Mar 15

For the love of sheep?

“Tend my sheep.”
-John 21

Ever wonder why there seems to be so much tension between veterans and civilians?

Just scroll through some of the comments posted on “when a civilian says” memes and you will see just how real and deep that tensions run.

I do NOT believe that veterans are the sole party to blame for the rift between veterans and civilians but I will say that I think it is mainly our fault.  Admittedly, I hold veterans to a higher standard.  Maybe I am old school when I think that being a “quiet professional” actually means first being a “professional” at something and you don’t “beat your own chest” and seek out favors, attention, or credit.

The purpose of this post is to challenge veterans to think differently about civilians in general so that you may live among them better and maybe even grow to respect them.  In order to that, I am going to revisit the popular analogy of Sheep, Sheepdogs, and Wolves by LTC Dave Grossman, U.S. Armed (ret), to help make my point.

LTC Grossman describes the average civilian as sheep, military personnel and police officers as sheepdogs, and those that threaten our way of life as wolves. His analogy has turned into a widely embraced description in the Law Enforcement and military communities. Police and Veterans wear the ‘sheepdog’ title like a badge of honor (most of the time, they deserve too).

In an era when ‘over valorizing’ veterans is a legit discussion, it is even more important for us to look a little deeper into this topic. Sheepdogs are, as we all know, a part of the canine family. Which means by simple genetic make up they are more like the wolves than the sheep. They are more like the attacker than they are with the ones they are defending!

So what would be the ‘thing’ that differentiates the two animals? I suggest that the only practical difference is “domestication.” Both dog and wolf might salivate at the sight of a grazing animal and see it as a potential meal but only one will act out on that instinct, the other will deny its carnal desire.

I left the service and went into agriculture as mentioned in earlier blogs. On my small family farm every animal has its place. Each animal serves a specific purpose or it is removed. So, for me, it is very simple. If I have a certain livestock, such as cattle or sheep, on my farm, they are the “producers” that everything else revolves around. Dogs (sheepdogs, canines, etc.) are additions to that “producing” endeavor.  They are a support element, not a ‘”pet.”  All the animals are fed, housed, and loved the same…..for doing different, particular, and necessary jobs.

Protective dogs are intended to watch over the livestock and run off any potential attacker to the herd, flock, or whatever. They are NOT superior in any way (despite my own endearment of them) and they do not have free reign to do as they wish. I am confident that any farmer or rancher would say that he or she would put down “any” dog on their farm that attacked their livestock. It is unacceptable behavior.

Thus, a well domesticated dog, understands its role and place on the farm. That particular dog or dogs has the discipline to resist certain instincts (the same that the wolf has) to harm the ‘sheep.’ To the point where that dog will do battle against the wolves or any other outside animal that threatens the herd.

Military personnel and police offers must realize that we are not above the sheep/civilians we protect. In fact, the opposite is true. They are the ‘thing’ of worth in our country. They are the ‘producers,’ not us. We have a role to play for sure and it is a noble one! We are intended to stop and remove threats so that they can go on producing. Respect their role as much as your own.

As for those of you who are like me, who have left the military or the police force to become civilians yourself; take a second longer to realize that you aren’t in your previous role anymore. Sure, you can talk about your glory days and how you ‘were’ different but your mental energy will probably be better spent getting to know your new family and communicating with them. It is time for you to ‘produce’ something other than ‘defense’ and if you want to do that efficiently then you might want to eat some humble pie and learn from those who have been doing it already.

I would challenge veterans and suggest that if you embrace your new fleece and understand the importance of their role and your new role in our ‘herd of countrymen’ you might actually grow to love them.

As for you civilians who are reading this: manage your expectations of veterans. We will always have a slightly different walk and attitude about us. We are all trying hard to be a part of the fold but it doesn’t always come so naturally for us.

I struggle with loving civilians myself sometimes. But reminding myself of little things like the fact that my wife, daughter, and son are civilians/sheep helps bring it home for me. My wife is tougher than I am in so many ways and I am still proudly learning how to be a better me, from her, to this day.



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