Who Does It Really Hurt When People Fake Military Service?

Why Everyone is Hurt by Military Fakers

I am an honorably discharged Marine with two tours to Iraq and when I look at clowns like this I have to ask myself, “What are you thinking, dude?” I’ll leave it up to any Marines reading this to suppress their rage long enough to point out the numerous errors in this man’s uniform, as well as his judgement. That isn’t the point of this article, though. What I’m more curious about is the question posed here, “What harm do people who fake military service actually cause?” and more to my concerns, “Why exactly do we, as veterans, get so up in arms when idiots brazenly wear our uniforms to receive some false sense of recognition?” While I don’t disagree with most other answers most of us have heard, I do think there is something deeper that ought to be explored in the question. The point of this one is to deal with the question, “Who does it really bother if some moron goes parading down the street pretending to be something they aren’t?” At first it doesn’t seem like much. Vets who have done impressive things should reasonably have enough pride in their achievements that they would brush off someone pretending to be something special. It would seem that way, but in truth, most veterans feel vehement about this, and for good reason. It isn’t just them the practice hurts, but everyone, including you. This next series I will be launching goes into to the mentalities behind it, as well as breaking down how everyone is hurt by the practice. More importantly, we will also be looking at how citizens and the veteran community should respond when cases like this, Stolen Valor, pop up from time to time as they do.

The Military

When you look upon an American warrior, be it a Marine on active duty or a veteran who long ago put away his boots, you are intended to not feel fear. The uniforms of active duty troops are clean, crisp, and tight. They aren’t the rags of a bloodthirsty brutes, nor of barbarian brawlers. Instead, the uniforms showcase a proud and poised warrior, displaying of quiet, vigilant dignity. Their meticulously shined and perfectly aligned medals and ribbons demonstrate their delicate attention to detail, an allusion to the care and precision they apply in their chosen profession and only amplifying the impact which these decorations represent. When one looks upon such a person, they aren’t meant to feel fear. Instead, when one is afforded the chance to see someone like a Marine in Dress Blues, they are meant to see the warrior for what he is, a proud civil servant and something to be respected, admired, and appreciated for those trinkets he so precisely, and nobly wears.

And then you see some dummy making the whole service look like flipping morons. The sad fact is, most people can’t tell the difference between this joker and the outstanding example of a human being pictured previously. They don’t really notice that the medals are all in the wrong places. They don’t really understand the importance of one badge or another. They don’t really get that… there is no way that guy is old enough to be a Sergeant Major. What they then do in that uniform, pick up women, get drunk and start a fight at some scuzzy bar, commit crimes, or just hang out at the mall to get attention, people see. They see these guys act unprofessionally, some of them downright atrociously and civilians think to themselves, “People like this are who is supposed to be protecting me and my family?”

That’s significant. One military idiom I learned to respect in the military goes like this, “Perception is reality.” What that statement means is that the truth doesn’t really matter. Most of the time, you aren’t going to get a fair trial, and what people put together in the first few moments will determine your guilt or innocence in most things. It’s an ugly truth, but one most of us can look back upon times when we were wronged, and know it is the truth. Where this applies to Stolen Valor cases is that what some idiot does in a uniform affects the way that people view, not him, he will be forgotten in days, but on the military as a whole. Absence that aura of the proud professional warrior and the civilized warfighter that the properly worn uniform produces, you just have an arrogant, ignorant person who, to you, is the one going out and killing in your name. No one wants a fool to be a warrior. No one wants a moron with a gun going out and representing them overseas. No one wants to empower undeserving people. That is what they feel has happened when they see this person that don’t realize, isn’t a soldier, but just a liar in disguise.

The ramifications of this are severe, though. In a ripple effect, this belief in the unfit warrior has a way of making its way into policy. They take the form of a civilian population disenfranchised with the military. They lose faith in military effectiveness, demanding cutbacks in their funding and operational scope. They stop supporting troops actions and efforts overseas, sometimes pushing to dangerous drawbacks because faith in the military was lost. Sometimes they can result in the limitation of the liberties of warriors, making their lives just a little bit more unpleasant because of the perception they can’t be trusted. Finally, they deal the greatest blow to our legacy, they turn their kids away from joining the military and push them in other, some far worse, directions, simply because they are afraid of what their kids will become – killers absent a sense of dignity and honor.

