The U.S. Army asked a simple question. The heartbreaking answers revealed a tragic reality.
A simple question from the U.S. Army's Twitter account resulted in a flood of responses they probably weren't expecting.
Leading up to Memorial Day, the U.S. Army shared a video on their Twitter account showing a soldier's words about what serving in the military has meant to him.
The young scout, Pfc. Nathan Spencer, says he joined to serve something greater than himself.
"The army has afforded me the opportunity to do just that. To give to others, to protect the ones I love, and to better myself as a man and a warrior."
Then they asked Twitter the question, "How has serving impacted you?"
Presumably, the U.S. Army was anticipating more positive responses like Private Spencer's. What they got was a dose of painful reality.
Story after story of trauma, PTSD, abuse, loss, and other tragic outcomes came pouring in.
Americans have a tendency to place the bravery, valor, and duty of military personnel on a pedestal and gloss over the human cost of continually churning out trained soldiers. While our patriotic hearts swell at the sight of young men and women in uniform, there are dark sides to service that we barely talk about. "Thank you for your service," we say to our military folk, not realizing that the unspoken response is often, "It's destroying me."
These responses to the army's question speak to that reality:
It's not only the individuals who serve who are impacted. Their loved ones are too.
The responses were an important reminder that military service should not be glorified or prettied up for patriotism's sake.
These are not rare, isolated incidents. The tweets included here barely scratch the surface of the stories that were shared.
Too many soldiers who see combat come home irreparably broken, or don't come home at all. Too many families are destroyed by the trauma that people programmed to be killing machines bring back with them from the battlefield. We need to remember that the impact of armed conflict lasts far beyond surrenders and ceasefires.
But as many of these Twitter responses show, it's not just the soldiers who see combat who struggle with the impact of their service. Even those who are never deployed can also experience trauma in the ranks.
And far too many do not end up getting the emotional, psychological, or financial services they need to live their lives after the fact.
The U.S. Army acknowledged the stories people shared and offered the Veterans Crisis Line for those who need help.
Perhaps we should honor our military personnel by being real and upfront about their experiences and listening to their struggles. Perhaps we should honor them by advocating for reform in our military systems and by doing all we can to create peace.
Perhaps best way to honor soldiers is to strive to build a world that doesn't need them.