After the Vietnam War, it has been an all-volunteer military. Men and women have signed on and up for a vast array of reasons. Be it financial, socio-economical, or for idealistic ones. Because all of us that have been in the military in any capacity are taught more things than we could ever count. Things like how to make a hasty fighting position, ensuring your shot group is tight, hand to hand combat, and more importantly…how to put on the uniform and make ourselves and the person to the left and right of you look, think and react as one solid unit.
But what the military doesn’t ever teach you is how to take the uniform off. Taking the uniform off for the very last time is one of the hardest things a person ever has to do…Ever. Forget leaving a relationships or leaving a corporate job. Taking off your uniform for the last time can only be compared to going cold turkey off of drugs. You are trained to live, eat breathe and sacrifice your all for your country and fellow soldiers. But what happens at the end of your run? What are you supposed to do? You have to find another group that shares the same ideology and compassion for you and others as you once held before. When you take that uniform off for the last time, you can put on another one that means almost as much. Where there is already a built in respect, love and compassion for one another.
Take me for instance. To this day (7 years after I got out) every time I see a soldier in uniform, no matter the branch. But especially when I see a 4th Infantry Division combat patch. I feel like the old boxer that feels he has one more good fight in him left. No matter what my injuries might be, both physical and mental. I want to play one last quarter, one last round to prove I still got it.
By the way I look now; I know that if a soldier catches me staring at them they probably think I look like just some guy in a suit and tie, or if I am wearing a tank top and my long hair down. Well I would look like a dirty hippie. (I know I would) But the one thing I would like is to tell them “Hey man, I was a soldier once to.” Or “Hey man I know what you have been through.” Better yet, I could by them a drink or dinner or pay for something of theirs as they wait in line somewhere. As many times as that has happened to me and my fellow soldiers, there is no greater feeling than hundreds of people in an airport clapping for you as you exit off the plane. Or picking up the tab for you and all your fellow soldiers in a restaurant. Or for that matter the amount of attention and gratitude people showed you when you displayed your combat veteran status on your vehicle as people would honk and give you the thumbs up and draw the symbol of the heart with their hands. This is what rock stars must feel like when they are at their peak. It is all because you are wearing a uniform, which you earned through blood, sweat and tears, with all three of those being in abundance.
How to transition from being a part of a team, which was willing to die for each other, to shedding your whole identity is harder than going cold turkey off of drugs. Because it is not a 3 week process that makes you feel like absolute hell. This sick feeling of emptiness is one that will last (for some of us) a lifetime. For some of us we will try and fill that void of being a part of a brother and sisterhood again, by doing many things that are very unhealthy, both mentally and physically.
But I have found that “family” once again. I have found that shedding my dress blues (formerly dress greens) for orange and black has made it so much easier on me.
This family and I have signals or acknowledgements of each other when we ride past one another. We have monthly meetings and do things for charity. This family will call you “brother” or “sister” even if they have never met you before. They offer sincere words of “Keep the rubber to the road” or “Ride Safe.” This family is one that if you see a “brother or sister” on the side of the road under an overpass because of crappy weather conditions. You more often than not will stop your vehicle and offer them shelter.
If you see another one of your “family members” at a local bar, restaurant or anywhere in public for that matter. You get the nod of “I see you,” and if you are outside and another one pulls up beside you. You always will talk about each other’s modes of transportation, family and especially what you want to do to your ride of freedom.
This family has festivals. Although not year round, they have these “gatherings” that encompass the best months of the year, from the end of March to the end of October. Where you can meet, share and be with like-minded people who all have a common love. Plus you can feel like a rock star too, if only for a little while.
This family is shrouded in orange and black. With a crest, patch or insignia just like the ones on your former uniform. This family is, was and forever will be a supporter of us.
I am Harley-Davidson and Harley-Davidson is me.
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