On the EDge: Stop using veterans as pawns in a political game

Composite image, St. George News

OPINION — In the tumultuous ideological tug o’ war that has erupted over the decision by some NFL players to kneel in silent protest during the national anthem, one group has, sadly, been dragged unwillingly into the fight: our military veterans.

Some are not terribly comfortable with the idea of a protest during the anthem. Most, however, understand that their oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States” means that they served for all of us to be protected by the rights deemed essential to our lives.

That includes the First Amendment.

I have encountered very few veterans who believe that the silent sideline protests by these players is aimed at them or their brothers and sisters who served in uniform.

The matter receives much louder, forceful vocalization from those who oppose the protests and would have those who take a knee fired or worse.

It’s easy to see why our veterans would get pulled into this nastiness.

They are symbols, of course, of a certain patriotism that, quite frankly, is ebbing.

But patriotism is exhibited in many different forms. You do not have to don the uniform to be a patriot. You can serve your country in any number of ways – from the simple act of voting and participating in our system of government to participating in any number of AmeriCorps programs.

You can enlist in the National Civilian Community Corps, Volunteers in Service to America, the Senior Corps, the USA Freedom Corps, JumpStart, Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and, of course, the Peace Corps. They are all local and world community service organizations that require time and energy that benefit our nation and humanity.

But, we hold those who served in the military in a special place of honor.

They, after all, placed their lives on the line.

Instead of jamming them in the middle of this debate, we should step back and realize that there truly are better ways to support our military veterans.

There is a whirlwind going across the internet these days about how 22 veterans take their lives each day.

That is an extraordinary number by any account.

And, while, like most things, it is exaggerated – the number is now about 20, which is still outrageous – and misunderstood – those taking their own lives are, for the most part, veterans older than 50 – we, as a nation, are not doing enough to help them.

It’s easy to drag out an emotional tie-in, as false as it may be, to claim that taking a knee during the anthem is disrespectful to our veterans.

But, it is not accurate.

It is disrespectful to think their service was only to protect those freedoms and actions that we approve and revoke those that may be upsetting, disagreeable or inconvenient.

If you don’t like the silent protest, then petition to have the First Amendment altered; don’t dress up your opinions in a uniform you never wore.

The only people who can speak for the veterans on this issue are the veterans themselves. Those who didn’t serve, never walked in their boots, never toted a gun, endured the rigors of military training or the horror of combat should speak for themselves or button their lip. Our vets are strong enough, thank you, to offer their own opinions.

They served not only for those who couldn’t or were ill-suited for military service, but also for those who get all fired up in patriotic fervor after letting others take care of the messy business of war. You know, the chicken hawks who think a war is for somebody else to fight.

Still, there are some things we can and should do.

I mean, if you sincerely support our veterans, have you contacted your congressional representatives to ask for increases in veteran services? Have you ever stepped into a Veterans Affairs office and looked around to see how it operates, visit with the volunteers who put in many hours there on their own dime?

Would you be willing to accept a tax hike that would increase veteran services, from housing for the homeless to training for the unemployed to medical and mental services for those afflicted with the long-term infliction of post-traumatic stress disorder?

Assistance for veterans who separate from the military with physical or mental health issues can be a crapshoot.

I’ve been to the VA office in St. George a number of times.

The care there is excellent, prompt, courteous.

I understand that is not the case in other locations that are vastly understaffed and underfunded.

Why can’t it all be the same?

Why can’t a veteran in an urban setting be assured the same level of care and cooperation as those in a smaller town?

That, dear reader, is disrespect, not the act of kneeling during the anthem. In fact, the kneel was intended as a sign of respect after Colin Kaepernick’s meeting with former Seattle Seahawk player Nate Boyer.

Boyer served six years in the U.S. Army as a Green Beret, including multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan before enrolling at the University of Texas and walking onto the football program. He was later signed by the Seahawks as a free agent and played during the preseason.

Boyer contacted Kaepernick when he learned of the quarterback’s protest and suggested that instead of sitting during the anthem he should take a knee.

“We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammates,” Boyer said, recounting their meeting for an episode of HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel.”

“Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect. When we’re on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee and we pull security.”

Boyer went on to tell Gumbel that Kaepernick was “very receptive” to the idea and invited him to take a knee with him during pregame ceremonies.

Boyer said he wouldn’t do that, but that he would stand next to him as a sign of support.

“I got called a lotta things from both sides,” Boyer said. “I was told I was a disgrace to the green beret by a couple Green Berets, one of ’em I was friends with. And that hurts, you know? It really does. But then I also had a lot of people in the military and people in Special Forces that said, ‘Man, I hadn’t really thought about that before. And I think you’re onto something.'”

