat majority Congress allowed American Naval and Air forces to support South Vietnam to repel the 1972 Easter Offensive, but withheld funds and authorization for on-site American Naval and Air forces to give support to South Vietnamese troops during the 1975 North Viet offensive? The one that took a whole 55 days from start to finish?

    Until that point I was still dumb enough to register as a democrat. That betrayal of our ally was the straw that broke the camels back. That same democrat majority Congress that got us involved, got many of us killed, allowed wholesale slaughter of our ally and millions of other South East Asians, and turned its back on its veterans for nearly 30 years. Destroyed and allowed the destruction of more than 3 million young American fighting men, whether they’d served in Nam or just been “Nam era” veterans.

    • Ken, USN, CPO, Ret

      I am what is classed as a “Cold War Vet” having served from 01/55 – 07/74 and retired USN, CPO. Even our federal gov’t declined to support us. I applied at GSA and other gov’t agencies, and was told “We can’t take your application – we don’t have any openings for “baby killers”. I am sure that the vets returning now from another undeclared war in Iraq and Afganhistan will hear basically the same response.

  • Diane Gavaghan-Roff

    I come from a military background & have always supported our hero men & women. Whenever my husband & I see a military man or woman in a restaurant or fast food place we pay for their meal. If we see someone in uniform or a vet wearing a military hat or insignia we thank that person for their service. And when we see weekend warriors on the road we honk our horn & wave to them. We cannot thank our military personnel enough for their sacrifices & that of their families at home. God bless them all!

  • Mike joeks

    Nothing has changed. Rudyard Kipling explained it all in his poem “Tommy.”

    • Bronxman

      And “Tommy” was written over 100 years ago. I’m a believer in bringing back the draft for a lot of reasons, from serving the country that raised you to reducing the self made “patriots” that never served a single day. It sure would help our political system if the Congress had a large percentage of vets too. Also, It seems like there is another 1% (besides the bad 1% that give our country a bad name) out there that represent the good 1% (only 1% of the population!) – serving members of the military.

  • VegasSmitty

    I couldn’t give a horses patoot what any feathermerchant thinks! 1971-1991.

  • mstrguns

    i inlisted in the marine corps on 7 aug.1960 and spent the next 31 years in the corps was/am a combat marine, went to sniper school and recon training (not as rough as navy seals) and have been in everything from vietnam to south america ,,,i fought for my flag, the corps, and my country but never for the people in it ,,reason why the first home comeing was at LA ex and we were plelted with rotten fruit and vegies ,,i will always support our military but as for the nonmilitary well i agree with vagassmitty

    • Guest

      You came back from where on a military flight into LAX? And there were people who knew you’d be coming in there, and when, and were gathered to greet you with bags of rotten fruit and vegetables?

  • BRASS

    As a citizen/taxpayer, I do care. – –
    As a former sailor, Marine and now Retired Marine I did and do not care. – –
    It’s easy to like civilians one on one and almost impossible to like them as a group. – –
    I try to be an ambassador for all the services and especially the Marines most of the time but on rare occasion some nit wit will pull my chain at the wrong moment and I can’t telling them what I really think about those who could have served, did not, and now have something to say about the US, the American Military or Marines. – –

    My foreign born but proud and loyal naturalized citizen wife is the one you need to watch out for. She can on rare occasion really make you feel small if you’re foolish enough to disturb her normally quiet, gentle nature with unnecessarily derogatory remarks about the US, American Military men and women or the Marines.

  • abc

    the sad thing is this is not new, just a new generation. grew up marine corps brat, post vietnam. personnally witnessed families trying to cope with post combat to “family” interaction. lots of divorces and physical abuse. watched my father wake-up screaming, reliving combat episodes. a lot of released army and marines became mercinaries in southern africa(rhodesia) not actually for the money, but to exercise thier demons. my father-inlaw and i had this discussion as to how it is now ok to bitch about the military now, same crap different decade. civilians don’t understand the military, most don’t realize you only get paid 1/3, the other 2/3’s comes after the government has abused your mind and body. if you disagree with this look at what the state dept pays their military contractors. but yes the military is robing this country , just ask any politician, especially the ones doing inside trading.

