By: Ryan Hodros, Culinary Arts Student
I have something of a mixed relationship with Veteran’s Day. As a veteran of the intelligence community, I spent my time in uniform doing things I’m legally required to not discuss ever. So while your grandfather can talk about his time fighting Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge (or in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, depending on how old you are), I’m not allowed to discuss my actual duty with anyone.
Believe it or not, this has something of an adverse effect on members of the civilian world. When you tell them “I’m a veteran. I was in the Navy for six years, but I can’t tell you about any of it,” the general reaction is disbelief. I can’t say that I blame them—that “need to know” stuff only happens in James Bond movies or episodes of Archer, not in real life. Saying your work was entirely classified is tantamount to saying you were fighting orcs with Gimli and Legolas. However, the reality is that my wife and I can’t even legally discuss our work in the Navy with each other even though we did almost identical jobs. Heck, because my Top Secret clearance expired a while ago, I couldn’t even legally read my own work if it was presented to me.
Add to that a certain political figure who arose in the past few years (that I actually shared a building with) and has painted people who do my job in a negative light, and I’m lucky if people don’t get openly hostile when they find out my background. But the fact of the matter is that normal people don’t really understand what “intelligence” does.
It’s not their fault—everything we do is classified, so they’re left with a mishmash of what they hear in the news and what Hollywood cooks up for the big screen. (If you want to make an intelligence officer laugh, ask them about Enemy of the State.) People understand kicking in doors and grabbing bad guys in Iraq. People understand riding around in helicopters. People understand taking care of pirates in the Gulf of Aden.
But they don’t understand intelligence. Not really.
So when Veteran’s Day rolls around, I can’t help but be somewhat resentful. Having coughed up more than half a decade of my life in service to the country (setting my writing career way back), it’s hard not to expect a certain degree of gratitude. And to be certain, it’s there. My family calls to thank me for my service. Businesses give out free stuff if you flash your DD214. But in a lot of ways, it seems hollow. “Thanks for six years of your life, here’s a free coffee.”
It’s for this reason that I’m glad I came to Auguste Escoffier. Tressa and I both had such an easy time transitioning into the school, with their knowledge of the VA and its inner workings helping secure finance through the GI Bill® so much more quickly than the experience I have had. Not only that, Paul Ryan and the rest of the AE staff really go out of their way to make vets feel welcome.
It’s a lot of little things, really. They have a wall of honor, with pictures of veteran students hanging to set them apart from the rest of the students. We got vet pins to wear on our uniforms (which I still wear on my lapel when I go to work). They encourage us to take part in news stories discussing veterans issues. There is simply a general vibe of gratitude floating around the kitchens on a daily basis (rather than just on November 11th) that is a really great environment to be in during the transition back to the civilian world.
Sure, the Escoffier staff doesn’t understand what I did in the Navy, but I can also tell that it doesn’t matter. They believe me when I say I can’t discuss my work. They get excited when they discover the skills I have as a result of my service. And simply put, they’re grateful. Rather than tossing my application into a bureaucratic machine to be churned up, hopefully resulting in my benefits getting spit out the other end, I got to sit down with their VA liaison and discuss my options. When there were issues, they got fixed in a hurry. No mistrustful looks—just friendly smiles.
In other words, they’ve given me way more than a free cup of coffee, and I really appreciate that.