What You Should Know Before Asking Your Friend, The Veteran

We have all heard a story that begins something like this:

“Well, I asked my buddy, he’s a veteran who served in Iraq…”


“My brother is in the Army and he says…”

The condition known as being a military veteran is frequently used to add credibility to innumerable claims and pieces of advice.  In fact, we often ridicule vegans and crossfitters for constantly proclaiming themselves such but we ignore that most veterans are equally guilty.  How many times have you read a post on social media that begins with the phrase, “As a veteran” or “I’m a veteran”?  You can’t even count them.  It requires a supercomputer and several MIT geeks to even attempt the study.  With that in mind, I thought I would share a few insights on military service that many of you don’t know – mostly because most veterans won’t admit it or tell you.  So, before you start writing that great post-apocalyptic thriller or planning your SHTF BugOut plan utilizing your buddy, the veteran, as the “insider” or “technical adviser”, give these insights a thorough read.


We Aren’t All Geniuses

Did you know you can graduate law school with a D average?  D stands for Diploma, as they say.  You can graduate at the very bottom of your class, mere decimal points above a failing grade, and, still, you graduate and receive that degree.  You hang it on your wall and everyone spends the rest of your life congratulating you on such an outstanding achievement.  And you can be the worst lawyer to ever approach the bar.  The same is true of the military.  What?!  Oh, yeah.  See, here’s the thing, you don’t have to be very smart to do most jobs in the military.  In fact, you can be just about as dumb as a bag of hammers and still get along quite well in military life.  Don’t look at me like that.  Ask any veteran.  Hell, ask EVERY veteran.  We’ve all known, and some of you were, a guy so dumb he couldn’t find his way out of a latrine without a battle-buddy, and yet, he made it through his enlistment with relatively little difficulty.  Can you follow orders?  Can you remain physically fit?  Can you shoot, move, and communicate?  There you have it.  That’s all you have to do.

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Most Veterans Aren’t Subject Matter Experts on…  Anything

“He’s a veteran so I know he can hold his own in a gunfight.”  Not really.  Did you know that more than half of the U.S. Army barely qualifies with their primary weapon every year?  When I say barely, I mean they barely hit more than 50% of the targets presented during qualification.  Another insulting percentage fails that simple qualification standard and has to go back to try a second, third, and sometimes even fourth time before they can successfully hit 23 out of 40 targets.  Oh, and, don’t pull that, “It’s because they aren’t infantry” garbage either.  The infantry isn’t any better than any other MOS at qualification.  In fact, when I was assigned to an infantry battalion, our support company, you know, the one with the mechanics and girls, consistently qualified at a higher rate than our infantry companies.

It has gotten so bad that the Army had to create a process of retraining trainers and having those trainers retrain soldiers in the very simple, and most basic of all military tasks, shooting your damn rifle.  These are not the support companies and the staff positions.  These are the infantry and cavalry.  You know, the ones who are supposed to shoot for a living.  Here’s an article in the ArmyTimes about the program – CLICK HERE.  The Army’s excuse is that we’ve been too busy fighting a war to properly train our troops.  You know, fighting a war with rifles and bullets but we weren’t properly training people in the use of rifles and bullets.  Seems a little weird, right?  Well, don’t count on your Army friend being the go-to expert on all things marksmanship and combat.  The truth is, most of us simply aren’t.

Qualifying expert on a weapon doesn’t make you an expert on that weapon.  I know, I’m confusing you.  Sorry.  Let me explain.  I qualified as an Expert on the M249 SAW the first time it was placed in my hands.  In fact, I had never seen one in person prior to arriving on the range.  One of the SAW gunners was out on sick call so they needed someone else to take his place.  I volunteered.  The Range Master demonstrated how to load the belt and pointed out the location of the safety switch and I walked to my lane.  We zeroed.  The weapon needed no adjustments.  We fired.  When the results were read, I had scored higher than the other gunners who were experienced with the SAW.  I was an “Expert.”  I didn’t know how to disassemble the damned thing or what all the parts were called but I was an “Expert.”  I took it upon myself to do the rest later so I was fully trained on the weapon and wouldn’t get myself killed.  In contrast, I was sent to become an actual subject-matter expert on the MK19 – the amazing and magical 40MM grenade machine gun.  Yes, machine gun, not grenade launcher.  Trust me, I’m the expert.  I spent an entire week learning about the weapon, disassembling, reassembling, taking exams, and fondling the thing before being allowed to fire a live round through it.  We then fired a lot of live rounds through it.  Thus, I became an expert.  And never fired the damned thing again.

