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Free speech is not disrespectful / October 05, 2017
Dear Southside Virginia,

Your priorities are askew.

Brenda Beegle is currently a Captain in the United States Army. Before that, in 2007, she was a Lieutenant. My Lieutenant. Together with my Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant First Class Joshua Themann, she made my 1st Platoon of the 591st Military Police Company one of the most efficient well-oiled machines in the Battalion. “Always remember the values that were pounded into your head,” she said one day after a drunk soldier on Fort Bliss drove into a 19 year old girl, causing her death. “It will be the direct result of you having a better life.” In recent weeks, what she said has mysteriously started echoing in my head, and has caused me to evaluate myself.

Hindsight is a funny thing.

I learned more about myself, my life, and my obligation to the world in 2006 than at any other time or place in my life before or since; although I didn’t realize it until later. It didn’t come from school, it didn’t come from family, it didn’t come from some religion. It came in the miserable cold winter climate of Missouri. While there, I met people from all possible backgrounds you can imagine. My battle buddy was a black man from the Bronx. Here he was, trying to better himself and become a cop in the military, and he would tell me stories ranging from his experience with both gangs and police officers to his eyewitness account of the 9/11 attacks. I never forgot after that to appreciate the benefit of perspective. The values that Captain Beegle referred to were kicked, stamped, screamed and embedded into my brain and my conscience. Army Values. If I had to pick the one that’s most important, particularly today, it’d be Selfless Service.

You do what’s right. But that’s not why I enlisted in the military. I went in because I didn’t want college right away. I wanted to escape this town. I came out an entirely different person. Anyone that might have known me in high school and saw me today would tell you that the person they used to know is gone. I was no longer someone serving for a steady income and a quick way out of town — although those were definitely perks. I came out a soldier and a leader, and I was doing it without seeking attention, or fame, or discounts on vehicles, or recognition on television. I served for others and fought for those who couldn’t fight for themselves. To do the right thing, to see that the right thing is done. Even if no one was watching. Selfless Service.

And what do I see today on cable news, on social media, and in local restaurants in Southside Virginia? I see you pimping me out.

Let’s make sure we all know what happened before getting into specifics. Football players kneeled or stood without their hands in front of their chests during the National Anthem at NFL games. It started small, a couple of people decided to protest what they perceived to be an injustice by kneeling. Most people didn’t care at first. But then the President decided to spout his infinite wisdom on social media, and in response, it’s now an NFL-wide thing, and the nation is galvanized. Because of a tweet.

But I’ll focus on my home, rather than the nation. The behavior of you people in public and/or social media in response to this mess is nothing short of an embarrassment. “Disrespecting veterans!” I hear. “Disrespecting the flag and those who fought for it!” One person (and I sincerely hope he’s reading this right now) called it “Treasonous [expletive].” I’ve seen dead soldiers’ graves posted on social media. I’ve heard people call others unpatriotic if they show even a hint of support for athletes.

You fools.

I’m willing to bet most of you have not once ever donated a single dollar of your money or a minute of your time to helping any military member, veteran, or their families. And if you have, I bet you only did it when a camera was about to snap your photo. I guarantee you that not a single one of you stand up when you’re watching the game on TV and the National Anthem plays. You do what I do — you sit in your recliner and scratch whatever itches, and you enjoy the football game.

I was lucky. I didn’t endure what my friends did. My friends — my close friends, who knew me better than anyone else — who died doing their jobs, leaving kids without a parent, or their spouses widowed. I think about them every day. I have pictures of them on my shelves by the window. I see them standing behind me when I look in the mirror.

And you people are using them in order to say an athlete is disrespecting the flag. They’re taking advantage of a right given to them by people like my friends. None of you bother mentioning that these athletes donate millions of dollars and their personal time to veterans and groups that assist them. You’re obsessed with cosmetics. None of you bother to acknowledge that the flag you pretend to be offended by them insulting is also used on dinner plates that you scrape your food off of, or a bandana on your arrogant heads, or underwear to cover your crotch. No, of course not. Yellow ribbons don’t do anything to help those that need it. Neither does you saying “Thoughts and prayers” on Facebook. You seek attention desperately. And what better way to do that than to say your patriotism is better than theirs by gratuitously citing dead soldiers on Facebook?

Despite your belief, nobody is required to prove their patriotism to you. You act as if having a lot of money suddenly makes someone immune from having the right to express themselves. When I see someone exercise their Free Speech rights, ESPECIALLY when it’s offensive, I see it as the greatest gesture of respect there is. Does a Veteran or anyone else have a right to be offended by someone else’s speech? Of course. But you don’t get to say your brand of patriotism is superior to someone else’s, and you certainly don’t get to flaunt other people or their dead bodies in your favor. Veterans are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves.

Puerto Rico, a US territory, currently looks like the aftermath of a bomb vaporizing it. Lead was just found in the water fountains of two schools in Richmond. Kids got gassed to death in Syria not too long ago. North Korea has a despot shooting off missiles like firecrackers. Insurance premiums are skyrocketing. White Nationalists have their knickers in a tizzy and want us to believe that white skin is superior to all others while worshipping a tan Middle-Eastern Jewish carpenter from Galilee.

(It’s worth noting at this point that most of you applauded the President calling football players S.O.B.’s but said nothing of the individuals marching in Charlottesville under a flag that a generation died fighting against. Cowardly, much?)

Naturally, you have decided to make something this dumb your number one priority. In case you didn’t know, herd mentality is the typical behavior of sheep. If this is how you define your patriotism, as well as your character, then I don’t want you in my house or around any kids I may have until you allow someone to rub the United States Constitution in your face until you grasp the concept.

I served to protect the Constitution of the United States — UNCONDITIONALLY. Would I have chosen kneeling at the anthem to protest? No. But I don’t lose a single minute of sleep over an athlete kneeling. Free Speech doesn’t go away just because you decide you don’t like it. This was a long writing, and people don’t like reading things they disagree with these days so maybe I should have just used the terminology that’s common amongst voters today:

Grow up, snowflake.

Josh Lambert
South Hill

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