A Ranger's warning on reacting to 'click bait' without all the facts

This article originally appeared in the Havok Journal.

Seen = killed. This was the objective of our entire marksmanship program when I served as a Special Operator in the 75th Ranger Regiment. “Seen” was the critical precursor to action; shoot the enemy combatants. Leave the non-combatants be.

Some of us out there have forgotten this critical point, today in America. Some of us are attacking the wrong people without “seeing” who we are targeting before we pull the trigger.

(2003. Konar Province, Afghanistan.)

The flash identified the origin of fire before the rocket motor etched a line across the night sky, burning a streak into my night optical device. Enemy contact. Only it was directed at the walls of our firebase, not our patrol.

We halted the convoy, a few kilometers from the safe house, identified the enemy position and marked it while air support was scrambled to the area. Bad situations turn worse quickly when you have multiple friendly elements in the battle space and you make enemy contact. Because of this, we knew how critical it was for our Joint Task Force to know where we were.

We confirmed our location with the JTF Command and then the men within the walls returned fire on the enemy. All of this happened within moments. Silently, invisible to all but our friendlies engaging the enemy position, we waited.

We felt helpless watching the fight. Our distance was too great to maneuver on the enemy, so our fires would do little more than give our position away. Masked by the night, we had the only dominant position in the fight. We did all we could: maintain discipline, calm our adrenaline and direct fires from the shadows. The engagement did not last long, but the feelings never left me. Helplessness. Guilt. Gratitude. Rage.

In all of this, I was angry. My strong sense of justice had been assaulted by these people who attacked us. We are here to help.

Our patrol had just escorted Civil Affairs soldiers into the valley to conduct meet and greets with the local mullahs. A rare mission for our JTF. They had gathered intelligence and offered assistance to the village. They provided generators and school supplies and promised to return with a MEDCAP (medical civil action program). Weeks prior, our medics had treated a boy with a near leg amputation from a construction accident in town.

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Why are they attacking us!? We’re the “Good Guys!”

Things move fast overseas. Often times the lives of your teammates depended on your ability to react to contact with speed and accuracy. Two things stood out most from my experience that night: the discipline of the American Soldier and the feelings of betrayal by a people we were trying to help.

Both themes — discipline and betrayal — stand out today as I observe the way the veteran community reacts before understanding the facts.

I work with and for veterans every day and it is one of the greatest honors of my life. I humbly submit that veterans are the leaders America is reaching for right now, but sometimes I fear we do our community a disservice when we fail to seek the facts before we fire away with our voices. Once silent servants of the Republic, we did our jobs, regardless of whether we agreed or disagreed with the policy.

Today, as veterans, we have the opportunity to speak our minds. To opt in or out on a topic. Our countrymen are starving to hear from us and in some respects, we have a responsibility to them still, to serve and to lead.

In most cases I see veterans seizing that opportunity to make a big difference in their communities. They are leading within the home, the corporate sector, small business, government and nonprofits. Sadly, I also see entitlement, outrage and misplaced attacks from those of us who fail to do the work and lazily fall for the title of the hottest “click bait” article in the news cycle. I see outrage and indignation with little to no understanding of the facts. And I see made up controversies.

Two timely examples are with Walmart and Starbucks.

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On Veterans Day 2015, Walmart rolled out their Green Light a Vet campaign. Many veterans were outraged at the fact that Walmart was selling green light bulbs in their name, and claimed it was all for profit. As if the sales of $.96 light bulbs would move the financial needle for Walmart!

Fact is that Walmart donated all the profits of the sales of green light bulbs to worthy Veteran Serving Non Profits. It was a statement: Veterans, we see you and we are here for you. We support you.

Why were we attacking them?  They were the “Good Guys.”  As a community, we should have just said, “Thank you.”

Fast forward to today.  Recently, Howard Schultz announced that Starbucks will hire 10,000 refugees worldwide and the response from some in the community, again, is outrage. Many in our community are indignant that Starbucks would hire refugees over veterans or military. Fact is, Starbucks made a declarative to hire 10,000 veterans and family members back in 2013, and have since hired 8,800 veterans and military spouses. Meanwhile, Howard and Sheri Schultz’s Family Foundation has poured millions of their own dollars into supporting the veteran community.

Neither Walmart nor Starbucks (nor the Schultz Family) were even given a chance by the raw and reactive. The facts were never even examined. Some of us failed to “see” before going for the “kill”.

We know better.

We know to gather the facts of the situation prior to formulating our plan of attack. It has been beaten into us since day one of our time in service. We are no longer in service and the intel is no longer fed to us, which means we must be more responsible, more discerning in where we seek out the facts. It also means we must take our time and seek to understand prior to the “ready, fire, aim” attitude that is counterproductive to our unity as citizens. Counter-productive to our ability to coexist as Americans: different, yet united.

I fear that at some point, America is going to get tired of trying to support us if even the smallest “we” criticize the attempts to assist with little (to no) context and with such vitriol in our responses. That would be a shame, especially since we risked all to protect those who are now reaching out to us. Especially since many of the folks who work at these establishments and lead these programs are also veterans themselves. And especially since many of us know exactly how it feels to be attacked by the very people we are there to help.

If you’re looking for the next fight on social media, it has nothing to do with what’s on your news feed. It has nothing to do with a company’s policies, who’s the President or what the hottest controversy of the day is. It has everything to do with what’s going on inside of you.

I hope we are willing to investigate the next story before we react. I hope we stop falling for the title of the next “click bait” article.

I hope we can we stop sharpening our swords just to fall on them and use them to attack the real issues. I hope we will fight for, not against, one another.

Brandon Young served 11 years in the U.S. Army, primarily with the 2nd Ranger Battalion and the 75th Ranger Regiment and conducted four combat rotations to Afghanistan. A Mighty 25: Veterans to watch in 2017, Brandon currently serves as the Director of Development for Team RWB, whose mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans. 

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