This is the significance that the uniform has to you the civilian. We didn’t design those monkey suits just to look at each other. We did that for you. We did that so that you would look at us and would not feel afraid, but safe. It is designed so that you are proud of them. What it means to the individual warrior is something altogether different.

The Troops – The Uniform as Metaphor

As I said before, you’d think that military veterans wouldn’t really care that much about people impersonating them. I mean, these guys were professional warriors and the closest thing to modern day superheroes that our world has to offer… and they know it. Why would they care so much about someone pretending to be them? I know that a lot of veterans are angry that I would even ask that question, but it’s OK, put away the knife-hands gentlemen. I’m about to explain.

As a regular person, you might not know why the Marine pictured above is crying. You’d probably guess he is going to a funeral or about to leave home for the first time to go off to war. That’s because your view of him is based on stereotypes, along with just a few lies and you would be wrong. This young recruit is about to take part in a culminating event of recruit training, the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor Ceremony. The EGA is the emblem of the United States Marine Corps and only Marines are entitled to wear it. For the last three months, this recruit has been in Marine Corps Boot Camp, but he was not a Marine. He, like all the other recruits with him, weren’t considered Marines until after they completed training. They were called “recruit” and suffered the hardships, trials, and indignities which come with the moniker. Once they finished Boot Camp, more properly, once they had received their EGA, only then will they have “earned the title” of United States Marine.

It’s a particularly religious moment for our odd little cult of warriors. For many, receiving the EGA, and by extension the honor of being Marine, is the proudest moment of their lives. It is the moment, for so many of them, which truly gave their lives meaning. Many of my friends who joined the Marines had no direction, no purpose, and no dreams for the future.  They didn’t have a sense of agency, the belief that their decisions mattered. They were just riding the waves. They were far more likely to end up in prison as they were to be looked upon with honor by their community. The Marine Corps, for many of my friends, gave them that sense of being part of something that mattered. If I were to attempt a guess, I’d say that the young man pictured above is crying because, for the first time, he is part of a community of people who matter, one which is honorable, and respected because of what they mean to the world and the citizens which they are drawn from.

That said, while all members of the military may not take it as far as the fanaticism demonstrated by Marines, they all share a common bond, which is signified by their uniform. The uniform, as I made clear earlier, is an artifact which is more than an article of clothing. To many, it is the symbol that links them to a time of greater meaning in their lives. It showcases honorable ideals and virtues they are proud to see when they look upon others who wear it today. What’s more? Every device, every ribbon, every medal, every shooting badge, like the uniform itself, is earned as a product of recruit training, important missions, special schools, and years of honorable service.

What’s more important is what it symbolizes long after service. For many veterans, upon leaving the military, there is a period of mild, or even severe depression. This can even manifest in a longing to return not just to the military, but to war itself. Sebastian Junger, an embedded journalist with an Army unit in Afghanistan and creator of the documentary Restrepo, has had much to say on the question of why would a veteran miss something like war.

About a year later I invited Brendan [one of the soldiers Junger knew in Afghanistan] to a dinner party, and a woman asked him if he missed anything at all about life at the outpost. It was a good question: the platoon had endured a year without Internet, running water or hot food and had been in more combat than almost any platoon in the United States military. By any measure it was hell, but Brendan didn’t hesitate: “Ma’am,” he said, “I miss almost all of it.”

Civilians are often confused, if not appalled, by that answer. The idea that a psychologically healthy person could miss war seems an affront to the idea that war is evil. Combat is supposed to feel bad because undeniably bad things happen in it, but a fully human reaction is far more complex than that. If we civilians don’t understand that complexity, we won’t do a very good job of bringing these people home and making a place for them in our society.

The New York Times

Junger has his beliefs, but as someone who also experienced a lot of the same feelings, I think there is more. As I said before, depression following leaving the military is a very real phenomena that unfortunately embraces the lives of far too many of us. This phenomena, in my opinion, is often misdiagnosed by society at large as PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It isn’t that. Most of us never saw combat, though that isn’t the only thing that can cause PTSD. Regardless of whether or not we saw combat, death, or destruction on the scales people often assume we did, most of us don’t show any of the normal symptoms of PTSD at all. We are just depressed. The failure of society to recognize the distinction in this has caused great suffering for veterans and hasn’t eased the strain on us at all.

