Understanding Veterans – A Three Part Series

Moraine Park president Bonnie Baerwald signing a document at a table and veterans overseeing it

Moraine Park Technical College has proclaimed the 2016-17 academic year as the “Year of the Student Veteran” and to help better understand veterans, the college will have a series of blog entries to address various questions people may have. Much of the information was taken from the book by Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, “100 Questions & Answers about Veterans” and seems fitting with Veterans Day fresh in mind.

Part one talks about the demographics and makeup of the veteran community.

Who are our veterans?

100-questions-coverThis is sometimes difficult to answer because there are varying standards for determining eligibility. But according to Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) a veteran is “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.” This includes National Guard and Reserve service members who have been activated, although those who haven’t, may also be eligible for certain Veterans Administration (VA) benefits.

According to the 2014 U.S. census there’s approximately 21.8 million veterans in the US, and about 413,000 are living here in Wisconsin. So who are they? The makeup of the armed services has changed many times over the years and now there’s a growing number of women veterans which many times is overlooked. According to the Veterans Administration (VA) in 2015, almost 10 percent of U.S. veterans are women, an increase of 6 percent from 1980. Another fact is that from 1994-2013 women were only allowed to serve in combat zones but not in combat positions. In 2013 this changed and women are now allowed to serve in a combat role with a goal of a “fully gender-intergraded force” by the end of 2016.vet-demographics

While there’s a wide variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds in the military that have made considerable contributions to our armed forces a few have stood out over the years. The Tuskegee Airmen, African American pilots distinguished themselves during World War II, the Code Talkers, comprised of 13 Native American tribes who developed an indecipherable code and the highly decorated Japanese –Americans, who were members of the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

So what does a veteran look like? Some are easy to spot, short hair, still wearing military clothing or carrying around camouflage items. Others may have tattoos, wear a specific brand of sunglasses or still use military jargon. But a majority are content to blend in with everyone else and you would never know they’ve served.typical-vet

One label many veterans dislike is the term “hero”. Some don’t see themselves as heroes, rather someone who volunteered and did their job. Others may dislike being called “warriors”. As many veteran don’t see themselves as a warriors because they may only have been in a support role or possible never deployed to a combat zone. One other stereotype veterans are often portrayed as, is that we are somehow “damaged”. This is often a result of the news media or movies that portray the typical veteran as having PTSD and could snap at any time. Occasionally they may get upset when someone who has never served, tries to explain what it’s like to be in the military, or may feel personally attacked when war or government spending is blamed on them, but once you get to know us, you’ll realize we’re just like everybody else. So don’t be afraid to ask about our service. If we feel comfortable we’ll tell you but please don’t be offended if we do.

Bottom-line, we don’t want to be treated any differently and there’s no one thing that defines us.

As we opened up it was said that Veterans Day was fresh in mind. Just a reminder, Veterans Day is to thank all of those who served and Memorial Day is to honor and remember those who died while serving our country.

Check out our upcoming Part 2 to learn about the military structure and its culture. To learn more about our veteran services, visit morainepark.edu/veterans.

 Michigan State University School of Journalism. (2015). 100 Questions & answers about veterans. Canton, MI: Read the spirt books

Written by Stephen Pepper
Student Veterans Specialist