A Reflection On Veterans

By Steve Robinson

Naval Special Warfare Archives -

SOF Analyst and Contributing Journalist


 A recent article on an Internet web site serving the military community DCMILITARY.COM carried a letter from a subscriber and the response from one of the site's staff.


In the article entitled Marriage and Military Life by Gene-Thomas Gomulka, a woman expresses her gratitude to Mr. Gomulka for his assistance in her search for a Navy SEAL with whom she had carried on an online/email correspondence for two years. She goes on to express her dismay and disappointment upon discovering that the man was not a Navy SEAL, and that all of his stories of combat, decorations for bravery under fire, and of being wounded in action were totally false. In fact, the man had actually never served in the military, and had a wife and two children. She ended her brief letter with a request that Mr. Gomulka post her letter on the web site so that other single women might be forewarned and not fall into similar traps online. She signed herself Deceived .

Mr. Gomulka responded to Deceived by posting her letter as she had requested, and then added his own thoughts on the matter. He went to great lengths to expound on the potential problems inherent in online/email relationships. Principal in his remarks were the ideas that some people will stoop so low as to conceal their marriage and/or children from their online contacts. He goes on to remark at length regarding online matchmaking services and the pros and cons associated with questions about likes, dislikes, and compatibility in general. He concludes his comments with book and reference recommendations such as The Survival Guide for Marriage in the Military.

What Mr. Gomulka completely avoided was any mention of the man's false claims of being a military veteran, or his very specific and very false claims of being a Navy SEAL, being decorated for bravery under fire, and being wounded in action.

You'd think that with it being a military-themed site Mr. Gomulka might use a few words like despicable , dishonest , or wannabe and I'd certainly have thought he might write a sentence or two in reflection on the serious nature of the insult the imposter's actions have presented to the military community in general, and to the Navy's SEAL Teams specifically. Most importantly, I'd have expected him to mention the grievous insult those false claims offered to our fallen brothers who rightfully earned their SEAL Tridents. He never offered a single word on this particular subject.

 When I discussed this article with a number of my SEAL Teammates, I expressed my dismay, and wondered why we were apparently the only ones to see this kind of omission as an insult? My Teammates responded with similar sentiments, but the overall assessment of the situation seemed to be that those who have not served in any capacity, are not capable of feeling or sensing the great pride that veterans have in their accomplishments and reputation, nor of recognizing the tremendous injustice that is done by those who falsely co-opt their accomplishments as their own.  Many in the public are ready, willing, and more than able to get on the bandwagon with the military when it suits them, but they really do not have a clue about what military accomplishment means to those who have served.

Upon further reflection it occurs to me that it all really comes down to a single factor; we are the only ones that know what we gave (and gave up) to achieve what we achieved. When it comes to the Hollywood filmmakers, they would have everyone believe that becoming a SEAL is a matter of being bigger, badder, rougher, tougher, and nastier than everyone else . On film, every Navy SEAL is a one man assault force, a fully trained super spy, and a chest-thumping braggart who backs his words with violent actions.

They never get around to mentioning the extreme personal sacrifices needed to not only complete the training program, but to continue serving as a SEAL. They never get around to mentioning the estimates of 95% divorce rates in the Teams. They never get around to mentioning that in addition to being an Olympic-quality athlete, there is a requirement for an extremely high level of intelligence in order to be a SEAL. The never seem to convey the idea that the SEALs are referred to as The Quiet Professionals ; men who spend much of their off time hours in the company of their Teammates because others don't understand them very well.

In truth, this is the image that is now afforded to almost all military portrayals on the movie screen, not just Navy SEALs. The only thing that seems to be important to the entertainment industry is filling theater seats and selling popcorn. Truth, the alteration of truth, or the complete lack of truth has very little, if any, resonance in the film-making industry. Bigger explosions, more complex and amazing weaponry, and a mastery of impossible physical abilities are the norm and each successive film seeks to surpass its predecessors in all these matters. Military veterans are depicted as either cannon fodder being subjected to senseless slaughter, or mindless killing machines wreaking havoc among their enemies.

Sadly, the entertainment media has almost single handedly brought about a change in the public's perception of what is required of our military veterans and our heroes . No longer are they expected to be humble and self-effacing as in days past. Instead they are expected to stand with hands on hips, loudly proclaiming their personal toughness, while intermittently thumping their chests, growling loudly (around the knife clamped in their teeth), and glowering menacingly at those around them. An acquaintance described them accurately enough as cold hearted, knife-toting, lead-spraying, camo-faced, parachuting, bringers of indiscriminate death!

If this sounds like a joke, I invite you to spend an hour watching professional wrestling on television. For indeed, those are the heroes for today's modern youth, and this is the behavior they have come to expect from their heroes . If they assign the word hero to anyone, they expect that person to conduct himself (or herself) in the self-aggrandizing manner they have seen portrayed. Is there any wonder that so many are ready to accept as true and believable the wild stories Hollywood offers? Is it any wonder that these are the same traits that are offered by those who make false military claims? Is it any wonder that young men and women believe these tall stories when they are offered by despicable and dishonest military imposters who seek only to profit in some way by misleading them?

Military veterans enjoy a greater public respect now than at anytime in the last four decades. Sadly, with that increased measure of respect and admiration come those who seek to claim a portion of it for themselves without actually earning it. These imposters increasingly model themselves after the Hollywood image of military veterans, rather than reality. In a way, this actually makes it easier to differentiate between them and the true veterans.

Unlike the Hollywood image, the hallmarks of a genuine military veteran are humility, modesty, and an unassuming character. A military veteran serves in time of war, not to take lives, but in the hopes of preserving and protecting our way of life. A military veteran is a person who has done what was necessary, who has endured great hardships and personal loss, and who does not revel in the pain and suffering that war brings.

Military veterans aren't all heroes , and loudly proclaiming that they are all heroes only serves to cheapen the special concept conveyed by that word. But most assuredly all of our military veterans are patriots, and worthy of the admiration of our youth. I ask you to remember the traits I described earlier. Unbelievable and incredible things do happen in time of war, but the vast majority of true military veterans won't readily discuss or describe these things.

Should you chance to hear someone telling stories of standing knee deep in grenade pins, surrounded by enemy forces, outgunned and outnumbered, yet prevailing against insurmountable odds, you are more likely to be in the presence of a professional wrestler or a fan of Hollywood adventure movies than a true military veteran.

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