On Assimilation, A Ranger’s Return From War

Since Jason was a Ranger and a young man that I admired with much pride, I am drawn to other Rangers and what they have to say and the stories they tell. Ranger TV was my absolute favorite time. Fetching beers for the guys as they laughed and told stories, often berating each other in the process.

Jason had the loudest, most infectious laugh I’ve ever heard and I heard it a lot. He is not here to tell those stories any longer, but I have read two books by a Ranger Medic that truly keep my attention.

Leo Jenkins was a Medic with 3/75 with multiple deployments. His first book, Lest We Forget; An Army Ranger Medic’s Story was my introduction to Leo and was very eager to get his second offering, On Assimilation, A Ranger’s Return From War.

On Assimilation Cover

Jason and I frequently had long talks regarding the plight of returning Veterans and I grew to understand the situation over time just as I learned about PTS(d) and TBI issues.

As I read On Assimilation, I heard the words in Jason’s voice. Although Jason was still just weeks from transitioning out he would have been spared the job hunting stigma that most Veterans endure. That’s because he had already joined up with a Ranger Buddy with whom he had shared ‘Got Your Six’ duties with during both their service times. An excellent job was waiting for him.

It is critical to have that network, that Brotherhood in effect at all times, whether deployed, Stateside, or as a Veteran. I have rambled long enough. Let Leo’s words sink in.

From the Preface and Forward of On Assimilation, A Ranger’s Return From War: (Reprinted here by permission)

In a coffee shop in north Denver, as the snow flurries swirl and dance and hang in the air, I reflect on my military service and the seven years since that has brought me to this place. Not just my physical residence but my mental state and the way in which I see the world and the people in it. I look to the happy couple that just walked in with a degree of antipathy. Why is that? They seem like nice people, but a part of me holds them in disdain. Maybe it isn’t antipathy at all, perhaps it is jealousy or envy that is coursing through my veins. I allow my mind to wonder what it would be like to be rid of the ghosts and guilt of two wars. A weight that neither in this pair could ever understand.

I find myself clinging to a world that I have long since left. October 20th, 2006, a date that will forever be ingrained in my memory. 20OCT2006 was the day that I went from being an Army Ranger, to being a veteran. Over 2,500 sunrises have come and gone since that day, nearly twice the number that came and went during my time as a soldier. Yet somehow there is still a feeling residing in me that identifies more with the clean-shaven, beret-wearing version of me. I can’t let him go. He is the best version of me that I have ever known.

Every one of those 2,500+ days I have attempted to reintegrate into our social fabric so that I may be accepted back into a society that does not understand my disposition. This is not solely my struggle; this is the plight of millions of veterans today who find themselves adrift to some degree. (emphasis mine)

It is important not to confuse struggle with ineffectiveness, for these are the most capable individuals of our generation. Their struggle lay not in inability, but rather in being a minority who has supported a majority. Their struggle is the perceived under-appreciation for a donation of their most fruitful years. A struggle for which the most well-adjusted veteran is underprepared. It is the greatest battle that most will never face, an ongoing endeavor to achieve an internal expectation, one put in place by an experience that few will ever know. Our process of rejoining the masses is currently our burden to bear. It is our greatest mission. It is our albatross. The last long walk of our enlistment is our assimilation and an arduous one it is.

Long hours, bad food, and inadequate pay are staples of military service. Being shot at and placed in situations where you are required to take the life of another human being are merely a part of the job description. Watching your nieces, nephews, sons, and daughters grow up in pictures from half a world away, no doubt pulls on the heart strings of the most battle hardened soldier. I can say now with utmost confidence, however, that the most difficult part of wearing that uniform is hanging it up. The process of assimilation is long and convoluted. The physical, mental, and emotional demands placed on most members of the military far exceed their civilian counterparts, yet for some reason the same professional courtesies do not typically extend to those who have donned camouflage. College level courses, as well as professional certifications achieved in the military, seldom transfer to a civilian equivalent.