Why so many of us are depressed during the period in our lives we had been looking forward to for years is perplexing. One would think the ease of lifestyle would help make us happy. One would be wrong. Perhaps it is the loss of community we feel, as Junger notes in a TEDx talk on the subject; or the sadness for our participation in acts our society doesn’t wholly understand or approve of, a theory held by former Army Ranger and Professor of Psychology of West Point, Lt. Col Dave Grossman. A third, by a professor of Ethics at the United States Naval Academy, Shannon French, postulates that returning veterans aren’t getting the cool down time WWII vets would have had while spending months in close quarters with their fellow survivors on a small ship before finally arriving home after the war. They would spend this time speaking with other members who knew well what they were enduring and going through, an important element lacking in most modern counseling programs for veterans. There is an axiom that pain shared is pain divided. The fact that sixteen hour international flights had yet to be realized for the average soldier was, in effect, a form of forced mass therapy that is overlooked today.

I personally think that there is something simpler than that. Imagine that you will never be awesome again in your life. I know it sounds stupid, but imagine that the coolest thing you will ever do, the thing which the most people will praise and admire you for, you’ve already done. Ronald Reagan put it succinctly with his quote that “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.” But, what happens after you are a man in the uniformed services? Imagine a soldier who comes to this realization, whether explicitly or subconsciously, “I will never be half the person I was in Iraq.”

It’s a depressing aspect and one that is hard to communicate. I guess you could consider it like having a midlife crisis at twenty-two. It comes with a loss of agency: you no longer feel like your decisions will ever matter again. You’re now just another nobody. I think the best person I have ever heard describe this was a stockbroker friend of mine who used to be a professional athlete. He was injured early in his prime and never was able to compete again. The two of us talked about this sensation of “loss of awesome” when he talked about going from being a pro-athlete to doling out cups of coffee and the depressing state of mind that held. He even told another story about a fellow stockbroker who hit a massive pay-day – $75 million; more than the vast majority of us could even fathom. His colleague though, didn’t seem as ecstatic as my friend thought he should have been. My friend left all his coworkers celebrating and asked the now multicentimillionaire why he wasn’t that happy about the team’s achievement. He said to my friend,

“I am happy. It’s just that there are other things. I am on my third wife and I have six kids, all who I don’t know and who hate me.”

Sympathizing, he asked, “Why don’t you just retire?”

After a pause, the old stockbroker said, “Because if leave here, I’m nothing.”

I think this the loss that warriors feel. One does not just go back to being normal after being a warrior. A part of you is forever changed, for better or worse and there is no returning to the person who isn’t still, in part, a warrior. But what is a warrior without a war? To many of them, they are just has-beens. What the uniform, to these individuals, signifies is a time when their lives had value. It symbolizes a time when their choices mattered. For the lucky ones who find meaningful purpose after the military, it is still something that signifies a time in their lives they were very passionate about, a defining time, and one which has elements they will always miss. Maybe it is just nostalgia, because after time fades the emotional wounds that military service often inflicts, you’re left with a great sense of pride no matter what the circumstances. Seeing the uniform abused, as is done by many, is an abuse on the warrior personally. It is an abuse on a large part of his self – that identity he had so emotionally vested into those garments and medallions. The uniform is a metaphor for so many other things that military services represents to the veteran. Many are indescribable, and seeing it worn by someone who hasn’t earned the title, hasn’t suffered the indignities and hardships, is a slap in the face to many who have.

The Role of Recognition

I am very privileged to live near the city of Gainesville, Texas. There, every year, they have numerous reenactments and even play host to the annual Medal of Honor Parade. It is a celebration in honor of the 67 living Medal of Honor recipients, 16 of which, were present at this year’s parade. To those who have been, it is a spectacle like no other small town has ever endeavored to achieve. Between the recipients in era vehicles commemorating their wars from World War II to Afghanistan, to the rebuilt bombers, fighter planes, and attack helicopters buzzing California Street and the Braums Ice Cream store, it is a truly memorable day for anyone lucky enough to grace it.

