Chris Marvin is the Managing Director of the Got Your 6 campaign. Previously, Chris served more than seven years as a US Army Officer and Blackhawk helicopter pilot before being severely wounded in a helicopter crash near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Over the next four years, Chris underwent ten major surgeries, before being medically retired. His military awards include the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Air Medal. Got Your 6 is a campaign that unites the entertainment industry with top nonprofit organizations to advance the conversation in America, such that veterans and military families are seen as leaders and civic assets who will return to reinvigorate our communities.
My neighbor is a civil engineer. I also studied engineering in college before realizing I was better suited to study business. Yet, building bridges and roads still fascinates me. So, when I’m curious, I ask my neighbor to share a bit about his job.
A friend of mine grew up in Australia. I’ve never been—but I’d like to go. I enjoy conversing with him about his life back home and how it compares to the United States. I learn something new and interesting every time we talk.
So, why don’t more people ask me about my military service in Afghanistan? I have many interesting stories. More importantly, you—the American taxpayer—paid for the trip. Aren’t you curious? Wouldn’t you like to know what it was like?
This Veterans Day, let’s make a deal. Ask me some questions, and I’ll give you some answers. If I prefer not to discuss a topic, I’ll tell you. Then I can ask you about an interesting trip or experience from your life.
It shouldn’t be difficult, but for many Americans beginning a conversation with a veteran—especially one who has served in combat—can seem impossible. Civilians have been given rules about what not to ask veterans. Thus, in an attempt to avoid being too invasive, civilians choose not to ask veterans about their service at all.
I found a resource online describing questions you should avoid when speaking with veterans. I agree with the first one: “Did you kill anyone?” That is something I wouldn’t ask anyone, ever. It is not appropriate for casual conversation.
But they lost me by the fourth question: “How are you doing?”
It seems to me that most conversations begin with some inquiry into the well being of the other person. Veterans are people too. Why is it not appropriate to ask how we are doing?
In my opinion, “How are you doing?” is a great conversation starter. After that, you can ask me what I did in the military—I was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot. Then inquire about where I served—Alabama, Hawaii, and Afghanistan.
Ask me more about my experience in Afghanistan. Where did I sleep? What were my duties? How were the weather, the people, and the terrain? Answers: in a tent; flying troops all over the country; very hot, friendly, and ruggedly beautiful. And, I have more to say on each topic.
Ask me about combat.
It’s important to ask, because most civilians today are disengaged from the combat experiences of the military. They are disengaged because they are afraid to ask.
You shouldn’t be afraid to ask.
I served for you. I volunteered to don a military uniform and lead my platoon into combat on behalf of all Americans. The way I see it, you have a right—some might say an obligation—to better understand where I have been and what I have done.
It’s healthy for the American people to know more about the war their country is fighting. Most veterans that I know aren’t afraid to talk about their experiences. And even though there are lines, we’re usually pretty good at politely telling you when you’ve crossed one.
The worst thing you can do is not ask. We might assume that you don’t want to understand the compelling stories and lessons that have come from 12 years of war.
A dialogue between a veteran and a civilian is not only a great way to learn about each other; it is the beginning of a bridge across the civilian-military divide.
So, this Veterans Day, ask me and my fellow veterans about our combat experiences without apprehension. We’ll all be better for it.