This is not an attempt at glorifying military service or an effort to create an atmosphere of pity; neither would be helpful to veterans. The military is a voluntary path and although most people don’t have a comprehensive understanding of what they will inevitably experience upon enlisting, it is a path that is chosen with free will. That does not, however, mean that the burdens of this profession should be shouldered solely by those in uniform. We all have a social responsibility to understand those who have sacrificed so much for our way of life. Your ideological ethos does not have to be in line with those who serve, but you absolutely have a social obligation to understand the trials and tribulations that they endured for your benefit. The days of, “I don’t want to know what happens over there,” and, “hearing about it makes me feel uncomfortable,” are over. (emphasis mine)

The difficulty transitioning from the military world into civilian life is multifaceted. There is a very structured, systematic progression in taking a civilian and turning them into a soldier. Step by step, day after day, through the course of basic training soldiers are taught how to conduct tasks in a very specific manner. They are not only taught the proper way of making their bed and shining their boots, they are held accountable by their peers and superiors alike if these tasks are not completed to standard. There is no equivalent to this upon discharge. Anyone that has ever attempted to quit anything cold turkey understands that it can often be an ineffective technique. A few hours of briefings and resume classes do not make up for months and years of institutionalized indoctrination. It isn’t that a veteran doesn’t know how to think for himself; the problem is that they have been a critical member of a team for years. They had a specific role to play and when that role is so drastically altered, finding yourself can be difficult.

Following release from the military, new veterans lose the most significant support group that they have ever known. The simple truth is that the only people who will ever understand the demons experienced in battle are the ones standing by your side when those demons made their grand entrance. (emphasis mine) There is no need to express to those men how you are feeling regarding those events because they feel the same way. There is more comfort in that than you can possibly imagine. To go from being surrounded by a group of people who relate on the most intimate level to being isolated from every one of them overnight is a highly traumatic event that often isn’t even recognized. This particular moment is disguised by the jubilee of being free from the perceived oppression of the military itself. That oppression, in hindsight, is actually the extension of the most caring extended family a person can know.

As a soldier, in order to accomplish the required tasks of your profession you must possess the highest degree of confidence. When returning to civilian life, the same confidence that has served to keep you alive in an austere environment is looked upon as an unnecessary arrogance. It is the service member who is forced to adapt to the outlook of the popular majority in this situation. This becomes an initial source of animosity; why should the veteran be made to conform to the parts of society that sat back when there was work to do? One of the most fundamental and problematic aspects of assimilation for military veterans is quite simply a misunderstanding on the part of civilians perpetrated by movies and television. Films featuring veterans seem to go one of two ways. They are either an emotionless, unfeeling death machine or so completely broken by their experience that they are a danger to society. It is a sad, simple truth that the way the media depicts military life is largely inaccurate. Yet this, not reality, is how most civilians form their opinions of members of the armed services. (mine)

We leave a world of black and white, wrongs and rights, to join a world of endless shades of gray, one where standing orders no longer dictate daily activities and people do not live by a creed. Morals are contorted to serve the individual rather than the greater good of the group. Many veterans step off a train upon leaving the military and set out on a journey with no designated path. That train that they grew accustomed to was perpetually on a very calculated route. Something as simple as, “should I get a haircut today?” is a choice that was predetermined by a mandate.

(On Assimilation, A Ranger’s Return From War) attempts to portray those tribulations through my own personal experiences. This story depicts the journey of leaving the safe comforts of war and returning to the harsh realities of civilian society. From the conversations I have had with hundreds of other veterans I have discovered that I was not the only one to experience these issues, deal with these fears and dance with these demons. I learned that I am not alone. I had for years, however, been under the impression that such things should not impact a strong man. I watched men that I admire carry on with what seemed like indifference to the same events that at times crippled my mind, never knowing that they too were being strangled by the same monster.

In my search for insight on this subject, I discovered that the overwhelming majority of books written on related topics have been composed by people with a PhD in psychology, who have never been in the military, let alone deployed to combat. While I appreciate the effort they have dedicated to bringing these issues to the forefront, I believe that they are lacking a certain amount of grit necessary to effectively tell the story.

It would be difficult to argue that our government is doing everything possible to assist our combat veterans in their assimilation. With over twenty veterans a day deciding to take their own life, a life that they once used to protect our nation, much more can be done. It has become apparent to me at this point that many of those tasked with easing this transition just do not understand it. However, the onus is not on the government alone. It is up to each and every one of us, veteran and civilian alike, to shoulder our share of the task.

Leo’s book, On assimilation, A Ranger’s Return From War, is required reading for anyone that will serve on staff at Granger Outpost, our Equine Assisted Therapy outreach at Wagon Wheel Ranch in Hesperia, Ca.

I HIGHLY recommend everyone read this  book. Follow the links . Buy and read these two books.