Parades like this have fallen out of fashion for most of America. Memorial Day is little more than a good time to go to the lake and enjoy a three day weekend. The sales are also really great, I hear. Veterans Day, more of the same with a simple nod to those guys who did stuff most people don’t care to question somewhere “Over There”. To veterans, though, it is a time to reflect and be rejuvenated. They get to experience that sense of community with fellows like them. They get to look back with nostalgia at that moment when they first became a Marine, or a sailor, an airmen, or a soldier. Ceremonies like this renew their pride in themselves and their continued worth as individuals to society. They look at those young warriors, those marching along in their old uniforms and they see everything good about their time in service. They see those young guys and they know these are important individuals, which reminds them that they are too. They feel all this, simply because they see the uniform they once wore, marching proudly down the street.

That said, I do get the temptation to attach yourself to the few moments of appreciation a year that veterans are afforded. Many of these people who go so far as to fake military achievements are pretty worthless. I’m not saying that as just a harsh attack. People like this feel very little self-worth because they truly have very little to offer to society. That’s why they lie. That’s really why anybody lies about anything. They’ve done nothing with their lives and no one appreciates them for anything. They want to feel heroic for once. They want to feel pride for once. They see people thanking us and think it must be great to feel like that. In truth, our feelings are far more complicated than that, but I can understand what they think. We all want to feel like someone we admire, but we don’t cross the line to feel that way.

People want to get as much of the warrior experience now a days as they can, without actually being warriors. They recognize certain qualities of troops and want to distill it and harness that for their own use. Yes, fraudulent people who dress in military uniforms do this, but so does everyone else. Consider how often you’ve heard of physical training courses. What used to be called “X-treme” is now called “Boot Camp”. Housewives and office jockies attempt this training because they think two hours of strenuous exercise with a clown yelling at them is synonymous with the boot camp experience for military recruits. It’s the same with programming boot camp. Is that the three month course where you are completely transformed into a new mindset and frame of referrence? No – it’s just an overpriced two week intensive training session on a new programming language. That’s not a boot camp. I was even recently askedHow do I train myself like a Navy Seal? and the details of the question:

I’m not planning to join the army but I’m trying to study and adopt the mindset of those people, since they have totally mastered themselves and be able to overcome almost any situation with intense focus, dedication and discipline. If we could learn from them, we can apply the same to reach any kind of goals, dedicate ourselves to some great ideals and become a better person of values.What are the some of the practices a normal person can include in everyday life which can replicate the mind and body of a Navy SEAL? Like Mediation, Reading, Workout?

I made a very clear point that if you want to be a SEAL, or a warrior in general, you pretty much have to accept the need to kill people, and endeavour to do so. All the other attributes come as secondary. After you say things like that, the air in the room changes. Still, questions like this will never stop coming. “How can I get the best version of the military experience, without actually doing all the military stuff they have to do?”

Of course, then there are always those who want to capture the sense of awesome that is associated with those who do great things.

It isn’t that I don’t understand why this sort of thing happens. People draw false comparisons, particularly among professional athletes and celebrities. Pictured above, you see 50 cent who took the short lived “military cliche” to its absolute most extreme. I say short lived, because he and dozens of other celebs were publicly accosted for the affront to military sensibilities their poor judgement brought about. Another case I remember was of an NFL commercial where a CG player dressed in a cammie jersey pattern ran through explosions and bombs dropping or some other nonsense, to reach the touchdown. That made no sense, either.

I feel that the real reason that there is so much “branding” going on is that these groups and individuals prize certain aspects of the military experience and want to attach themselves to the military’s brand. That brand, to many if not most people, means things like “dangerous” or “aggressive”, or even “killer”, among other things. Such a brand really stands out to those wishing to promote those lower brain functions and gain an audience wishing to see just that. Others associate the military experience with ideas like “high achiever”, “hard worker”, “heroic”, or “brave”. Though positive at least, people want to borrow these attributes to augment their personal brands. Celebrities like 50 Cent and Justin Bieber do this by comparing themselves to “soldiers” fighting in a “war” or “battle”. They want to borrow the image of dangerous men or of those who suffer to lend that image, and some fallacy of depth, to their music. Even Tom Cruise’s press secretary compared the struggles he faces when making a movie “like being on a military deployment to Afghanistan.” Professional athletes do it all the time by comparing a sport where the whole world stops if they twist an ankle to the battlefield.

