She Who Had No Idea

Syndicated

She probably didn't mean to come across as ignorant and ironic. 

There was no question, though, that she had an intent.

The woman was a fellow federal worker, and we were sitting across from each other for a meeting earlier this week. As the small group of us sat around waiting for the others, we made introductions and small talk.

There was talk about how motorized scooters are helpful when an office building is super long with many hallways. I mentioned how Segways would have been helpful in the Pentagon, but joked that the Marines would have nothing to do with it.

Some of the folks laughed, and this led to a few examples of how technology has changed the way the military does business.

That's when she spoke up.

"You know, my daughter has an engineering degree and was offered some really well-paying jobs with the Navy and Army, but she turned them down because she just couldn't be a part of the killing machine. The submarines. The killing. She just couldn't do it." 

Then she mentioned her daughter instead works in a big city for a multinational financial services corporation.

The whole time she spoke, the woman was looking right at me. 

military career

As I sat in a bunker under the threat of incoming in 2007, I was not thinking I'd face another sort of incoming in 2012.

As her words sunk in, I felt like the air was starting to swirl around my head. I was stunned. Just moments before, I had identified myself as having worked for the military. 

Was that ...? Was that a dig at me? A passive-aggressive way to call all DOD employees killers? What did her daughter's career choices have anything to do with mine?

And what did her statement have anything to do with the conversation and context of our meeting?

I simply responded, "You must be so proud."

As the meeting started, I tried to shift focus and concentrate on my work. But my thoughts kept returning to her statements, and later that morning, when I returned to my office, I went to my supervisor to talk about it. Was I being too sensitive? Did he also find the woman's comments to be inappropriate?

To my relief, he did.

In fact, he was genuinely offended and apologetic that I experienced that. There is the dilemma that I will have to work with this person and her agency in the future. He recommended I head up to Human Resources to talk with Doc, the HR manager who specifically handles veterans affairs within my department. 

In a funny twist that proves to me that the world works in mysterious ways, Doc himself appeared at my supervisor's door at that moment for an unrelated matter. My supervisor invited him in and the three of us talked about the situation together.

It was while I was speaking with Doc that I learned things that made my heart sink.

This lady and her comments are not unusual. 

While the vast majority of people within my department treat veterans the same way they would any other employee, there is a small percentage who look and treat veterans with contempt and disgust. In fact, Doc deals with these sorts of incidents all the time. It's a reason a veterans program was created. Veterans are subjected to ignorance every single day in the federal government.
 
I had no idea.

Of course, I knew that veterans leaving the military face challenges when entering the workforce. I knew about the laws, programs, and incentives put in place to help veterans find jobs. Heck, I even wrote about them during my time at the Pentagon. 

I did not realize, though, that once those veterans do get their foot in the door, they are sometimes met with hostility and ignorance. 

If comments are specific, threatening, discriminatory, or related to gender, race, disabilities, and any other one of those protected qualities, they would be punishable. But the First Amendment's freedom of speech allows people like the woman who spoke to me to offensively tap-dance in that gray area of inappropriateness.

There are a variety of reasons.

Some are resentful of the 5- or 10-point advantage veterans get when applying for federal employment. This is especially true in a poor job market where there are thousands upon thousands of people applying for federal jobs.

Some are resentful of what they see as job perks, such as "extra leave time" to attend to Reserve or Guard military duty. Others see military retirement and the free education benefits as a waste of tax dollars. 

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