Labour Day in the U.S. will let us give up summer. Labour Day will help us think about rest. But will Labour Day help us better understand the work troops are doing as we enjoy the last days of summer?

There are many troops serving abroad and most are living out their lives under the hazardous conditions of deployment. Many in our culture limit the idea of work to an eight-hour day with breaks for meals. This isn’t military culture. In most military assignments, troops are subjected to hostile and/or dangerous settings that demand more out of the human soul in uniform than work demands in an average American job.

Military life is a full-time job, demanding 24 hours every day while you’re wearing the uniform. This is needed to save, preserve and protect lives. Every troop has their part in the mission when they wear the military uniform. We may hero-worship the true-grit warriors and laugh at the company clerks, but we know that all are needed to hold the line in some way, while on and off-duty.

Troops need to be recognized for their work in the military as they give their lives to a warrior existence with exhausting demands. When troops leave the military, the transition from military to civilian life is tough for many.

Holding down two jobs


When I was in the military, I knew of a soldier who worked at Burger King while on active duty, while maintaining all of his military duties. He had a large family and also received public assistance (welfare) from the government.

I knew another military member who was caught up in Amway triangle marketing as a path to keep his family from receiving public assistance. The Hall of Fame basketball player Shaquille O’Neill was once interviewed about his stepfather’s military career, and he told of his stepfather taking on an extra job to support the family while on active duty. Shaquille learned about his stepfather’s character from his honourable way of simultaneously taking on two tough jobs.

A military member, by wearing a uniform, offers the nation a huge personal sacrifice on so many levels. The families of military members sacrifice their ‘normal’ lives with hectic deployment schedules. The ultimate warrior, Rudy Reyes, actor and former U.S. Marine Recon and Sniper, once told me that when he returned from war, he found his then-wife shattered by the trauma due to her exposure to multiple funerals for departed military personnel.

There are many military-member sacrifices not mentioned in this piece. And maybe society could make some effort to understand the sacrifices of those in the military. Greater empathy leads to greater hope for the soldier pursuing life after the military.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit


Group of injured soldiers in Iraq as part of Proper Exit program - The unseen hard work of troopsOnce the hard work in the military is over, the soldier becomes a veteran, and you’d think the world of work would honour the soldier-turned-veteran.

In ancient times, troops would be given land and would live out their lives as honourable beings remembered by the state. Now, this honourable status is just a title.

In ancient times, troops would be given land and would live out their lives as honourable beings remembered by the state. Now, this honourable status is just a title. Less than 1 percent of the general population presently serve in the military. No wonder veterans aren’t remembered by the world of work!

The 1950s book and movie The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit truly captures the journey of a veteran pursuing work after war. In this narrative, the character Tom Rath is a suburban father and husband haunted by his memories of the Second World War. The narrative shows how Tom fought in ‘The Great War,’ but was then forgotten.

Tom rides the train into New York City each day, numb to his existence, as a commuter pursuing a job that doesn’t fit his present state of being. His peers at work and his supervisor overlook Tom’s inner will to become more than his job. Tom experienced war and needed room to readjust from war. (By the way, the book is a good read and Gregory Peck is in the ’50s movie!)

The hard work from the military depletes the soldier at home, at the workplace and on so many levels beyond the debate of a livable wage. Working conditions for readjusting troops need to be examined closely in the world of work.

Other ‘special’ citizens are given a voice to describe their challenges at the job site. Why aren’t returning troops given a domain to express their concerns about the civilian workplace? In The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Tom Rath shows how he challenges himself to have a voice at work.

Vets are hard workers and it’s a deeply spiritual experience to complete the war mission at a high human cost. Many veterans have narratives that can prove their loyalty and effectiveness in and out of the war zone.

Staring at goats


the men who stare at goatsRecently, I found myself feeling like Tom Rath. I was invited to a “Vets in Tech” seminar on pitching entrepreneurial ventures. There were some 10 veterans who presented to a panel of successful business gurus.

At first, I thought that the seminar was going to be some sort of hustle. Vets these days are objects of hustle, as they’re a special population with a huge social media and mass-culture following. I’ve always questioned this attention.

On a spiritual level, I’ve wondered why some image consultant hired by CNN wanted me to confess to her about war, as if she was some kind of priest. I was just going on with Wolf Blitzer. I turned down the consultant and CNN. Why didn’t any of these people have an interest in my soul after I returned from the war?

“Vets in Tech” was truly authentic and supported all the veterans who made business pitches. My presentation was highly supported by my fellow veterans and the panelists. There were no ‘Blue Falcon’ (war zone betrayal) moves happening as veterans presented great entrepreneurial ideas. This seminar consisted of constructive panelists who had empathy and gave sound advice.

I want to develop more advanced unconditional self-care approaches that I view as inner technologies of the soul, in order to help others transcend life’s problems. (Hey, just watch the movie The Men Who Stare at Goats!) These technologies of the self are for veterans and civilians.