Veterans don’t appreciate this. Borrowing something like the idea of the military isn’t something people should do lightly, especially when it involves the wearing of the uniform. These are earned and it would be comparable to the feeling these individuals get when they get their first major contract or are accepted into a team that few people ever get to play for. Frankly, even considering this, the comparisons are actually incredibly shallow. If you are successful as a celebrity or athlete, your college or hometown will build a statue for you, a practice few in the military have enjoyed since about the time professional sports became mainstream. You pretty much have to die to get that honor in the military. Celebrities are also part of an elite group which almost no one in the general population could ever hope to be a part of because they enjoy a rather miraculous and inequitable doling out of specific talents. Veterans aren’t this way. They are simply ordinary people who have elected to do extraordinary things- for mediocre compensation, I might add. Celebrities have every wish carried out by an army of support staff dedicated to ensuring that they are adequately happy enough to sign a new contract. They play a sport… a game… sing songs… or professionally play make believe. They entertain. Sometimes injuries are common in sports, but if there is ever a death it is National news. Same for if Angelina Jolie were to actually break her leg. They are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions to stand in people’s way, catch or throw a ball, run, sing, act, or dance on a stage. Many of them are little more than spoiled brats with no virtue other than one single inhuman talent which has driven them to an unprecedented level of success and arrogance. This in no way compares to what a member of the military feels on virtually every level, so celebrities should just never try to aggrandize themselves further by drawing the false comparison that they are in any way comparable to a true warrior.

I get that people want to be recognized. They want to appear special, and everyone, no matter how special already, want to feel more so. One of the easiest ways to do this is to borrow something special from someone else. People can feel special by doing just about anything military like and get that sense of, “Now I’m special too.” Everyone wants to be thanked for something special and everyone wants the parade to be for them. So some steal the recognition. It can be overt and explicit, such as the jokers who try to receive thank yous and recognition at parades; or it can be more pernicious and subversive, such as aggrandizing difficult training as a “boot camp”, or wearing a Marine Corps jacket and calling yourself a soldier as a fashion statement to “show respect to troops” who have made it abundantly clear that they despisethis form of acknowledgement. Either way, all of these diminish the role that recognition plays in our lives as veterans. It helps continue negative, or at least incorrect stereotypes about us and undervalues the worth we have. Dan Rosenthal said it marvelously in his answer to this same question.

… You end up with a public that doesn’t understand, nor has any concept of the daily life and routine of the average soldier. They end up thinking that every soldier is on the front lines and faces death every day, and as a result, the IT technical specialist who works from an air conditioned bunker on an air base feels devalued.

When the military and veterans can’t be recognized as valued individuals with unique and useful skills, mentalities, and a history of service because they don’t have enough medals, or their story isn’t cool enough, how can they ever rejoin their society again? How can they ever build on it, when society doesn’t understand them and is always bombarded with these fake versions of valor and what it means to be a modern day warrior? This is the role of recognition. It makes warriors feel like real people again, valued, and even necessary again because they have an honored and important place in this world. If that place is diluted with false accounts of what the military experience is, than the hole that society wants them to fill will never fit, and the veterans will continue to fall through the cracks.


Loss to the Citizens

Lastly, the citizens themselves suffer when someone falsely wears a uniform that they didn’t earn. As I mentioned earlier, they are the ones whose opinions are being formed by these people, rather than real warriors. In some cases, this in the forming of negative stereotypes because of nasty individuals trying to pick up girls of loose morals and poor judgment. In other cases, however, it is people who tell the greatest stories. These people can tell you of the battles they have fought and the lives they lost. They tell you the story every man wants to be a part of and of their great, though humble, heroism. These people push the limits of what is humanly achievable. Yes, while there are truly heroic cases that exist of great valor in the armed services, there is also a flood of people who have completely blown the common understanding of what it means to be a warrior. Civilians will ask questions like “did you kill anybody?” and be disappointed when you tell them “No.” Many people have no understanding of the real lives of warriors because the fakers have led them to believe in myth over reality. This robs the civilian listener more than the veteran in my opinion, because they miss out on the value of real veterans. Real ones will never live up to the legend created by the guys who just made it up.

Perhaps more importantly though, is the real heart of the matter and why the Stolen Valor Act was passed, not once, but twice.

