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The progressive veteran voice

Daniel Pohorelsky is a legislative intern with Alliance for a Better Utah.

Many young Americans join the Armed forces for the college benefits, and I was no different. I am currently in my Senior year at the University of Utah, majoring in Environmental and Sustainability studies. I chose this degree because I am interested in learning about social and environmental injustice as well as the systems of white privilege that continue to reinforce the inequalities that are plaguing our nation. I will be the first in my immediate family to receive a four-year undergraduate degree, and I’m surprised at the amount of resistance that I have received from my family and old friends regarding the lessons that I have learned because it was pummeled into my young mind that a college education is an impactful choice in life. 

It is distressing that there are so many Americans that expect to continue a consumer-driven lifestyle without considering the implications on the environment and the creatures living in it, including humans. It is even more distressing to think that the world that I grew up in is currently changing so drastically that I may not be able to share it with my son and daughter in the same ways. Sure, it’s easy to label me as a liberal snowflake, but really, I am just a man who loves his country despite its every flaw. I am a man that expects more leadership from his country on the issue of our climate crisis. We could be doing a lot more than we currently are to reverse the effects of climate change; globalization and the U.S. military dumping unprecedented and outrageous amounts of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. I have reached a certain social status as a U.S. military veteran and yet, I feel that my words continue to fall on deaf ears when attempting to relay these facts to the people that I care about most, my family and friends. 

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As a teenager and young adult, I never questioned the political stance of my conservative parents, family, or community members. But serving in the military showed me that decisions happen for a reason and that reason may depend on the personality and temperament of the person making decisions at a certain time. It was drilled into my head that my peers, coworkers, and subordinates are just as human and capable of mistakes as I am. The military showed me that my voice and actions matter. As a supervisor, it taught me to question everything instead of blindly swallowing what people say and write as correct, honest, and justified. I became invested in the decisions and outcomes of my country’s elected representatives because they are capable of error, just as I am, and should be held accountable for their words, deeds, actions, and inactions.  

I personally believe that every able-bodied American should serve a one-year stint in the U.S. Armed Forces, to know what it feels like to continue even when you think you’ve got nothing left in the tank, and to rely on your peers as your support system. After three six-month deployments in the heat of Qatar, I missed the U.S.A. like a fish misses the water. During those deployments, I experienced moments where I thought I was going to die. I experienced moments where my actions, directly or indirectly, played a role in the loss of human life, both American and not American. I have carried caskets of human remains and I have presented flags to the family members of those who have perished. Perhaps my political views lean so far to the left because of the rigidity of my conservative upbringing. It is my belief that my views stem from the need to keep individuals accountable and responsible for their actions because I have seen and felt the consequences. Perhaps this stems from the survivors’ guilt that I have felt for being able to come home to the USA, while so many others didn’t. 

After serving six years of active duty, and another three in the reserves, as a senior in college, I comfortably settled into my newfound progressive outlook. My values concerning accountability and responsibility along with my education in environmental injustices have inspired me to hold corporations, elected representatives, and legislators accountable for their actions involving environmental practices. It may come as a shock, but there are many U.S. military veterans that do not identify as conservative or Republican and still have the same love of country, in spite of efforts from the political right to co-opt military service as only a conservative characteristic.

Daniel Pohorelsky is a legislative intern with Alliance for a Better Utah.

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