A Day of Appreciation for Eric Spurling

Veteran’s day is always a special day at Serif  because it gives us a chance to honor and thank heroes. This year we want to honor our friend, hero, and SEO Partner Eric Spurling. I hope you all enjoy reading his Q&A. We appreciate you, Eric!

Everyone shows appreciation in different ways. Whether it’s a simple “thank you,” or even just enjoying the freedoms given to you by brave veteran men and women, be sure to take a moment to reflect on what they truly have done for us.

Why did you decide to serve?

I was 17 years old when I decided to serve. I probably didn’t put the appropriate amount of thought into the decision. I was a senior in high school on 9/11/2001. I remember much of the decision to serve in the infantry and then the decision to join Special Forces. I wanted to be challenged and have an opportunity to work with and lead dedicated and better trained soldiers.

Can you speak to the bond of brotherhood that is developed with fellow veterans?

Imagine trusting someone from a completely different background to make split second decisions that will impact the rest of your life. One night I remember a guy put out a Facebook message about someone from our unit being in a bad place emotionally and mentally.  Multiple people got up and tried and tried until they found someone who could drive two hours to his house to stay with him.  These were guys who haven’t seen each other in years or maybe were never even in the same unit. When you spend every moment on a deployment in the same room or truck, or even simply served in the same unit there is a common frame of reference. We trust each other, we are comfortable around one another.  You spend 15 months in a truck with the same guys, you watch each other bleed, there is no bond like it. When sports coaches who never served compare their game to making war I feel bad for them.

I asked a few friends this question as well, and they better articulated their feelings.

“I haven’t personally bonded with anyone since retiring (from the military). I find it hard to talk to anyone that wasn’t an infantryman…”

“Doesn’t matter what the scenario is, we are 100% more comfortable around those we served with. Even in social settings my wife comments on how much more comfortable I am when we are around each other. And I think that simple gesture of involuntary comfortability that we lack everywhere else is greater evidence/example to civilians of the bond we share. We just don’t fully trust anyone else even though we know our situation isn’t life threatening anymore”

How did you stay in touch with your family?

In Iraq I was pretty busy and didn’t do a great job of calling or emailing my wife.

Was there something special you did for “good luck”? 

I don’t believe in luck.

How did people entertain themselves? 

Some lifted weights, some watched movies.  When not working, I just talked to people, soldiers from my platoon, interpreters, and our partner force.

What did you do when on leave?

Backpacking, hiking, camping in National Parks out West. In North Carolina we really enjoyed the Outer Banks. Just things to get away from people.

Do you recall the day your service ended? What did you do in the days and weeks afterward? 

I remember. It was surreal, and looking back, I knew virtually nothing of what it was going to be like on the outside. I was so naïve. I packed up my truck, took my wife and daughter to the airport and then started driving East to unpack my house and get to work. I was trying to sell a house, unpack my stuff, get my family moved in and start a job. I didn’t know how long it would take my wife to find work (pharmacists are everywhere in Central Ohio) so I started work the first day I could.

What did you go on to do as a career after service?

Like many junior military officers, I went to a conference and knew nothing about the civilian world. I realized the civilian world knew nothing about the military. The all-volunteer force has led to significant divide between service members and society. The transition is harder than many vets expect it to be. I went into a “leader development” type program with a Fortune 200 company, which didn’t last very long. A lot of that was on me. Little of it on them. I should have adapted to their culture, but I think I felt I would have lost some of who I was if did. I was proud and arrogant. Starting my own business and having very little success out of the gate was the best thing for me.

Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or about the military in general?

As long as there is politics there will be war. I would like to see strategy and vision. Whether we feel the start of war was just (i.e. Just War theory) or whether it was authorized by congress or inherited from a previous administration, it still exists. Look at the NY Times coverage of Bush / Iraq vs Obama / Afghanistan and the way both media camps use the military in domestic politics. No doubt evil exists in the world. I once had a man take my hand and tell me that he couldn’t kill me that day but one day someone in his family would come to our shores and kill someone in my family. It is really hard to find peaceful resolutions with that ideology, but sometimes building capacity with/in foreign militaries through training building may be better than direct confrontation. So, I hope our politicians ask why, for what purpose, and ask the questions like their own sons and daughters are serving. Also, they shouldn’t think “I’ll just throw special operations” at the problem. There needs to be policy and a robust and well-rounded group at the state department. The lack of professionalism in the state department and the degradation of important tools like USAID forces policy makers to over use the military put thrust the armed forces into situations where they lack training and sometimes funding/authorities to affect the situation. But I do search engine marketing for a living now, so no one asked me other than you for this blog.  I’ll leave pontification to the experts in the Pentagon who get paid very well to pontificate and spend our money. My wife didn’t want me to add this, but how did we think that NATO assisting in toppling Gaddafi furthered our national security interests in the region?  No doubt a terrible person and leader, but bad governance wasn’t and isn’t just in Libya.

