In my husband, I see an adoring father, a hard-working grad student and a great friend – in addition to Sgt. Johnson of the U.S. Marines. Each of these roles is intrinsically part of who he is, but they are by no means the same person.
The first time I saw Devin Mitchell’s Veteran Vision Project, the idea that there are two sides to every veteran immediately resonated with me. Mitchell attempts to show this dichotomy in a very tangible way. Each photograph shows veterans looking in a mirror at “the other side” of themselves. The photos go deeper by showing other aspects of their lives, including hobbies, their families, injuries they may have suffered, and even struggles with addiction or PTSD. Here are a few of the most memorable photos.
There is a saying that older vets like to tell young Marines: “If the Marine Corps wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one.” Fortunately, this thinking has changed over the years, and families are now seen as assets to the troops. With enhanced readiness programs and support groups, families are better able to cope during deployments and training operations, and the troops can focus on the mission at hand.
However, no amount of programs can substitute for the presence of a loved one during holidays, graduations, family movie nights, or that day when everything goes wrong. Once they return, servicemen and women and their families still have to work hard to reintegrate and settle into a “new normal” after months of functioning without one another. Some families, like the couple in the last photo, find nontraditional ways to be a support system. For others, the struggles can be insurmountable. At the end of the day, the majority of military families do the best they can for one another, even when that means making tough decisions.
Another aspect that veterans struggle with in their dual identities is the scars, physical and otherwise, that service leaves on them. Between a Department of Veterans Affairs fraught with long wait times and the loss of the community built during service, life can be incredibly difficult for veterans in the civilian world.
Several new veteran-oriented organizations have found that bringing veterans back into the fold to reestablish the connection they have through shared experiences is vital. Civilian understanding of PTSD has improved greatly through awareness campaigns, but it is important to realize that this is a part of themselves that veterans may not be able to share with everyone.
Some of my favorite photos in the series are the ones that show the veterans in their element doing what comes most naturally to them. One of the greatest disservices we can do is to pigeonhole our veterans. The part of them that begins to take shape the first day of basic training will stay with them long past the last day they wear the uniform, but it is only one side. Veterans can be intelligent, creative, kind, sensitive, industrious, strong, and often very funny. They are more than just a veteran.
Goodwill Industries International proudly supports its local organizations in engaging veterans and military families in holistic wraparound transitional support services, including employment placement and training. For more information contact your local Goodwill.