I signed up for the military a couple years after 9/11 happened. I was in DEP (Delayed Enlistment Program) while in high school and my family had something of a tradition or, more accurately, a necessity of doing one enlistment before moving on back to the civilian world. My father would tell my sister and I that after the service everything would feel easy by comparison because you’d know what “truly fucked” was like.
If only that was really the case.
Regardless, we’d been attacked and my parents couldn’t afford to send me to university, so I signed up! I knew I wanted to help. I knew that there was danger in the world and that I could do my own small part helping to keep my nation safe. Even before I enlisted, as a high school Junior, I ran a two person support the troops protest alongside 15 people who were protesting our involvement in the Middle East. In retrospect it surprises me how kind and considerate those people were to me and my classmate who didn’t really know fuck all about what’s going on. Some of those peace activists were likely veterans themselves.
I enlist, four years pass, and I went through a lot of shit that I’d prefer to not get into much detail about. I now live with PTSD and I never saw combat. My demons wore US uniforms. At the height of the financial crisis I had a choice to make and, even though I’d changed departments, I knew I couldn’t spend any more time in the military. Too many people used their ideals as a way to justify hate. I saw people in an ops room taking bets on whether a man would survive the next missle shot at him. Senior enlisted using the junior female enlisted as little more than a dating pool. A captain who would later be charged for bribery, accepting gifts of cars and prostitutes. My time in the military taught me to be cautious of authority, cautious of power, and to always be aware of the hidden motives people might have and to look deeper.
So, I left.
I could no longer in good conscious spend my time doing this.
Lucky for me, Obama had just gotten into office and one of the last things that Bush did was sign the 9/11 GI Bill into law. That’s how I met this organization’s bad ass organizer, Penny Dex. There was a meeting for a protest and we both showed up. I was helping a friend co-organize something because a previous person dropped off the face of the earth (a common occurrence, I’ve found, in left wing politics!) and after Occupy we still kept in touch here and there, helping out with counter recruiting, getting equipped to go to Standing Rock, and more.
Recently, I’ve started doing something a little more dangerous. I film Patriot Prayer events from the inside. Afterwards, I turn my footage over to organizations working to counter white supremacy. I’ve gotten close to being found out a couple times, have been pepper sprayed, and hit with thrown objects. None of the left wing protests groups know me. I would rather risk getting a little hurt from an overzealous person defending their city with a piece of rotten fruit than to be found out by people who fetishize about killing “antifa”, “Demonrats”, and the like.
Why do I do this? That’s what this is supposed to be about, right?
Two big reasons:
I swore an oath to defend the constitution from all enemies both foreign and domestic.
I feel a lot of guilt over what I participated in while on active duty. I never directly killed anyone, but every person on an Aircraft carrier is participating in its combat mission. ~1% of the people on board will ever see combat and most of them do it from a cockpit. My driving the boat, and the rest of the work that I did, puts some fraction, some percentage, of every life we took on my hands. Even if it’s just 1/5000th of every kill, there is and always will be blood on my hands and nothing, nothing at all, will ever be able to wipe that away.
So I try to help.
I try to do things that improve the world.
When other people are running away, I choose to be the one that runs towards danger.
I don’t know how else to be.
I’ve got a PTSD diagnosis and one of the symptoms I have is a flattened affect. What this means is that I don’t feel much a lot of the time until my stress levels have reached a certain plateau, and then I just break. It leaves me open to certain things, I miss some social cues, and there are other problems I deal with, but this is about as close to a “perk” as I can point to when it comes to having a service connected disability. Even among the fireworks, thrown objects, and more that are at these rallies, I can stay pretty calm.
The reason why I want to stay calm goes into my second reason.
The first part of which, goes like this:
“I, __________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and it’s important to note that there isn’t an expiration date.
I promised to do this, swore an oath for it, and that matters regardless of making it at 19 years old. It matters regardless of whether or not I knew what I was getting into when I said it. Being someone who always seeks to protect others, even at the expense of myself, has become a core part of who I am. I run in when others don’t. I have free time to protest and to do undercover filming so I do.
After Occupy 2011, I wanted to avoid tear gas. I wanted to avoid cops in riot gear. Horses. Flash Bangs. Cudgels. This shit ain’t fun so I got into electoral politics. Became a Democrat, knocked doors for liberal candidates, and tried to put a little bit of radical into local politics.
But now we’ve got the modern version of Nazis. We’ve got white nationalists openly organizing. We’ve got scary times ahead of us. The forces of regression have shown an abundant willingness to organize on behalf of their objectives. It’s incumbent on us to fight back as much as we can to create an America that works for everyone. I don’t know how else to be. I feel bad just sitting around playing video games. I need to help the community that has done so much to help me and I hope the person reading this joins up in the fight! This is what it means to be a patriot.
~Navy Veteran, Portland, Oregon