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Military veterans represent every American, whether you like it or not

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Military veterans represent every American, whether you like it or not

When I first heard about 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s sit-down during the National Anthem, the first thing I thought was, “He has offended America.”

Seeing that, also pierced through my USMC heart but I had to hear why he did it. Granted, I sensed he did it for the same reasons people stepped on the U.S. flag, but I wanted to hear it from him.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

The Marine veteran in me thought, “very well.” I understand he’s expressing free speech.

Other athletes began to follow suit. Kaepernick’s teammate Eric Reid kneeled alongside him. In another game, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane himself sat out during the song.

Then on Sept. 4, women’s soccer player and Seattle Reign Megan Rapinoe took a knee during the National Anthem before a game against the Chicago Red Stars.

The Americans offended by these athletes’ actions were quick to bring up veterans and service members, how they signed up for liberties such as freedom of speech.

And the veteran in me comprehends this, which is why I felt my heart rip a little inside.

On September 4, 2012 the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) promoted Sara Samora to corporal.
On September 4, 2012 the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) promoted Sara Samora to corporal.

However, I understand why he did it. Truthfully, I’m not opposed to Kaepernick’s actions. At least he’s not burning the flag or stepping on it.

The issues such as #BlackLivesMatter, police brutality, gender-specific restrooms, homelessness and immigration- just to name a few issues -affects many Americans. One thing that vexes me is that many of my veteran brothers and sisters are part of the population affected by some of these issues. Many risked life and limb for our country, for the simple freedoms we often take for granted.

And for some of these veterans, they do not have the full rights other Americans have due to their ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc.

Take for example, Marine veteran Eric Alva. Alva enlisted in the Marines at 19, and served under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in which closeted service members could continue to serve.

In March 2003, Alva was at the forefront of Operation Iraqi Freedom when he stepped on an improvised explosive device and lost his right leg, making him the first of 52,448 injured service members in the war.

He medically retired from the Corps, and in 2007 Alva joined the Human Rights Campaign to lobby for the removal of DADT. Since the policy enforcement, over 114,000 service members were discharged, many who held mandatory jobs within the military, affecting unit readiness.

“I’m a veteran, I’m disabled, I’m Hispanic, and I’m a gay man. That’s what makes up the people in this country, diversity,” Alva said in a video collage when he received the HRC’s Lifetime Achievement Award at a 2015 San Antonio Gala. “And I knew I had to speak out (against DADT).” 

In August 2013, the Marine vet was on the podium again. This time in his home city of San Antonio.

Alva was at a City Council meeting, speaking on how a discrimination ordinance –similar to Houston’s HB2 –would affect him. The service member was greeted with boos and jeers.

Later in a Facebook post that would go viral, Alva wrote:

“Well I just left city council chambers and I feel like crying. I have never seen a city so divided and hateful towards each other. All of mankind should be ashamed. I already spoke and even some of the religious groups even boo’ed me as I spoke. Such disrespect as they preach the word of God. Before I left the podium I said,’to (SIC) all you people that preach the word of God, shame on you because God loves me, like the day I laid bleeding on the sands of Iraq and that’s why he saved me!'”

People tend to forget the veteran community is diverse. We’re a diverse group of volunteers willing to die and fight and represent the U.S. not only on the battlefield, but to show the world the various walks of life we traveled from.

We’re black, white, Asian, and Middle Eastern. We’re Catholic, Baptist, Muslim, even atheist. We’re straight. We’re gay. We’re married, divorced, and single. We’re parents, we’re childless. We come from perfect homes. We come from broken homes.

And we all raised our right hands to protect the Constitution, the same Constitution allowing Kaepernick the choice to protest social injustice.

Changes are a coming; not only in civilian life, but in the military as well. DADT was repealed in 2011. In July, the Pentagon made the decision to allow transgender service members to continue to serve. In December 2015, the Marine Corps authorized locks and twists for black female Marines.

And there’s more changes coming in the future, as we adapt and overcome. These men and women in uniform are fighting either to stay in, or trying to make a better life after the military. They want “home of the free, because of the brave,” to ring true.

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