I am speaking from my vulnerable veteran heart that beats inside a masculine, white,
straight, spirited adult man full of flaws and gifts to give this world. My gut has been
churning ever since I began to think of what an affirmation of support to Minority
Veterans of America would need to say. It was simply too much to express, and then I
remembered one of my BVF’s (best Veteran friends) recently recounting a ridiculous
story where it was obvious that his neighbor had to check her privilege. Step 1: It is not
That perspective led me to take off my privileged boots and attempt to feel what it would
be like to walk in the boots of Minority Veterans present and past, with full
understanding of what I experience may not be not be any of your truths at all.
Every step, however, is grounded in a story of someone I’ve known.
Stepping off the bus at boot camp knowing I would get the worst of it even if I were
twice the warrior, and still, persevering. Owning my true self with unapologetic confidence in service and after.
Before heading off to Vietnam, being punched in the jaw by my drill instructor on account of my skin tone. Coming back home after battle and not even being able to go to the same bathroom as the unit I fought with. Often feeling I am having to represent my whole race, all womxn, or all who practice share my faith, when above all, I am a whole individual. Being raped, attacked, and silenced by the same supposed warriors who “all bleed red.” Then living that out every day under the power of those who betrayed me. One pull of the trigger away from escaping the pain for good, again, and again.
The relief of being accepted as “one of the guys,” but never daring to be as playful as I
really am. Wanting to dig a hole and scream in to it when I cannot access the healthcare that is
responsive to my needs as a protector of this country. Heartbreak of simply not being able to attend the military ball with the love of my life. Fearing for my future from the enemies across the line, from within, or standing next tome. Hardening my tenderness in fear of being sexualized or emasculated.
Carrying the additional traumas in to service of a family that would not truly love me.
The void in my heart of never being affirmed or celebrated. The pride of leading from the front and reclaiming the Veteran’s narrative as a catalyst for change. Compassionately serving fellow Veterans in need still holding resentment for who I am.Annoyed at assumptions of my vulnerability based on my skin tone, gender identity, history of service, perceived political stance, or religion.Loving my fellow service members who make an effort to know me for me. Being retraumatized in my home, on the street, and in the news in this divisive era.
A walk in the boots of a Minority Veteran angers, saddens, inspires, and empowers me.
I hear your truth
I see your power
I feel your pain
I admire your fearlessness
I need your fellowship
I stand with you for justice
I follow your leadership
I invite you to hear my story too
I love you as you are
I pray we all have the patience and faith that it is possible to build bridges amongst ALL Veterans by sitting in circle together as complete human beings in strength and vulnerability, across ideologies, genders, and generations.
If any group of Americans can lead from the front in authentic reconciliation, it is the group of Americans that all embody or perceive themselves to believe in esprit des corps and representing the virtue of service before self. As it has been said, however, there is no reconciliation without truth. And the greatest privilege I will ever have is bearing witness to yours.
Ryan Mielcarek is a heart-centered public servant focused on enhancing community
resilience through radical compassion, inclusiveness, and collective impact. He is a
proud Veteran of the US Naval Construction Force (Seabees) with contingency and
humanitarian response experience in post-Katrina Mississippi and Iraq. He is currently
Co-Chair of the King County Veterans Consortium, Housing Services lead for The
Seattle Stand Down, and has previously been on mission with The Mission Continues in
the South Sound.
Ryan is an advocate and practitioner of holistic healing, whether that be storytelling,
theatre, or nature-based pancultural ceremony for Veterans. He has a Master of Public
Administration from Seattle University, with a capstone on increasing federal investment
for Native American and Alaskan Native military veterans. He currently works as an
executive as a local non-profit serving homelessness individuals and families in the
Puget Sound region.
Ryan is in here somewhere along with veteran men and women in full vulnerability and strength at the 2018 Veterans Vision Fast.