The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 (Pub.L. 113–12; H.R. 258) is a United States federal law that was passed by the 113th United States Congress. The law amends the federal criminal code to make it a crime for a person to fraudulently claim having received any of a series of particular military decorations with the intention of obtaining money, property, or other tangible benefit from convincing someone that he or she rightfully did receive that award.

The commonly held belief is that people dressed as military people just walk around all day and collect thank yous. While this happens, as I have shown often, the majority of problems dealing with fakers surrounds people fraudulently filing for benefits they do not rate. These aren’t people who ever go out in public. They are simply con-artists. Consider the state of disability among military veterans. To get a grip on how much is at stake here, in his budget proposal for fiscal year 2009, President George W. Bush requested $38.7 billion for veteran medical care alone. Most of us who were deployed rate something. I rate 10% disability for service connected back injury and hearing loss from working around guns, which gives me a small stipend every month to pay for medical care. While this is small in my case, it can be grievous in the case of others. For example, if you can produce evidence of 100% disability and that you have three dependents in your care, your compensation from the United States Department of Veteran Affairs can reach $3,447.72 a month. I am not saying that is a good thing. That level of injury is staggering, but if all you have to do is fake the paperwork… that is a free ride for life. One case I have heard of involved a Vietnam Era “Colonel” Hamilton receiving over $30,000 in undeserved VA disability compensation. It seems that he never actually served at all. This doesn’t even include getting paid to receive a college education, guaranteed housing and business loans, as well as receiving discounts to various businesses and services for being a veteran. Frankly, if all you have to do is fill out the paperwork the right way, there is a lot of money to be had and that poses a tempting target for scammers. I’d like to know the exact figures, but given the bloated VA backlog and the poor resources to investigate such abuses, we are looking at a multi-billion dollar fraud industry.

I’m sure at this point, I don’t have to make it clearer how this hurts all of us. While somewhere around eight years ago I used to be just a lowly Corporal, mucking it up in Al Anbar Province Iraq, now my day job is as a teacher in one of the poorest regions of the country. Every day I see good kids who don’t have enough books to take home and study. I see buses and facilities in disrepair and not enough teachers to cover all the classes. Leave the school and you have roads that haven’t been properly repaired in years and a hospital you are afraid to go to because you might die. It isn’t that anyone in the town isn’t doing a good job, it is simply that we could use help. As I drive home down Main Street and look at its decay, I think about how we will never get that help because there are so many out there getting by simply from doing nothing, living off government payouts such as those I have listed. While I know that all the problems of a small town won’t be solved by cutting entitlement benefits to freeloaders, and while I know that fraudulent veteran payouts only account for a small percentage of the total entitlements being paid out, there are people who need and deserve it more. I think most people, even non-veterans can see this, but many veterans especially, having already made great sacrifices for their country, view the freeloader mentality, and especially the scam artists, as a particularly abhorrent form of vermin.

Veterans – What to Do About It

Every month or so, I’ll see in my feeds a new person “Getting put on blast” for getting caught faking military service. That’s what we call it when a faker is caught red handed and a photo or video gets posted to social media. It’s sort of the holy grail for many vets and active duty service members to find some guy pretending to be a SEAL at the bar, or a soldier in cammies at the airport, or a Marine in dress blues. They all want to be that guy who catches them on camera and for it go viral as they are humiliated for thousands… millions to see. We want to deliver that divine sense of justice to teach those nasty liars a lesson.

To all the veterans out there, I really want you to take a look at this person. Please take a good, hard look at him. Not his uniform, but the man standing there.

Is this not a pathetic looking human being? When you look into his eyes, I mean really look at them, does your sense of anger not subside when you realize just how miserable he had to be to do this? Does it not appear obvious that he, himself, is aware of how pathetic he is to attempt this stunt? What hole must exist in his life that he would try so desperately, so failingly, to fill it like this? How angry can you really be at a person like this?

Angry enough to ruin the rest of his life? Do you think this picture is going anywhere? Do you think his name won’t forever be attached to it? Should one incredibly stupid, incredibly insensitive act of jackassery, one mistake, define a person’s entire life from then on? Think back on your time in service. I’ve drug many a drunken Lance Corporal through the parking lots of Camp Pendleton, CA, some covered in vomit, some in their own urine. These people are now all proud veterans, but each have made incredibly stupid mistakes, all of which have been forgiven. But do we forgive others? No, we don’t. Finding them out and making a public spectacle of them is sort of our thing now that the wars are over.

