I am an Iraq veteran. I served in Iraq from 2005 to 2006. Some 140,000 other brothers and sisters served in Iraq with me. I am told there were some 1.5 million total who served in Iraq. Wherever I go, I find a bond with fellow Iraq and Afghanistan vets. We share the bond of having pledged our lives to each other.

When I was in Iraq, I would travel by ground convoy or by helicopter, whichever was available. On Many helicopter taxis, I could not help but notice that I was traveling with some 10-12 soldiers completely unknown to me, but for whom, in a pinch, I would lay down my life. Those days have not entirely ended. When I ask a bartender for “military discount,” he apologizes, even though we have never met and I am 1000 miles from home. The bartender assures me he will give me a free beer on the next round. I do not know the bartender anymore than I knew those nameless folks with whom I once shared a helicopter ride. But, he served in Iraq. We trade stories about the heat.

Even now, years later, I would risk much for a bartender I had just met. He is not just a bartender. He represents my buddies, the folks I knew so well for 18 months. He represents the buddies I lost to an IED or an indirect round. People lament the veterans at Memorial Day and appreciate our service on Veteran’s Day. But, will they ever appreciate the singular experience of risking everything for the brother on your right, or the sister on your left?