Imagine transitioning from a life where an approaching vehicle likely holds enemy gunmen to a life where that same vehicle is, well, simply a car.
Or picture yourself diffusing explosives one day and then wrestling and tickling your children another.
These are some of the transitions that soldiers face when they leave active military service and return to civilian life. In many ways, the lives they have lived are a world apart. As expected, these transitions are not always easy.
Retire the Colors is a glimpse into the challenges faced by soldiers when it is time to come home. These are the stories of veterans, and in some cases civilians who work or live closely with veterans, told in their own words. The genuine voices, sometimes blunt, sometimes stark and often profound, explore not just the healing of bodies, minds and souls, but also the return to a world away from war.
It is a return often fraught with challenges. These veterans continue to battle, though these conflicts aren’t waged with guns. It is a fight for respect in the face of empty thanks. It is a war for recognition of just how much has been sacrificed and the weight they continue to bear. They wrestle for understanding both within themselves and from the world around them.
But these stories aren’t merely tales of trauma. They are also stories about finding purpose and joy in life after the military. For some that comes through a natural continuation of service in the police force. For others it comes in the form of art, through painting or poetry. And in some cases, the authors of these essays, men and women who have served their country, who have given up much for the many things we all take for granted, use these stories to reveal their hearts to us.
In his essay, Something on Something That’s Something like Disillusionment, Matthew J. Hefti, a 12 year veteran, writes “People are dying to be known, and too many die unknown.” That is a weighty observation on the human condition, one filtered through the lens of war but universally true and apt. These are not just essays about war and the soldiers who fight. They are observations about life. They are a gift, earned with blood, but given to us freely.
The introduction to the book ends with a call to help these veterans carry the load of their experience. We need to find better ways to help them with their transitions. But barring that, at the very least we need a better awareness of what these people have given and what they continue to give. Retire the Colors is an excellent place to start.