“‘Thanks’ Given” by Derek Downey

I have received thanks from many civilians who assume that because if you have worn the uniform you have been overseas and have been at war. Many civilians are not informed about the topic of serving in the military. They only rely on what they see in Hollywood or in the media, and they assume we are over there killing everything in sight, in the name of protecting the country. There is a distinct contrast between what you see in the movies and what actually happens. Even as a veteran. I do not fully know what other service members have gone through; we each have had our own experiences while serving, some good, many bad.

I was on a boat off the shores of the Persian Gulf for the majority of the ten years I served, but I have had my boots on the ground, been on the front lines, and have felt the exhausting heat of Afghanistan and Iraq. I have not been a part of the door kicking, guns blazing, shoot ‘em in the head, glorified Hollywood image of war, though. I have seen death, have blood on my hands, and fully experienced the hardships of conflict. I choose to not talk to many people about my experiences overseas. I am fortunate to have the support of my loved ones and I speak with them about the battles I have fought. I cannot imagine sharing my military experiences to the stranger who have asked, me, “Have you ever shot anyone?,” as if I were some Hollywood Hero who just stepped out of the movie screen.

I have not always been well-treated by civilians. Some have falsely assumed that I only joined because I was a delinquent who had no options. In truth I joined because I have pride in my country, and I wanted to do something to better it. I have been disrespected for wearing the uniform. Once, when I had returned from a seven-month deployment and was enjoying the company of my family and friends at a restaurant, a person came up to me spat on my ribbons, called me a baby killer and said I was going to go to hell for what I represented. The only thing I can suggest to that gentlemen and to every civilian is, that while you may not agree with the war, never discredit the men and women who are sacrificing a lot for you freedoms, and show your appreciation in some form, not just with a “Thanks for your service.”

I am pleased when a civilian who sees my morale patches on my backpack asks if I served and thanks me for my service. But many of us need more than a “thank you.” If a civilian wants to show true appreciation to the American war fighters, stand up more for their right to better healthcare, or get homeless vets off of the streets and get them the help they desperately need. Take time to visit your local V.F.W. or VA and have a conversation with a veteran. Many veterans will be open and tell you wonderful stories of their time serving if you show sincerity and interest in our sacrifices. Help be the voice of the people who are fighting on a daily basis to get more help.

I am one of the lucky ones, but other veterans, like those taking their own lives, feel hopeless and abandoned by the very citizens they protected. Veterans need the support of civilians as they transition from the military into the civilian world. Support programs that are supplying veterans with the help they need. As a veteran I am giving back to my community, and it is my life’s passion to build my business of taking in rescue dogs and training them to become service dogs, and then pairing those dogs with veterans who have service- connected disabilities. This will enable me to help fellow veterans cope with their lives after service. Many of us are hurting mentally and physically. Be the voice of the people who must fight every day to get the help they need.

Derek Downey served in the United States Navy for ten years as an Aviation Ordanceman. His responsibilities included the assembly and handling of all aircraft weapon systems and ammunition. He served as a gunner on Special Boat Teams with the Riverine Unit Rivron 3. He completed four combat deployments and is an Operation Iraqi and Enduring freedom veteran and a veteran of Operation New Dawn. He was attached to the USS Enterprise from 2004 to 2009 stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, with deployments in 2007 and 2008. He deployed in 2008 with Special Boat team three, stationed out of Yorktown, Virginia. He finished his time serving in San Diego California, attached to the USS Carl Vinson with a final deployment in 2011. Derek is currently a biology undergraduate at University of California, Santa Barbara, where he plans to become an Aviation Pilot and continue service dog training.