Please don’t thank me for my service. Instead, sit with me. Read this story. If you still want to thank me: Act.
I skipped classes to protest the Gulf War. We sat in silence for days as 1990 came roaring to an end. Snow came down around us. We slept in that snow. Out of uniform soldiers from Fort Carson sat with us. Eggs were the best thing thrown at us by self-proclaimed patriots in passing cars. We sat in the median of a busy thoroughfare that held a forgotten memorial to Hiroshima. The local soup kitchen brought us food. We went to the kitchen in shifts and served food to express thanks. People took the soup and a few said, “Those traitors on the median should be here instead.” We said, “You are welcome.” At that point, I longed to be a Navy pilot, but authority and the military were barriers I was not sure I wanted to bow to in order to live in the sky.
A few years later, our military hadn’t left the Middle East (26 years later we are still there – for those counting). Continued occupation was deemed part of “Operation Provide Comfort,” with the declared mission of providing relief to Kurds fleeing their homes in Northern Iraq. I kept thinking about the time I spent in protest. Thinking of my grandfather and his best friend’s lifetime of service; my cousin who was serving in Guam; the soldiers who sat with us in the snow in silent protest. How could I cash in on my right to protest, yet not give back to protect that right for others? In May 1994, I enlisted in the US Navy.
It was the hardest four years of my life. I served under Clinton and heard a lot about what an awful President he was for the military. I was an Aviation Machinists Mate (AD), jet mechanic, and one of the first guys I worked with had never served with a woman in his shop. He made it very clear he was not in favor of my presence. I’m not sure he ever realized we had another female in the shop – actually, I didn’t know for the first six months I worked with “Darin”. One of the first openly gay sailors to be honorably discharged served on the same base where I was stationed – I know things were more difficult for him. Another female sailor told me, “I thought you were a bitch, but you just get things done.” I was asked if I really wanted to be a guy since I wore flannels, jeans, and flight deck boots — it was the 90s and we were near Seattle. When Clinton campaigned for his 2nd term I was targeted as the resident liberal and given shit for not arguing against Clinton. I have tinnitus from prolonged exposure to turning engines and chronic sciatica from an injury I sustained while working. Neither are even worth mentioning in comparison to many Veteran’s injuries, but it’s what I live(d) with. I won’t get into the sadness and frequent depression my service caused over those four years. I made a choice to serve and I learned to show “nothing but pearly whites” (aka suck it up and smile).
Don’t get me wrong, the Navy was also an amazing four years of my life. It pushed me to the brink of who I was as a young woman and created the foundation of who I would be. I learned to solve problems that no other circumstances could create. I clung like hell to the reason I was there and, perhaps, became more open and inclusive because of the experience. I met one of my best friends there. I got to do things at 19 years old I still can’t believe I lived to experience. For years, I only told “Navy stories” after I had had a few glasses of wine and would rewatch the flight scenes in Top Gun. The stories were always about the good times. There were a lot of good times.
Which brings us to today. We are three days into knowing Donald Trump will be our President. Regardless of your opinion of him, it is a fact: He is scheduled to be our President for the next four years. I have less fear about what he will do as President than I do about the actions of many of our fellow Americans.
In these three days, the bubbling up of racist, sexist, white-power ignorance has manifest into actual hate crimes. Little girls are being told by little boys that they don’t count. Islamic women are having hijabs snatched off their heads. Brown and black people (American and immigrant) are being told to go back to Africa/Mexico/hell or that they will be picking cotton or dead soon. Swastikas are being found on buildings. Slurs are happening on trains. Meanness is manifesting.
In my life, I have endured some bullshit, but have been blessed to never have felt infringed against. I am, for the first time in my life, not feeling safe. But I won’t let the hate scare my voice away. The fact is, I haven’t spoken out about a lot over the last couple years and I regret my inaction — my excuse of “I don’t know what to say” was weak and a disservice to my friends and strangers. That’s over. I will say something and it may come out like crap on a cracker, but I love this country and I won’t see us fall as a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.
Now, I ask you, please don’t thank me for my service. I will never stop serving. I joined the military because I didn’t agree with the choices my government was making. I joined the military because I thought my President was wrong and I spoke up against him. I joined the military so we could keep living in a country that stands for equality and justice. Do not thank me for my service. Instead, go out and live your life in a way that will make your children and friends and strangers glad to have you as a fellow American. Speak up and protect those who are bullied. Speak up and defend someone who is being verbally attacked. Speak up if you see hate on Facebook. If you see hate graffiti, paint over it with hearts or the American flag. Speak up if you are afraid. Speak up when you see someone do something that is awesome so that the awesome grows.
I served for our voice so don’t thank me for my service. Use your voice for good.