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Vietnam vets support current service members

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Devin Statham
  • U.S. Central Command chief of senior officer matters
I returned from deployment to a Baltimore airport at about 8 p.m. on a weeknight after traveling for about 30 hours with several overseas layovers.

I only had one checked item that came off the plane right away. Out of a plane of several hundred people, I was the actual first person to leave baggage claim. When leaving baggage claim in Baltimore, you depart through opaque doors. As those doors slid open, I saw a huge, overwhelming yellow-ribbon welcoming party.

I looked horrible. My uniform was two or three days old, I was about 18 hours past a 5 o'clock shadow. Plus, I don't sleep well on planes so I was pretty groggy too.

The crowd, however, was bright and vibrant. These supporters lined the side of the walkway. There were Boy Scouts, elderly couples, other military members, full families and people with snack bags. It was an over-the-top, generous display.

First in line was a Boy Scout troop all in uniform. Some waved flags and some clapped while others had their hands out ready to shake. I went down the line shaking hands and thanking them as they said "welcome home" and "thank you for your service."

I made my way past dozens of well-wishers but almost the last person in line was a three or four year old girl with her family standing behind her. She had a Hawaiian lei and was holding it out for me. I got down on one knee and lowered my head. After she adorned me with flowers, I hugged her, thanked her and moved on.

Officially taking the last place in line was a brigadier general and his wife. They were of course, very nice, welcoming and supportive. Having a general officer there was a very nice end-cap to this display of support.

After getting back from deployment, any welcome would have been nice, but this really brought me back home in style.

My welcome home experience is close to typical of what someone returning from war gets today, but very, very different than the welcome many Vietnam veterans received.
My story is a topical primarily because our experiences differ so vastly. Our differing experiences highlight the good and bad in life. It's disappointing that everyone returning from war during the history of our country didn't receive a warm welcome, to include a fully supported transition back to state-side military or civilian life.

However, the positive side of our population's current support of service members shows growth in society, maturation and positive change.

Vietnam veterans are the change I see in society. It is people, like veterans and their families, welcoming home our troops with the warm reception they never received. All the good work that goes into memorials and veterans events are just further evidence of that positive change veterans bring about.

Due to all of the good that veterans are doing in society, the new era of military members are blessed.

Veterans have children in the military, and so, in effect, veterans are being the best parents possible, both literally and figuratively.

My father-in-law is a Vietnam veteran, and his transition home was not easy. He's shared the experience with me some - but not a lot - and then only recently, years after his return. So, I mean veterans being the best parents very literally.

Veterans are also being the best parents figuratively. Vietnam-era veterans are my military parental role-models and of Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom-era troops.

In my mind, being the best parent isn't about being a perfect such thing exists. Being the best parents are about improving on how you were raised by treating your children better than you were. Some people had some pretty bad childhoods. The best parents take a bad childhood and do not repeat those mistakes. The best parents give those who come after them better treatment than they themselves received.
That's what veterans are doing in society and throughout this country. Veterans are treating today's returning veterans better than they were treated.

We need to thank them for being good military parents. Thank veterans for being part of the positive changes in America. Thank them for their service.