The word, “Hooah” is an interesting word as it has no true definition or situation where it is more appropriate than another; it is used in any and every situation you could think of. Hooah can be an expression of excitement, an expression of indifference or simply a word to express a mutual understanding between two friends during a bad situation. Whatever situation “Hooah” is used in, one property remains constant, the fact that “Hooah” is a connection between two soldiers, a bridge between race, background or beliefs – Hooah is the verbal expression of a brotherhood that transcends any difference between Soldiers. As I sat next to a veteran of Afghanistan, Clint, a nervous twitch became apparent to me – he said “Hooah” between sentences, after asking questions and when answering questions.
I called him out on it saying, “Man, Hooah is the best word ever isn’t it?” Instantly, an obvious barrier was broken down. We started to talk on a deeper, more natural level. We talked about the word Hooah for about five minutes, which moved into talks about training, his deployment and eventually the problems he had upon his return. Every Vet I talked to followed this pattern, there was a almost instant familiarity between us that allowed us to talk on a more natural level. For many of these vets, personal conversation isn’t first hand nature – talk of training, military memories and deployments are foremost in their mind. I was able to talk to these veterans from the inside looking out, not from the outside looking in. I understood their lingo, their stories and their troubles. A running nickname for me became “Spot,” a term referring to the rank insignia cadets wear while training with Active, Reserve or National Guard units. As the days went on I began to see the transformation of Spot from just a funny nickname to a term of respect. I began to feel a sense of closeness to the vets as I was introduced to vets as, “This is Spot, he’s gonna be a Butterbar (2nd Leiutenant) in a few months.” I started out as a volunteer but by the end of our service I was recognized as a Brother in Arms to these men and women.
The veteran who gave me the nickname was Rob, a Desert Storm veteran with a bad back, slight PTSD and a great sense of sarcastic biting humor. Everyday he would make fun of somebody for something they did. Everyday he also talked to me, sometimes about his experiences, sometimes he’d give me advice about how to be a good leader to my Soldiers and other times he’d just ask me what my plans were. As we left Tucson, I went to shake Rob’s hand goodbye, but rather than shake my hand back he reached around me and gave me a hug. He squeezed hard, patted my back and said, “Good luck Spot, and thank you.” Another veteran, our group favorite, was Cliff. A 6’2″ leather skinned man with a trucker cap and no teeth who had a distinct way of talking that always brought a smile. I talked to him for a good 30 minutes on St. Patty’s day about his time in the Army and all the trouble he got into; when I left he gave me a firm handshake, looked me in the eye and said, “You’re gonna be a good officer Spot, just listen to your NCOs and you’ll be alright.”
What I realized from all of this, is that these veterans saw in me a little bit of themselves – and I saw a bit of me in them. God willing, I will never see or do some of the stuff they had to do during their service time, but the fact remains that as a Soldier I just may have to. Despite your job description, branch of the military or rank, all Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen share one common ground – we stand ready to protect our country and the ones we love. We carry the burden of War so others may bear the fruit of Peace. Regardless of these men and women’s troubles with the law, substance abuse or violence they all answered the call to protect our country. So for us, as college students to voluntarily give our break time up to help these veterans and show that we do care, have not forgotten and that what they did is appreciated is the greatest thanks we could possibly give.
To the students of UMD Hillel, thank you for the opportunity to come with and thank you for reaching out to help these veterans.
To the veterans at Comin’ Home, thank you and God bless our troops. HOOAH!