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Dumb things civilians say to soldiers

Sep. 21, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Dumb things civilians ask soldiers
Dumb things civilians ask soldiers: Dumb things civilians ask soldiers. (Lance Bacon/Staff)
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A soldier walks into a bar, sits down and meets a civilian. The civilian asks him, “So, have you ever killed anybody?”

Sounds like a joke, but it isn’t.

Soldiers say that’s one of the most outrageous questions civilians ask them, out of all of the ridiculous questions they hear.

Inspired by a YouTube video called “S--- Civilians Say to Veterans,” Army Times asked soldiers about the strangest, stupidest questions or comments they’ve had from civilians about their service.

Many answered. Their experiences reveal the scary truth of just how much civilians don’t get about being a soldier.

“If I’ve ever killed someone,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mark Trepanier, who has served as a human resources tech since 1989, with four deployments. “Now I just look at them all crazy and say, ‘I'm about to!’ ”

“My own mother asked me more than once if I had killed many people while I was serving in Kosovo,” said former dental specialist Rafael Grajales Garrett, a 14-year veteran. “I loved my mother, but have to admit that the level of ignorance civilians display when it comes to the military and veterans is frightening.”

Questions about the lifestyle sound like a combination of the Wild West and “Beetle Bailey.”

“Do you get to take your guns home?” Of all the questions civilians have asked him, said Sgt. Benjamin P. Zapien of Training and Doctrine Command Headquarters, that is the silliest.

“People ask me if my drill sergeant still yells at me,” Capt. Chris Robinette, with the 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Carson, Colo., told Army Times.

After deployments to Tunisia, Mali and Mauritania, Robinette said, people get curious.

“People ask me if they have normal food in Africa. What do I eat? Do I eat, like, goats?”

Some wrongly assume soldiers’ working lives are nothing like theirs.

“Whether or not I like being told what to do,” said TRADOC Public Affairs Sgt. Maj. Jose Velas. “‘I just don’t like being told what to do,’ they say.”

His comeback: “Well, do you have a job? ‘Yeah.’ Does your boss tell you what time to go to work? ‘Yeah.’ Does your boss tell you what to do when you’re at work? ‘Well, sure, yeah.’ Well, what’s the problem?”

A lieutenant colonel says he got an earful from a schoolboy. Lt. Col. Cedric Dolman recalled a trip to an elementary school career day. He had just come back from a deployment to Iraq, just made O-5, and said he was feeling pretty impressive in front of a fourth-grade classroom.

Then one boy raised his hand.

“He said, ‘Are you a sergeant? Well my cousin’s only been in the Army three years and he’s already made sergeant. You haven’t made sergeant yet? Geez,’ ” Dolman recalled. Now he’s with TRADOC Operations, Plans & Policy Division for Army Capabilities Integration Center — and he still hasn’t made sergeant.

Perception vs. reality

“After the Fort Hood [Texas] shooting [in 2009], a friend of my mom asked her why everyone didn’t just shoot back,” said retired Sgt. 1st Class Vicki Reiff, an automated logistics specialist who deployed to Bosnia in 1996 with the 1st Armored Division, “so I am guessing a lot of civilians think this way.”

People ask those questions because they are not familiar with the military, the different jobs soldiers do and the way the military has changed since 9/11, said Staff Sgt. Terra Gatti.

“It’s frustrating ... that people don’t realize more about us and that people don’t take the time to explore more of what we do, and the wars that we fight, and the good things we do in those countries,” Gatti said.

The questions people ask soldiers reflect what some experts call the “military-civilian divide.”

Civilians’ comments may be funny, but underneath, they highlight what service members, veterans and even spouses face once they leave the military and transition to civilian life.

Only half of 1 percent of Americans served on active duty “at any given time” since 9/11, according to a Pew Research report titled “The Military-Civilian Gap.”

“Some 84 percent of post-9/11 veterans say the public does not understand the problems faced by those in the military or their families,” the study says.

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