Boyer later posted a photo on Twitter of his meeting with Kaepernick with the caption: “Thanks for the invite brother… Good talk. Let’s just keep moving forward. This is what America should be all about.”

But, it isn’t.

We keep waving false flags, dividing ourselves over ideology and prejudice.

But, that desire to demonize those who would kneel in silent protest has further corrupted an already skewed view of patriotism.

You think it is disgraceful to take a knee during the anthem, yet think it is OK to wear your American flag flip flops or bikini on the Fourth of July?

You’re inconsistent at the very least, perhaps a hypocrite who ignores proper flag etiquette.

You think exercising your right to free speech in this matter is an affront to the U.S. soldier and veterans?

You truly do not understand the oath those military men and women took to uphold that right.

You want to honor those who served in uniform?

Then do something about it.

Write your congressional leaders and demand greater funding for veteran services.

Vote out those who refuse to expand the VA budget.

Understand that war does horrible, unspeakable things to the human mind and spirit, often breaking it beyond repair.

We have a number of these veterans among us.

They came home from the European Theater, the war in the Pacific, the mountains of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, the hot, dry deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing with them nightmares that will never end.

Welcome them home, help them with medical care, find them homes and jobs.

Thank them for their service.

Honor them for their sacrifices.

But, don’t use them as pawns in your political games.

They’ve been through enough battles.

No bad days!

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • Real Life October 17, 2017 at 7:56 am

    Most veterans I have asked think that it IS disrespectful to kneel during the anthem, and I agree with them just like a LOT of Americans do. The NFL ratings are taking a big hit, and will continue to do so.

    • .... October 17, 2017 at 9:29 pm

      Well it sounds to me like you didn’t have the nerve to wear the uniform …..

      • Real Life October 17, 2017 at 9:42 pm

        And you did? Lol, of course not. They drug test.

  • St Geo October 17, 2017 at 8:07 am

    I’m a veteran. You know, one of those that you incorrectly labeled as being pulled unwillingly into this protest.
    Add me to the list of those who are offended.
    Ed can wrap this protest up in all the pretty paper that he want and try to spin it as a noble cause all he wants, but he’s wrong.
    Until this disrespect by the NFL and its players ends, on game day, I’ll continue to figuratively take a knee while watching Lassie reruns.

  • Craig October 17, 2017 at 8:21 am

    You are discussing two issues.

    Kneeling during the anthem is a political statement. These men are employees at work. On their free time, I support them legally protesting however they choose. At work it is entirely inappropriate and there is nothing but lack of character showing.

    The VA system is another story. It has always been a mess. The revelations at some VA hospitals are not new. This has been known for as long as I’ve been in medicine.

    The government is not to be in the business of healthcare. The VA has proven that. Further, it’s unconstitinal for it to do so. The fact that 5 Justices lies and called a fine a tax is really quite pathetic.

  • John October 17, 2017 at 10:19 am

    As usual, Special Ed presents us with his not researched opinion. As a member of a few Veteran’s groups around town I can say that nearly all Veterans in southern Utah are very offended by this misdirected protest. Insulting the flag and all those who have died defending it has nothing whatsoever to do with their cause. It just goes to show that the players don’t have a clue. If they want to protest police brutality , why aren’t they protesting in front of police stations ON THEIR OWN TIME ? Why are they destroying the companies they work for? Seems like every time a certain group of people is upset , they destroy their own neighborhoods! Not very bright..And since the rule of the day is to protest something unrelated to the cause, I am boycotting the NFL until Special ED gets a brain..

    • ladybugavenger October 17, 2017 at 12:07 pm

      Special Ed……thats still funny LOL…

  • Uncle Lenny October 17, 2017 at 10:40 am

    As a local veteran, I AM offended, Ed. It’s the wrong way to protest. I won’t be watching the NFL, either. these highly paid persons can find another way to raise awareness of their issue. They are being payed to play…keep personal politics out of it. God bless America! And fellow veterans, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.

  • John October 17, 2017 at 11:30 am

    So it’s acceptable to plagiarize on the St.George news? Ed seems to have stolen quite a bit of his opinion from left wing propaganda sites and never actually spoken with any local veterans and he has the gall to tell us what we think? Thank you Lenny for your service also..

  • John October 17, 2017 at 11:46 am

    BTW, Veterans are not being used as pawns in this misdirected protest. They are genuinely offended by the fact they are being disrespected by this display of Anti- American Sentiment..