How did your service and experiences affect your life? 

I know when I can flip a switch and lights come on and turn a faucet and clean water comes out, I have it better than a lot of the world. I met a number of good people – from the US and our partners abroad. I learned about pushing myself and working hard. I also learned that I don’t like large crowds. Most vets I served with don’t.  When someone who has lived a long-life dies, I think of my friends who didn’t. When I hear that someone I know died, I automatically assume suicide. I get text messages from friends still deployed and fighting.  Sometimes you wake up to it and it makes you especially grateful, and sometimes it makes you angry.

Are there better ways our culture and society can care for veterans?

I think the Army does its best to prepare service members for life after the military, but there is only so much a week of classes can do. The veteran hire push by a variety of companies (partially helped fueled by tax breaks?)  has been good for some people I know.

So the “everyone who serves / served is a hero” thing really bothers me.  There are some legitimate heroes and people who did heroic things, but I didn’t. I think society can look at service for what it is, it is service but by serving it does not make someone heroic. I think the military family unit is often overlooked and the VA is still bad. The military spouse and the children suffer much more hardships at times than the service member. They are the ones who are left to pick up the pieces.

I asked a few friends, people who have a variety of experiences and this is what they said:

“My opinion is that the veteran needs to take better care of themselves and not depend on a opioid… but can’t sleep without them..”

“We sorta cut the link between society and the military when we came up with the all-volunteer force or started the cutting of that link.”

“The Army could do a better job of developing people I think so when they get out they don’t fall on their face or think the world owes them something.”

“I’d be happy if my (veteran) wife’s employer understood what she can do for them as far as management & leadership & planning, but her boss has no frame of reference; her only training on those 3 things is some prepackaged management course some company in Atlanta sells.”

“Operationally – being a tour manager my struggle with civilians is their lack of purpose. For us, there is a job, an objective and we complete said task to a degree of efficiency that goes beyond the simple completion of the task. We look at multiple aspects, the transitions, moving from A to B; not just A/B. However, my biggest struggle is accountability. People don’t seem to be held accountable anymore, drives me bats***t. Not sure if that’s what you’re looking for, but those are my struggles.”

If there was one thing civilians should empathize better with veterans — what would it be?

I think so few civilians have interacted with vets or at least combat arms vets that society has a lot of preconceived notions. No one likes being put into a box. People’s experiences within the military vary wildly based on branch of service, combat theater, rank and job description. Sometimes vets say weird stuff. It may sound course or jaded when mentioning a friend with one leg or a guy with one eye. Instead of shying away from conversation, the dialogue is valuable and necessary so we can better understand each other. I don’t think most vets are, or want to be a charity case. I think is does help vets when civilians can at least point to where we are still fighting on a map. Maybe we call it curiosity. My own extended family struggled and still struggles to talk to me because they don’t know what to say. I think it is no different from how the left / right / black /white / divide where people just don’t talk.

Once again comments from a friend:

“Especially the spouses endure more than the service members. When we leave, we don’t worry. We don’t have to deal with not knowing or the knock at the door. I get pissed every time I see people on reality TV leave their families to win a prize and cry because they have been separated a few weeks and they get to read a letter written by a family member. In tears they proclaim how difficult it is because it’s the longest they have ever been separated. I want to puke from disgust when I see the producers milk that emotion, which leads me to my second point.

The civilians can’t relate to our military families. Especially the towns that don’t have a military base near them. I don’t expect them to either. But that is how different our lives and experiences are. The closest they get to our lives is through some bulls**t Hollywood movie or a SEAL book. It’s not real life and they don’t capture the perspective of the families.”

Thanks again, Eric, and be sure to check out Eric’s great work @ AMG.

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