If you are lucky, you will find a veteran who was dedicated to his skillset and actually dedicated long periods of study and practice to perfecting it.  But, most personnel aren’t actually that dedicated.  They do the minimum required.  Some of them are an expert on one very specific thing.  They call those Warrant Officers.



Military Personnel Are Not Experts On Survival

I can hear it now.  “Screw you, man!  My Uncle was a Ranger, and…”  Cool it, Francis.  Most personnel are taught some very simple survival techniques.  Some are lucky enough to go through more advanced training, such as SERE, in its various levels.  Still, that does not make an expert on all things survival.  The information is relatively simple and is designed to help you survive long enough to get back to friendly lines, or get rescued.  It isn’t meant to train you to live for several years in the jungle by yourself during the apocalypse.

A couple of years ago, I chatted briefly with Mykel Hawke; a man who is actually recognized as an expert on survival skills.  He is also a retired Green Beret.  Due to his military affiliations, many people assume he became such an expert on survival through the good graces of Uncle Sam and the phenomenal primitive survival skills offered through the U.S. Army.  Nope.  I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing this information.  I didn’t ask him ahead of time.

He spent a great deal of his own money and his own time learning those skill sets.  He says, regardless of his military accolades and extensive training and experience, he learned virtually nothing useful to long-term survival in the military.  It simply isn’t designed to teach you such things.  When I asked him specifically which long-term survival skills he possessed that were taught to him by the military, his answer was simple.  “None.”

So, before you start planning your bugout process and selecting your long-term preps, do yourself a favor and consult someone whose sole claim to expertise isn’t, “I was in the Marines once.”

Most Veterans Are Not Big Picture Thinkers

For the most part, military personnel are neither trained for, nor expected to, understand the big picture.  They are a part of a very small portion of the overall strategy and they know and understand only the portion for which they are responsible.  The average infantryman knows how to destroy the enemy before him but he probably doesn’t know how to win the overall war.  That isn’t his job.  His job is to do the killing, not the thinking.  The same is true of virtually every occupation in the military.  Even in the intelligence fields, many of the positions are very specific.  They may not know, or care about, the overall picture as it is viewed by the commanders in the pentagon.  I spent quite a few years in uniform and I don’t recall ever hearing someone ask about, or explain, how our specific mission fit into the grand scheme of things.  It wasn’t important.  It was only important for us to know our specific mission and conduct it as efficiently as possible.

Understanding the big picture involves study and contemplation.  That generally isn’t most important in the mind of a typical soldier or Marine.  That’s why sergeants and corporals don’t attend the War College.  It’s not our job.  That’s what we have Generals for but don’t confuse that with a blanket endorsement of people with stars on their collars.  An Air Force General probably has as much of an answer to fighting ISIS as you do.  It will be very specific and it will involve a lot of aircraft and bombs.  That’s their job.  That’s their lane; their area of expertise.  Even a General can be just one cog in the machine of war.

Ignorance = Bad Fiction

Sometimes I can tell who, or at least what type of person, an author consulted while writing a story.  The same is true when I read people’s suggestions about long-term survival and prepping.  Even in the realm of firearms training and education, I can detect when someone is approaching a scenario from an infantryman’s perspective, a law enforcement perspective, or the perspective of someone who attended a course or two from either of those previously mentioned.  I can also tell if you attended a course full of bullshit by someone who has no clue what they are teaching or recommending.

Choose your experts wisely.  Write better books and be better prepared for what may become of the world if your apocalyptic visions of the future turn out to be correct.  And, never ever listen to anyone who begins their remarks with, “My buddy was in the military and….”  The End.