  • Bob

    nothing has changed since Vietnam.. The civilians DO NOT CARE what happens to you. The only time ANYONE cares is if it directly affects them as in: their husband, son, daughter etc.

  • DrClayd

    Oh the words that come from the mouth’s of babe’s; in a protest you will find many things, from collage students in uniforms with upside down insignia to hippies on motorbikes. And slogans like bring our boys home; while their reaction to Marines just back in uniform are “Marines! Get them”, not knowing what they just said or how they are about to react to drawn bayonets after a request to disburse. That those who refuse to join the military or serve in any way seem to have the idea that those that did had their brains washed in some way, and that everyone that was TDRL its because their insane. Yes there are those that would pick up a gun and shoot you if they participate in drive by’s regularly because of turf, and co-workers that will crucify you if they think that your a loose cannon, but your neither turf nor loose. Your a returning soldier from a war ravaged nation back to the new west where a cue still has some meaning. There is no where to turn for guidance because your the guide. There is no one that understands your meaning of ravished survival because your the survivor. So pick up the pieces, learn to adapt and lead on.

  • SFC(Ret) VN Vet

    SO the new generation Knows What we went through and are still going through Thy called us a lot worse

  • ret sgt

    Being from a family wit a strong military tradition I have observed that sometimes even some members of your own family will not approve of your service or what they perceive of as wrongs you personaly have done. This is something all soldiers have had to endure since the first organized military operations in history. The military has two ways to deal with this the official way is to seek counselling and advice through the chain of command and the unofficial way the bull sessions with your buddies; which does the best job ? you tell me.

  • PHLFans

    Wouldn’t it have been great if Eric Williams had been able to read all those great posts before he made the ultimate sacrifice? It’s a sad commentary on our nation and where it is headed.

  • LTC Brian Drummond

    If we had a conscript military we would have a much more professional population. Then everyone would understand

    • Guest

      Don’t think so… This rift has existed for a long time, with and without the draft. Except in a war such as WWII, in which practically every able-bodied 18-30 year old non-farmer served as part of a 13 million man army, there will not likely ever again be a need to conscript for the much smaller military contingents required for limited wars, air operations, and Drone attacks. When only 7% of the prime military age cohort is needed and serves, there will be 93% percent who do not; thus not everyone will be privy to the secrets and mysteries and mythologies of military life.

    • jojo613

      Conscripted military service is a bad idea, and as a LTC I would think you would realize the leadership challenge that would come about. The idea that people forced into military service would be more “professional” is laughable. My father-in-law was drafted in Vietnam, and he was so dangerous in his inability to follow orders that as a Marine he was not even allowed in country, he spent Vietnam as clerk in Japan (as an Infantry Trained Marine). You would get more of the “I don’t want to go to war with this guy” than you would get professional military personnel.

  • Rob157

    I served in the US Army, in peacetime, many years ago. My heart goes out to all Veterans, especially those caught up in the current wars. These wars are dragging this country down, to no good end. The US Military is being used to promote hegemony for those who want a “New World Order”, and our people are paying a heavy price. These same people are perparing to turn the US Miltary on the people of this country. We are on the downslope to tyranny. The average American is so caught up in trying to make ends meet, all the while being bombarded by a poisonous “pop-culture”, unless they personally know anyone in the military, the wars, and thier true reasons, are just abstractions to them, to be avoided. After all, Americans are conditioned to reject anything that is not “fun” or “entertaining”, and they all too easily accept, when told my MSM, that military people are just rejects to be avoided, and if they have PTSD, they are to be considered dangerous. And recall the MIAC document, which calls returning veterans a “potential threat to National Security”. Vetreans, I hope you can clearly see where this is heading.