By Aaron Kletzing
For those of us who have worn the military uniform, Memorial Day reminds us of the things we’ve fought for, those we’ve lost, and the impact our efforts may have had on the people we meant to serve, and the missions we meant to complete.
Memorial Day is a holiday that should be appreciated by everyone, but I don’t fault those who don’t pay the day’s significance much attention. This is because Memorial Day is truly felt by the military community; our emotions are authentic and personal, and are difficult to sufficiently explain to someone outside the military space. It’s just not possible for them to relive experiences they’ve never had or reflect on things their eyes have never seen. As veterans, we can’t fault them for that.
I spent 5 years in the Army and just turned 30 in February. Millions before me served longer than I did, and all of us have our own private set of good and bad memories from the service. I served 15 months in Iraq, came home, left the Army in 2011, went to school, and now spend my days as a civilian.
Along the way, I’ve kept in touch with old military friends and made new ones. We don’t discuss the military as much as you might think. But as a day like Memorial Day approaches, I’ve come to realize that despite our diverse military experiences, our hearts and minds spend time reflecting on three themes, which I’ll touch on below.
First, as I sit quietly, a flood of memories -- even the smallest ones -- somehow begin to resurface en masse: the day I commissioned into the Army, my first patrol in Iraq, training exercises, epic pranks my Soldiers played on me, and then others I’d like to forget.
In the 3 years since I left the military, I’ve been unable to sufficiently ‘translate’ the personal meaning of these experiences for non-veterans. But I believe that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Those who also served will understand my stories well, yet in their own way -- through the lens of their own military experiences. This is why we can connect so well with one another. This is also why veterans don’t talk about it very much outside of our own circles.
Second, I think about my old military friends and how they’ve been doing since we got back from Iraq. I was fortunate to serve alongside incredible people. I wonder what they’re doing now -- how are they holding up? Are they dads (or moms) now? Do they ever think about our time in Iraq? On Memorial Day I wonder where life has taken all of them, and wish them well.
Third, I wonder whether the things we all did in Iraq are going to achieve what our superiors hoped they would. Thousands of service members laid down their lives in the name of completing some mission on some day, in some village half a world away -- for local families whose names they probably never knew. If America’s long-term vision for Iraq (and Afghanistan) is not achieved in the coming years, then will these heroes’ sacrifices still be meaningful for the locals whose lives they touched? Will they be forgotten?
So as I reflect this Memorial Day, I wish all veterans and their families well. Especially those who are wearing the military uniform right now. As for those who I served with and lost touch with, my heart hopes they’ve found their way forward regardless of the path they have chosen. I hope on the 26th, their families and friends will give them an extra long hug, an extra long phone call, and an extra firm handshake of thanks.
About the author
Aaron Kletzing, one of RallyPoint’s founders, wrote this piece. Check out Aaron's military veteran profile on RallyPoint, and then invite him to connect with you!