We started talking about veterans’ issues with the men and women we met, and asked Post Commander Larry Sahota if any of his group would be interested in doing a roundtable discussion about life as a vet.
Flash forward a couple of months, and ABC10’s Michael Anthony Adams was the host when we all met at Rescate Coffee in Elk Grove.
Larry, a U.S. Army vet, brought along four fellow legionnaires--Kevin Spease, Arlene Salvador, Kate Grunwald, and Ben Hall.
Everyone settled in for an hour-long discussion, which turned out to be not nearly enough time.
Thank You for Your Service. Or Not.
One of the first eye-openers of the discussion happened when we asked the group how they felt about people thanking them for their service.
It turns out that the men and women have had very different experiences. While the men have been thanked many times, both women said they’d never been thanked unless it was by another vet.
“I’d say only when I’m in a group with other veterans, females ourselves--and we thank each other,” said Air Force veteran Kate Grunwald.
The main issue, said Kate, may be a matter of being recognized as a veteran. “I don’t wear a ballcap, I don’t wear the t-shirts, so I don’t go around and announce that I’m a veteran.”
Navy veteran Arlene Salvador has had much the same experience, and said that asking random civilians to identify the veterans among the group would have a predictable outcome.
“They’d be surprised to find out that we’re all veterans. They would have pointed at every single male here. ‘Oh, he looks like a veteran.’ How do you say what a veteran looks like?”
The answer, says Arlene, lies in getting to know the people around you. “Go out there and at least meet your neighbor. Find out about them.”
Am I a Vet?
Also surprising was how those who have served in the military perceive their status as veterans after they leave active duty. It turns out that some don’t.
“I didn’t even identify as a veteran for many years,” said Air Force veteran Kevin Spease, “and I think that’s a problem that we’ve all come across,”
“We've all heard of a friend who says, ‘Oh yeah, I was in the military.’ ‘Then you’re a veteran.’ ‘Well, I didn’t serve in any war.’ ‘No, I don’t think you get it.’”
Being a veteran is about more than fighting in combat, according to Spease. It’s about intent and service. “They committed to defending their country and that, to me, is where it’s at.”
Taking a Knee
We couldn’t leave without asking about the trend of athletes “taking a knee” during the national anthem.
“I’m going to be honest with you. I’m going to speak up. I don’t like it,” said Ben Hall, who did four tours with the U.S. Army before retiring in 1984.
“The problem is, it has nothing to do with the flag,” he continued.
While the group unanimously agreed that it’s everyone’s right to take a knee, they thought that the uproar surrounding what many saw as disrespecting the flag obscured the intent of the protest.
“Their action doesn’t fit what they’re trying to solve,” said Grunwald.
“There comes a point in time where you have to move from a voice to an action,” said Spease. “And that action is, every day, finding a way to help someone, to give them a hand up--respect and love for each other, every single day.”
Arlene Salvador, who works at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery, says that her feelings on the matter are simple, and personal.
“I stand proudly. I put my hand over my heart and I salute,” Arlene said. “She’s just a beautiful sight for me. I see her every day, a big flag flying to honor those that served so that we could do the kneeling.”
10 Words would like to thank Larry, Kevin, Arlene, Kate and Ben for sharing their time and perspective with us, and give a shout out to the folks at Rescate Coffee for sharing their space and brew. To all U.S. veterans reading this, our thanks and gratitude for your service. Happy Veterans Day.