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Bridging the Military-Civilian Divide

October 31,2016

Veterans reflect on their service during day out at The Adventure Aquarium

BY ELISABETH PEREZ-LUNA

What’s the worst question you can ask a veteran? “Did you kill anybody?”

As part of the Veterans Coming Home project WHYY held an event at The Adventure Aquarium in Camden on September 17th.  The goal was to offer veterans an opportunity to reflect on their service in a way that could help other veterans and civilians better relate to those who are in the military.

We met at the NJ Aquarium in Camden to talk and to catch up about life after service.

Some spoke of the surprise of having to do everything themselves without having a strict schedule controlling all their time.  They shared experiences in finding jobs , some more successful than others, and fighting common stereotypes about veterans.

Jason Mays and Kenneth Conklin commented on the worse question to ask. “I used to be a jerk about it and asked if they killed anyone,” Mays said. Conklin said he would respond, “not unless they died from a paper cut.”  Conklin was assigned to human resources duties during his time in the service.

Missing the camaraderie they found in the military was a major topic of conversation, so was finding another sense of purpose and mission that had had given focus to their life in the military. Negotiating the demands of family , work and health took a lot of their time in civilian life.

Christina Kinlaw and Jonathan Kinlaw both went through Marine Training at Parris Island, South Carolina. They suggested to veterans the best way to handle their return to civilian life is by remembering what you went through in basic training.

As for that “question” both Kinlaw’s just remind everyone to be respectful.  They understand why the question is asked, but think about that impact on someone who was involved in combat.