At some point, we’re all warriors seeking to reflect and lead ourselves to the best decisions possible, while engaging with others. I appreciate “Vets in Tech” for letting me stare at goats and talk through my process. In a way, this pitch was a way to engage moral imagination and to help myself transcend some of the toxic experiences I encountered as a veteran in the world of work.

How can we honour veterans?


The soldier becomes a veteran after the hard work is done: military service. These are some questions that society might ask of itself with the aim of honouring veterans.

  • Can employers have more empathy for veterans in transition?
  • Can job fairs truly provide jobs to veterans instead of using the platforms for promotional campaigns to push company brands?
  • Can the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) be altered for veterans in the world of work, to better fit their readjustment needs?
  • Can veterans be offered diverse, well-paying jobs that don’t involve security or driving?
  • Can the military veteran who’s supporting a big family be assisted without having to apply for welfare?
  • Can the veteran be welcomed into a new job without unnecessary jealousy or contempt placed upon them?
  • Can a vet be seen as something beyond the tax break the company gets for recruiting troops?
  • Can a Human Resources department truly engage in exploring the issues of post-deployment readjustment without fear?
  • What are government and vet organizations and religious groups doing to improve the lives of veterans who are seeking good jobs?
  • What’s being done to improve the workplace for veterans?
  • Why is veteran unemployment still high?

The future is uncertain


doorsI don’t know about my future, but I do know what I’ve sacrificed, and I know many others sacrificed more than I did while in uniform. I do know that I want to keep helping veterans, and I want to work each day with an unbreakable will and unbending contentment.

I must challenge the world of work on the topic of veteran awareness, but I also must find creative ideas that can be used to transcend the alienation of being a veteran in the workforce. I hope that someday, I’ll go on a vacation on Labour Day with more smiles.

I know that many do appreciate those who work hard as military personnel, and understand that the work continues back home. I can also look at Rudy Reyes, Matt DeMaio, Don Coolidge, Bennett Tanton, Stacy Bare and Brandon Mills, Condition One, Ask The Monk, Warfighter Radio Network, Maria Amor Art, The Recon and Sniper Foundation and Paul Schneeberger’s Beyond Tribute, Will Finnegan, Rev. McDonald, Mike Bevers, Ramsey Hawasly, Pat Urquhart, Karim Temsamani, Adam Montgomery and his writings about the struggle of Canadian war veterans, for helping veterans rebuild their lives on so many levels.

These are fellow warriors who have recreated the meaning of work within their diverse entrepreneurial ventures. They haven’t forgotten the mission, and still carry their battle buddies as they pursue success in this challenging civilian world that often forgets the work of veterans on Labour Day.

Korean Sijo poems for unappreciated veteran workers


 

Know it all
The professor teaches about work and oppression,
The student studies the idea of work and oppression,
The tired troop works “war” far from home and the classroom

 

Vet Dad Fails At Work
Young Son asks his Dad why he walked away from work,
20,000 war trauma clinical hours became ghosts from work,
Daddy, you can quit and write comic books about our heroes

 

Veteran Honour Slayed 
She wished me the best though I have a creative warrior’s vision,
The other She said she respected what I have done,
No Exit, as Sartre wrote, let me accept their weak excuses

 

Unseen Warrior Work
18-knot hard winds blow and I am not sailing The Chesapeake,
Plane drops me off with my two chutes, weapons and ALICE,
Land on my head with No Workers’ Comp and No Union to the Rescue

 

The Bonus Army that Never Died
Ike and MacArthur put down the Bonus Army of World War I,
A Bonus Army of Vets without work, wanting Help and misunderstood at home,
The Bonus Army was put down but the ghost of their needs was not put down

 

No Extra Pay for Duty
Never overtime pay while in my uniform, like the guys with hard hats back home,
Seen as a fool for returning to my old uniform without rank,
Why we fight is a question folks ask instead of Why We Serve?

 

Who Serves? An Ethical Question
Chosen by the governor to be a draft board official,
Can I draft my son if need be in a time of war?
My justice will rise for my son and for the one with the graveyard shift

 

Make a Difference or Not?
Another loss in this mindless job interview,
The loafered ones with the questions will never know of our load Over There,
Good work we did Over There, Who Cares?

 

This article is part of a weekly column exploring spiritual transformation for veterans. To read the previous article in the series, visit WHY I WRITE ABOUT WAR: Because lives touched by war matter to me»

Mike Kim Veteran: Mike is a psychoanalyst, an Iraq War vet, an ex-friar monk, a war trauma care provider and a doctoral researcher at the Teachers College of Columbia University. Find him on his website (www.mikekimveteran.com), on Twitter, on Instagram and on Facebook at Warrior Wellness and Lifeworlds.

image 1 Pixabay 2 Pixabay 3 DVIDSHUB 4 The Men Who Stare at Goats by Fan the Fire Magazine via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)