Jim Alton’s VA Column: All military service deserves equal respect

Web editor’s note: Each month, Emmet County Veterans Affairs Director writes a column about news and issues facing veterans. Below is his November 2016 column.

All military service deserves equal respect

I’m going to devote some time this month to talk about the increasing incivility among service members of different branches.

It’s pointless to argue over who’s the toughest when there’s always someone a little more “tougher.” Instead of giving each other the mutual respect they’ve earned, far too often veterans are putting each other down. It sometimes goes beyond healthy rivalry and into incivility and insults, sometimes in person, sometimes behind others’ backs, and of course, without tact or even decency on the Internet.

Between services, the rivalry is obvious and has been around since the services were conceived. The Internet has amplified this further, as it does for many things. But there are further divisions within each service and it seems as if those are more damaging than competitive. Grunts versus POGs. Ground versus air. Combat arms versus support. People aren’t satisfied with being part of the 7 percent of the U.S. population who have served in the military, or even the 0.4 percent serving now, so they throw their comrades under the bus to make themselves feel better.

Especially when it’s in person, much of the back and forth is just good-natured ribbing. There’s an element of the Bedouin saying, “I against my brothers, I and my brothers against my cousins, I and my brothers and my cousins against the world” in all this. Among friends who are service members or veterans, that’s undoubtedly true. Giving and taking crap is part of the drill; the military’s a rough-and-tumble place.

But, often, there is unhealthy sarcasm. It’s dismissing the achievements of other service members and veterans because they didn’t do the same job you did. It’s insulting another vet or his opinions because his job was “soft” or “stupid.”

My family represents 64 years of Army service, four of Navy and my own years in the Marines. We have ragged on each other, but in the end we respect on another’s service.  My 11 years in this office as the Director of the Emmet County Veterans Affairs office has put me in contact with veterans of all the services, and I can tell you that they are all proud of their service and I was proud to meet each and every one.

Together, veterans, let’s keep in mind that the wars have been won by men and women of all services and all Military Occupational Specialties (MOS). Without support of each, we would never have had much hope of winning.

Think back to WWII, it was the men and women back in the States that built the planes and tanks; grew the food; and did so much to provide for those serving. If not for them, we would never have survived. So remember, no one MOS or one service ever won a war, we are all in the fight together.


Advance care planning for veterans

What is Advance Care Planning?

Advance Care Planning is the process of clarifying your values and your preferences for future health care, and identifying who you would like to speak for you – your “Health Care Agent” – if you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself. An Advance Directive is the legal document that you should use to tell others what your preferences are and who you have chosen to be your Health Care Agent.

The Advance Directive

In the future, if something happens to you and you can’t make decisions for yourself – maybe you’re unconscious or too ill – your health care team will use your Advance Directive to contact your Health Care Agent and together, look to your preferences on the Advance Directive as a guide to decisions about your care. Have you thought about what is important to you and what kind of medical care or mental health care you might want in the future? Have you thought about who you would want to be your Health Care Agent? Are you ready to make your choices?

If so, it’s time for you to complete VA’s Advance Directive form. Call our office today and let us help you. (231) 348-1780

A little lesser-known history from Pearl Harbor

As we approach Dec. 7, I thought I would throw in a little story of the USS Arizona.

Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors killed by a Japanese attack on the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, which launched the United States into World War II.

Those who died didn’t go peacefully, which makes Pearl Harbor ripe for ghosts.

One of its more famous ghosts, “Charley,” has been there so long and his presence so well-documented that it isn’t uncommon for local officers to respond “That’s just Charley” when water faucets turn themselves on, radio stations change, or heavy doors swing back and forth inexplicably. However, he’s harmless.

Many of those who visit the memorial built over the Arizona feel inexplicable sadness and pain. But one of the most harrowing ghost stories regards a sailor who was shot after leaving his post during the Pearl Harbor bombings. He is said to haunt the deck of the sunken ship at low tide.

Think troops, think Christmas

It’s time to give some thought to our troops serving around the world. If you have someone serving or know of someone and can provide an address, we would very much appreciate it if you would contact our office. It’s a very lonely time of the year for our troops and any and all correspondence is greatly appreciated! Even if you just have a name and the service he or she is in, we may be able to get an address.

Please put this on your priority list, and thank you.

If you are interested in contributing items to care packages for our troops, visit the Emmet County web site’s VA page for information about how you can help: https://www.emmetcounty.org/officials-departments/va/

A big ‘thank you’

As Nov. 11 is Veterans Day, Rick and I want to thank all of our veterans for their service to our country, which brings up a bothering thought. I still find veterans who have never been in our office, some with serious illnesses. I spoke to a Vietnam vet recently who was unaware of some compensable related illness from the service. Veterans, if you have not talked to Rick or I, do so promptly.

We would also like to wish everyone a very blessed Thanksgiving as we all have much to be thankful for. And HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARINES  (Nov. 10), 241 years young.

Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle. Semper Fi

Jim Alton is the Director of the Veterans Affairs Department within Emmet County. Alton served in the United States Marine Corps (1955-62) and is retired from the Michigan State Police. Reach him or his assistant, Rick Wiertalla, at (231) 348-1780 or jalton@emmetcounty.org

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