Nov 102011

Today marks the 14th Veteran’s Day since I enlisted in the Air Force and my last Veteran’s Day as a student at Colorado State University. As humans, we tend to perceive ourselves through labels. I have always been a Coloradan, American and most days, human –– though there was a period of my adolescence that raised serious doubts. Just ask everyone who knew me from 1989 to 1995.

But since Oct. 1, 1997, I have been a member of the 1 percent. Just 1 percent of the American population will serve in the uniformed military.

The media and the public have improved a great deal in eventually questioning the motives for sending the military to war while supporting the troops. Even the most ardent liberal (non-pacifist) supports the mostly-conservative military members for the sacrifices we make.

When I enlisted, the military was mostly a positive lifestyle.

Sure, we have a divorce rate that makes one wonder if gay marriage could possibly be as big a threat to the fabric of society as military marriage. And yes, we have a penchant for alcohol-fueled stupidity, but honestly, nothing worse than you’ll see at any given country bar in Texas.

But things changed. While I was stationed at F.E. Warren in Cheyenne, two of the men I considered brothers died in separate vehicle accidents. The loss didn’t really hurt any less than the brothers I’ve lost to combat.

In 2001, things changed.

Ten years later, I no longer support the federal government. As recently as four years ago, that wasn’t yet the case. But I honestly believe to support my fellow veterans means to give voice to grievances they may not necessarily realize they have.

I intend to ruin your Friday night. Instead of going out to Old Town tonight or partying with your friends, if you support the troops, if you say you support the troops, if you feel you owe the veterans a thank-you, you need to see the HBO documentary “War Torn: 1861-2010: Home.”

Americans are well aware of the individuals we lost to death, but the physical and mental injuries suffered by a military indoctrinated to believe that following orders is our patriotic duty, but are then sent overseas to countries that do not present a threat to us, is repulsive.

I have made the case many times, and I echo the sentiments of a particular Congressman from Texas: the military has not gone to war in another country for anything other than to confront the unintended consequences of previous foreign policy actions.

The combat arm career fields are filled with honorable men taught it is their duty to fight and, if necessary, die executing the orders of those appointed over them. This is a philosophy that has killed thousands at the behest of a broken executive branch of government, unchecked by the Congress bound by the Constitution to declare war or withdraw.

When it’s all said and done, pride comes up short of necessity. Yes, I appreciate being told “thank you” for what I do, but no, I don’t think you really understand what it’s like to see the pain of two of your friends who lost their husbands in a country on the other side of the world.

I know you have utterly no comprehension of the pain a mother feels watching her son’s smile fade into pain before he takes his own life with a pistol after stabbing every government ID he has to his dashboard through the likeness of his face.

For every feel-good story about a veteran who lost a leg fighting to go back to combat are a hundred of America’s 1 percent who leave the country they love, only to return to a health care system run by the least efficient government in U.S. history –– just hoping to get help before it’s too late.

I enlisted in the Air Force because it offered a higher quality of life. I have a cousin of the same age who enlisted in the Marine infantry; our grandfather jumped into Normandy as a medic; and my older sister returned from Afghanistan permanently changed by what she experienced.

And though I feel the military is necessary and the sacrifices are honorable in the hearts and minds of those who make them, the manipulative and corrupt use of that honor is an affront to the liberty we believe we fight to maintain.

The 1 percent serving in the military appreciates your gratitude on Veteran’s Day. But if we’re willing to die to protect the 99 percent, don’t you owe us better elected officials and support?

Instead of thanking us with free food and handshakes in the days surrounding Nov. 11 every year, thank us by electing a civilian government who won’t send us into combat without ensuring every single returning soldier will receive the care he or she needs from day one.

Better yet, a government who won’t use us to enforce a perpetual cycle of bad foreign policy decisions would be great. Federal government, we deserve better than you.

Seth Stern is proud of his time in the service and hopes for the safety of all military serving home and abroad. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

Seth Stern is proud of his time in the service and hopes for the safety of all military serving home and abroad. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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