As many of you know already, I am a USAF veteran, recently discharged. As life continues, I’ve found myself wrapped up in the lives of other veterans, having become employed with the VA as an intern as well as being a founding member of the first veteran’s group at my college. Needless to say, being a devotee of Ares aside, I spend much of my time dealing with the realm of conflict, war, and their actors. I get a pretty intimate view into the minds and lives of radically different kinds of people, and that has me thinking today about our own military and veteran coreligionists.
The military gets a bad rap, especially in pagan circles. When my blog first came out, I had written that a great way to get to know Ares was hanging out with vets, and I rather tip-toed around the idea that readers should actually join the military. A reader and fellow blogger, Kullervo, took issue with my skating around the topic. Looking back, I can’t say I blame him. There is a lot of prejudice against any form of militarism woven in to Pagan culture from its time developing alongside and within the counterculture movement in the 60’s and 70’s, and I have seen it firsthand, albeit in a muted form. Many pagans and polytheists already hold tenuous positions as minorities within their surrounding communities; pagan service members and veterans are a minority within a minority.
Luckily, with the end (or at least fading) of the counterculture movement, the draw-down of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and pagan military groups becoming more vocal both within and outside the pagan community, pagan service members and vets are getting a little more attention. Thanks to the work of the Sacred Well Congregation, military pagans of a Wiccan bent can enjoy circles on many military installations today. Important battles have been won on the home front for students and veterans respectively; not only was a pentagram approved as a religious symbol for use in national cemeteries, but a worship space for pagan and earth-centered faiths was added to the grounds of the US Air Force academy, located in the heart of the Evangelical bastion that is Colorado Springs. With pagan religions of both recon and non-recon variants growing, chances are you may actually know a vet or service member in our community and not even know it.
Often, I think of what happened to me in my military career: the accomplishments, the failures, the conflict, and the growth. I left displeased with my ending, however I cannot look back and call the experience a waste. The military is, in some regards, a great place for a developing mind. Diversity, I feel, is key to that environment. I’ve met people from all fifty US states, about thirty to forty foreign countries, and people from every sort of socio-economic background. I’ve met stereotypes and stereotype breakers. All in all, I learned that people are people no matter where you go. Such environments challenge you, much as Ares, to question your assumptions of what is right and wrong and think about the impact the most minute detail has on an outcome. In a world of separateness and individualism, the military teaches about teamwork and sacrifice and what it means to be depended on.
Of course it isn’t all roses and team-building. Diversity means mistrust, conflict, and incoherence. Even if you never deploy, there is plenty of stress stateside, dealing with drunks in your unit, inept leadership, or inefficient clinics. Especially inefficient clinics! Just because you fight the war from a computer in Germany or a hospital room in Virginia doesn’t mean you get to walk away unscathed. Suicide has been a real problem in recent years, as vets go home to communities that don’t want them or can’t take care of them. The west, which relies on mainly volunteer militaries, allows most of its citizens to be shielded from war; total war hasn’t been something the west has faced since WWII. In a world of violent movies, video games, and sports, we sure don’t like to talk about actual, in-your-face violence and the people who do that on other’s behalf.
Consider this a call for submissions. I want to share the stories of vets and service members in our community. If you served, in any country, wartime or not, please share your story, and I’ll put it up. Even if you aren’t a vet or member of the armed services, feel free to honor your ancestors by sharing their stories. What did/do these stories mean to you? How do they affect you spiritually? These are the things I think our community needs to hear. Email all submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and include any stipulations you feel appropriate, such as whether you’d like to remain anonymous.