  • mctrialsguy October 17, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Ed, your facts come from the extreme sic’ left and you are not in touch with reality. Have you served in the armed forces? No, and you appear to be a typical sixties draft dodger. I for one served in the Army and am very offended by anyone that does not stand for the Pledge Of Allegiance to the United States of America, now the divided states that you and your party represent and have tried so hard to divide. I as a Veteran have elected to remove all professional ball games collectibles and related items from my home, and will no longer watch any professional ball sports, period!! That is how offended I am, and all of the other veteran’s that I know feel the same way.

  • mctrialsguy October 17, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Ed Marion Kociela, shame on you!!

  • comments October 17, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Poorly written opinion piece this time, Eddy. Seems like you’re wandering all over the place with this one.

    • comments October 17, 2017 at 2:01 pm

      Kinda the sort of ramble a drunk person would come up with…. just bad

  • DB October 17, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    The NFL ‘situation’? Ignore it. Watch how quickly it disappears.

  • mctrialsguy October 17, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Ed, you are using veterans’ as a pawn in your political game. Very sad.

  • Southpaw October 17, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Like others, a local combat veteran here. I’m going to go out on a limb but I suspect you never served your country Ed. So what was it, college deferment, flat feet? In addition to being offended by players kneeling at the sound of the Star Spangled Banner, I’m also offended that you used a picture of one of the Viet Nam Memorials in your piece. Smoke another doobie Ed.

  • snowflake1 October 17, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    I can have the flag removed from college meetings. And pretty soon i won’t have to look at this offensive flag at pro sports either. This scheme is working out perfectly for us Ed!

    • John October 17, 2017 at 4:08 pm

      delusional psychosis (Hallucination)…the snowflake thinks it’s winning.great imagination leftard,,hahahahahahaha!

      • bikeandfish October 17, 2017 at 10:21 pm

        I think you missed the sarcasm in the post

  • NickDanger October 17, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    I kinda don’t get it, I kinda agree with it, and I kinda don’t agree with it.

    Let’s say that Point #1 is that veterans are being used as “pawns” in the NFL take-a-knee controversy. That seems like a safe assertion to discrepate from this verbal morass. Okay, so no, not really, I don’t see that happening. I don’t see any attribution here and I don’t recall any veterans being pulled into this controversy. I myself am a veteran, and no recent demands have been made on me to break my silence on this matter. A few current NFL players who also happen to be veterans have spoken on their own, so far coming out on both sides of the issue.

    Is point #2 that we’re not doing enough for our veterans? Well I say let’s do everything we can for our veterans, though I can’t think of anything offhand that we’re not doing.

    Part of the appeal of joining the armed forces is the increase in station it brings to many of these young men once they’re out of the services. Let’s be frank, most of our enlisted ranks are comprised of the lower economic class – kids who didn’t have as many options as some of their peers. So okay, go give me 4 years in the military and I won’t treat you like a poor kid anymore, I’ll treat you like a man worthy of respect. It’s important that society at-large continues to give this respect, that’s a big part of the deal.

    So yeah, all the events and recognition do matter. As far as the benefits, I myself have never used any of them. But I do know an older Army guy, in poor health, heart problems, not much money to spare, who spends half his time at his local VA hospital, and would certainly be indebted beyond his ability to repay without his veteran benefits. I also know a couple guys who took out VA loans for their houses. Certainly these programs are used and appreciated, so more of the same is de rigueur.

    Is one of Ed’s points that it isn’t disrespectful to kneel during the National Anthem? Because that’s just the kind of thing I’d expect Ed to say.

    Of course it is disrespectful. There are many ways to demonstrate one’s discontent about certain issues in this country – public forums, demonstrations, voting one’s conscience, political contributions (or lack thereof), to name a few. But kneeling during the National Anthem is very specifically disrespecting the ENTIRE COUNTRY! What these pampered athletes are saying is, “No, I won’t salute that. The good does NOT outweigh the bad in the USA.”

    False, pretentious, ill-considered, and yes, offensive. You, sir, are playing FOOTBALL. For a living. A very lucrative living. The USA has done that for you, there is no other country on the planet where you can become rich playing (American) football. And that’s all you can do, remember all those classes you skipped? For YOU, mister professional football man, the good outweighs the bad by a long-shot, and let’s not forget every single one of your buddies kneeling there beside you.

    So stand up, put your hand across your tiny little heart, and silently thank God you live in a country where you’re not consigned to manual labor like a man your size with your limited mental capabilities should be. If you really want to protest people getting shot by police, there are demonstrations for that, websites for that, a Facebook page (or 5 million) for that, a GoFundMe for that, a political party for that, hundreds of ways you can virtue-signal that you are generally against police shooting people.

    The football field is for playing football. Remember football? Yeah, now play it and grunt now and then. Otherwise your mouth should only be used for talking trash to the other team.