It’s gotten so bad that Terminal Lance, the online comic strip put out by Marine Corps veteran Max Uriante, famed for its abrasive, sometimes caustic satire on military and veteran life, even did a strip on how vehement we can be in this regard. It demonstrates “that guy”, one we all know, making a royal jackass of himself that I would like all veterans to really think about.

I’ll be honest, when all of us turn into that guy, we are making a bigger show of what the military isn’t than anything most of these guys have achieved. We come off as petty and self-righteous which is against our proud and humble heritage. Most of the guys who would do this are just losers who aren’t worthy of our blood pressure (which, face facts, is a problem for most of us.) Putting someone on blast for being stupid isn’t the answer, and in the end, only ends up doubling the number jerks in the room. To be honest, that moment of self-satisfaction isn’t worth it when you come to find out you lost that poor loser his job, or maybe that, in his shame, he ate a bullet. At the very least, no mistake should last forever, which is exactly what happens when you immortalize someone’s mistake online.

Seriously though, it’s getting to be a problem, such a problem that many of us are nervous about speaking out online for the threat of being called out for Stolen Valor incorrectly. It happened to one Army Captain, Lindsay Lowery, who was humiliated after being called out for pretending that she took part in more action than she really did. She faced numerous insults, both as a person faking their service and, simply, for being a woman in the military. As the truth turned out, everything she said was the absolute truth and even her commissioning officer vouched to make that point known. Sadly, once the truth came out, the rebuttal didn’t go nearly as viral as did the initial onslaught of hate directed her way unjustly. People like me, people who write extensively online about military experiences we’ve had, have taken the lesson to heart, “Perception is Reality.” I keep a blacked-out DD-214, the form pretty much validating anything I need to prove, available upon request for whenever someone finally makes that jump of doubting anything I have to say to the point that I need to prove myself, before the lie goes viral. It’s a sad truth, but this is what our culture, the veteran culture, is turning into.

Instead, I wish more people would make fun of it. Seriously, make people aware of the phenomena in a way that educates people while not looking like a self-important jerk about it. These guys at Ranger Up, a YouTube channel put out by some Army veterans, did a great job of it. Very funny.

Where it happens online, somewhere it is way too easy to fake military knowledge and experience, I think we have a case study on how to handle it. Tymon Kapelski, one of the newest contributors to The Defense Quorum, Quora’s military interests blog, recently posted a piece showcasing a military faker here on Quora. This person fabricated a special operations story that showcased the beauty of the human condition to come together in a time of common human suffering. The problem? It could never have possibly happened. The time tables made no sense and there has never be a conflict where these combatants would have been that close to one another for this story to have taken place. It was complete fiction. The bigger problem? It had already been upvoted more than 1,400 times and seen by many thousands of people.

What Tymon, among others, did was to confront the individual separately and politely, in the comments section. They said that there were some problems with the answer that they wanted to know about the event and more about the individual in question. Receiving push-back from the author, and eventually seeing challenging comments get deleted. Some went on the investigation and dug up evidence that this individual not only couldn’t have been in the battle he said happened, but had he been, he would have been 14 at the time. Seeing that the individual wasn’t budging, he made his concern public to the veteran community at  The Defense Quorum. From there, the concern was posted to the Top Writer’s board on Facebook and the admins took care of making sure that the answer disappears forever, as has the author who fabricated it. Nice job Tymon and the DQ. This is the second such Quora Stolen Valor case I’ve been a part of, the other with the help of Sam Morningstar which went pretty much the same way. Both of these cases, I would urge others to take up as examples of civil confrontations between potentially stolen valor cases and the rest of the community.

As for what to do if you see someone out in town doing something stupid? For all the rest of us, when and if we see one, I wish that instead of grabbing a buddy with a camera, we would instead pull the dude over (perhaps assertively so) and just say to the guy.

“Look, we know what you’re doing and you need to stop. It is against the law to claim some of things you’ve done and you need to stop. Go away now or we will make it clear to everyone here that you are lying about your military service.”

If they fight you or resist your warning… whatever. Do what you gotta do.


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