I consider myself to be a lot of things: a writer, an athlete, a husband, but two titles that are always near the top of the list are Marine and veteran.  I’m proud of my service, I’m grateful for the experiences it gave me, I love my country – and it’s easy to sum that myriad of emotions up into a single term: veteran.  To me, the word veteran represents my pride, my gratitude, the emotional and physical skill sets I developed while in uniform, and a tie that binds me to others that have had similar experiences.  Being a veteran is an important part of my identity because it informs how I see myself.

But there’s another side to the title “veteran.”  When you meet those who haven’t served or who have never been close to those who have, you find the term carries a number of different connotations – ones born of misconceptions, pop-culture representations, or conjecture.  On the civilian side of life, lots of folks have their own ideas of what a veteran is – or ought to be – and along with those ideas come some common misconceptions about the veteran community.

Vets know guns.

Now, don’t get me wrong, lots of veterans know guns – but it isn’t inherent to the service.  For a lot of us, firearms become a familiar part of life while uniform; carpenters see a lot of hammers around the shop, Marines see a lot of guns, but it’s important to note that most service members only come into contact with a limited number of types of firearms. Throughout most of my service, I handled only two platforms: an M16 (first an A4, then later an M4) and a Beretta M9.  If you had asked a young Corporal Hollings to disassemble and clean a 1911, for instance, I probably would have banged on it with a rock like one of the chimps at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  It wasn’t the Marine Corps that taught me how to maintain the various guns I keep around the house nowadays, it was my own level of interest that led me to purchasing and learning about other firearms, outside of those I was issued.

Not all veterans make the transition from being comfortable around their M16 to purchasing their own AR-15 variation, let alone develop the level of skill and mastery of firearms we often see depicted in movies.  Even today, with years of playing guns under my belt both in service and outside of it, there are plenty of popular weapon systems I have yet to get my hands on, and even more accessories I have yet to touch, but without fail, the guy in urban camo at my local sporting goods store will inevitably ask, “what do you think of that new X419-BFD optical scope/jet pack that came out six months ago?  Surely you know all about it, lest you forfeit the respect I assume you’re demanding by wearing a hat with a flag on it!”

The truth of the matter is, being a veteran doesn’t mean I can afford thousand-dollar optics – hell, I can’t afford the guns and accessories I’m shooting as it is (thank God for understanding wives) but even if I could, I’m sure I lack a few of the skills required to truly value some of the top-of-the-line equipment available today.  My older brother, who has made a career in the racing industry, has a race car equipped with every gadget a car might need to win a race, but just because I’ve worked on the car and driven it a few times doesn’t mean I’m a good driver – and just because I worked in the industry for a few years doesn’t mean I can afford my own Indy Car.

My interests made me a gun guy, and my service helped me pursue that – but lots of veterans don’t care about firearms, because we all have different interests.

This is what a veteran looks like.