  • ladybugavenger October 17, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    This whole thing has sucked the fun out of drinking a beer, eating chips and salsa (with cheese and sour cream), and watching football…..i’ll just stick to drinking a beer, eating my chips, and play lots of pool. Screw the NFL.

    • Real Life October 17, 2017 at 9:43 pm

      Big swing and a miss for Ed on this one.

  • .... October 17, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    as a veteran I’m not offended at all. I wore the uniform to protect this country and to protect the rights of everyone living in this country to speak out and to peacefully protest any disagreement they have. ..so if they want to kneel let them.it’s their right in this country. I’m not boycotting the NFL ….play on !

    • ladybugavenger October 18, 2017 at 9:13 am

      Are you sure you are not confusing a uniform with the straight jacket they put on you? LOL. love you Dot.

      • Real Life October 18, 2017 at 2:52 pm

        Plus he is a liar.

      • comments October 18, 2017 at 9:00 pm

        if it wasn’t a straight jacket I’m guessing it was at least a hospital gown from the mental ward. If he wants to think of that as a “uniform”, well… what can ya do? 😉

  • jaltair October 17, 2017 at 10:43 pm

    This commentary is very well written and I will be sharing it on Facebook in hope that some friends who continue with vitriolic words and behaviors will read it and wise up some. I am tired of people bickering over everything to just make political points. Thank you, Ed Kociela!

  • bikeandfish October 18, 2017 at 1:26 am

    I read Ed’s commentary as an argument against pundits using veterans as pawns not veterans choosing to individually take sides. Its clear that many veterans in S. Utah believe that kneeling is inappropriate. That said, I think Ed is saying pundits who use that in their argument should be held to a higher standard and care for veterans with greater consistency, not just when it serves their political agenda. I think that is a fair expectation.

    Kneel or don’t kneel. Support or don’t support. Veterans deserve attention more than when its politically convenient.

  • jaybird October 18, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Interesting a draft dodging moron has a say in this. Trump brought attention to this without thought of his own culpability in the controversy. Our troops “take a knee” at Arlington. Hes just mad because he cant pull his cowardly fat ass up if he did take a knee. Trump played golf and chased woman during his 5 draft dodging sessions to get out of fighting in VN. NOT ALL VETS feel even the least concerned with NFL players efforts to bring attention to unnecessary shooting of blacks.

  • riccie October 18, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    I would like to support you in this. However; If you look at YOUR past. You clearly have a double standard.
    You wrote.
    “They came home from the European Theater, the war in the Pacific, the mountains of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, the hot, dry deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing with them nightmares that will never end.

    Welcome them home, help them with medical care, find them homes and jobs.

    Thank them for their service.

    Honor them for their sacrifices.”

    However in your earlier journalism life you did now Welcome them/us home that came from Korea or VN etc. You did not thank them/us when you learned where they/we served. You did not speak or write kindly about them/us in your articles in the past. Just a little research will show your lack of assistance to them/us. Yet now as this has been sensationalized in the media throughout our great country, you have flopped over like a pancake. Yes Ed we have had interconnecting circles in the past. You are NOT on our side. You are politicizing this for your own personal gain.
    I wish you would be more honest in your own life and support.

  • commonsense October 18, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    Stop using Blacks, Hispanics and Muslims in a political game, oh, and lesbians too. There are some of each who do not support the Democrats in their global socialist agenda.

  • Jerry October 18, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    Ed hit the nail on the head. Those of us that served did so for many reasons, I served because I love this country. I was in the Navy from 1972 through 1992. I spent 10 years with my family stationed in Japan. I spent time in a lot of different countries around the world and no matter how messed up we are in this country, we still have it a lot better than any other country in the world. What is even better is the fact that we are free to speak our mind. We are free to express our self. This is not the case in most of the world. We may not like it because somebody burns the American Flag and as much as it hurts, I will defend that right. The same goes with those who take a knee in protest. Does it show disrespect, yes, but It is there right to do so and what they are doing is perfectly legal weather they are at work or on their own time. It is your right to express your displeasure in their action. It is not your right to force them to stop. It is your right to protest their action. You can hit them where it hurts, in the pocket book. You don’t have to support the NFL. There are a lot of kids and collage players that play their hearts out every week, watch them.
    Some of you may disagree with what I have said, and others will pick apart some of what I have said. And that is alright, it is your right.
    May God Bless You and May God Bless America

    • bikeandfish October 19, 2017 at 11:20 am

      Thanks for a well reasoned comment.

      Freedom of Speech was never assumed to be a comfortable right. There is plenty of reason to believe issues like this are why its so important. In fact, Martin Luther King Jr talked extensively about the benefit of “tension” from such acts:

      “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. “

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