"I Am a Veteran"

A poem by Derek Miller

I didn’t join the military because I wanted to kill people. I didn’t fight in those wars because I believed they were right. Some people do. But I, and many others, am not one of them.

I am just a person. A person who has seen things, done things, and been places you couldn’t imagine. I will never be the same person I was before I signed up. I am proud to have served my country, but I have also done things I am not proud of. Everyone holds so many expectations of me. They thank me for my service, when often I don’t feel I deserve gratitude. I have to be strong, a proud representative of this great country. I, like many others, were in debt or couldn’t find a job, so we took the job offered by the US Government. It sounded like a really good offer. They would give me a career, settle my debts, pay for my college – all for a few years of my life. I was only a teenager – I had plenty of those to give.

When I went to war, my unit was my family. We became friends, brothers and sisters; we all left our families halfway across the world and formed new ones in the wake. When I came back, I left the family that understood everything we went through together. I returned to my biological family who loved me but couldn’t possibly understand. I’d missed them so much, but I felt different – like in a way, I could no longer relate to them, or anyone. In fact, although I was home, I’d never felt so alone in my life. In some ways, I’ll only really be comfortable “over there.” At least my comrades were by my side, understood and helped me when times were hard, and relied on my strength as well. Sometimes, I wonder why I was lucky enough to come back and others weren’t. Nobody knew when the reaper was coming, but we had to be ready for him any day, without warning.

I have never killed anyone. I never even fired my weapon. Most of us never have or will. But that doesn’t mean what I’ve been through hasn’t changed me forever.

The next time you see me, or any other veteran, shake our hands and thank us. It means a lot to us. Talk to us, be our friends, and listen – we have been so tough for so long, you might find us cocky, or proud, or arrogant, or self-centered. Please, be patient and understanding with us – sometimes, we don’t really fit in with everyone else, and this is just how we’ve adapted. And just like you, we are only people. We want the same things you do. To be happy. To be successful. To raise a family. To love, and to be loved.

My name is Derek.

And I am proud to be a veteran.

Derek Miller is a 2014 graduate of Alfred University's clinical psychology program, an ARMY veteran who served in Kuwait and Iraq, and a friend of Alfred University.