I’m a veteran.

Apparently this means that I am supposed to be upset and insulted by the NFL anthem-kneeling trend.

Twitter rants and video of fans burning the jerseys of any player that kneels tell me that my service to this nation is denigrated every time a player chooses to kneel during the anthem.

I hardly ever stand for the National Anthem anymore.

Not because I seek to make a statement, but because I don’t have any legs. I lost them while serving in Afghanistan in 2009 – eight years after 9/11.

On Sunday, at the direction of the President, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of a stadium after observing members of the San Francisco 49ers kneeling during the anthem.

Vice President Pence said that he walked out on the game because he “will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag, or our national anthem.”

Sitting at home watching this moment, I was insulted. I did feel that my service was being marginalized, but it wasn’t the actions of the players that insulted me.

I take no issue with my fellow Americans, NFL players or not, making a reserved and simple statement in order to bring attention to a meaningful issue. Instead, it was the hypocrisy of V.P. Pence’s words that made my blood boil.

Pence cannot bear to watch players kneel during the anthem, but he has no problem serving a President who has publicly bragged about avoiding service during the Vietnam War, who has called one of our nation’s most famous POWs “a loser,” adding, “I like people that weren’t captured.”

A President who picked a fight and insulted the surviving family members of a soldier killed in Iraq. Since first hitting the campaign trail, he has never once failed to wrap himself in the flag despite the fact that neither he nor any of his children have ever served in the military that he professes to love so much.

Today, it is eight years after my time in Afghanistan. Our nation has been at war in Afghanistan for 16 straight years. We have lost 2,403 service members in that country, and by many estimates, we have spent more than $1 trillion trying to turn Afghanistan into something it never has been and never will become.

If Americans want to honor my sacrifice and respect the service of our brave soldiers, they can do so in many ways.

First, start by speaking to a veteran. Less than one half of one percent of our population serves in the military. Chances are that the average American doesn’t actually know anyone that has served in the military. This needs to change. Speak to a veteran. Thank them if you want, but be sure to ask them about their service.

Second, be engaged in the political process. Demand that our elected representatives take ownership of these wars that they have started, chosen to continue, and paid for with taxpayer money. The 16-year-old war in Afghanistan is an undeclared war with no end in sight. This administration swears that this upcoming 17th year of war will somehow be different from the previous 16 years of war. But it won’t. Tell your representatives that, if they want America’s sons and daughters signing enlistment contracts, then you want to see them sign a proper declaration, and you want that declaration to include a clear definition of what success in the war should be.

Third, I served in the military because I wanted to do my part in making this country even better than it already is. The best way you can respect my service is not by standing for the anthem, placing a flag in your front yard, or paying for my beer at a bar. Rather, you can respect my service by joining me in service. You don’t need to be in the military, but you do need to do something that helps this nation. Be a teacher or a police officer, mentor at-risk youth, or volunteer for a good cause. Do something for your nation.

Vice President Pence’s walkout Sunday was nothing more than cheap grandstanding.

When I swore an oath to the Constitution, I did so to defend the rights of all of my fellow citizens.

I may not always like the way my fellow citizens choose to exercise their rights, but I will always respect them. If a retired soldier with no legs understands this principle, certainly the Vice President should too.


Dan Berschinski is a West Point graduate and former Army infantry officer. He served in Afghanistan in 2009 where he lost both legs in combat. Dan lives in Atlanta, Georgia where he is a small business owner.