San Antonio, officially recognized as “Military City USA,” is home to three bases with nearly 296,000 military members – almost 20 percent of our city’s population. For Memorial Day, we asked several local military members – a reservist and two veterans – about their experience in the military and civilians’ misconceptions; how it shaped their education, career, and family lives; and how they spend the holiday honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Todd Nelson, 45, joined the U.S. Army in 1990 for a four-year obligation. He served almost 20 years through five duty stations, seven promotions, and two combat tours, in Iraq and Afghanistan. A suicide bomb in Kabul, Afghanistan, put him in a coma for more than a month, leaving him with burns over a quarter of his body. Nelson’s face was permanently disfigured and he lost an eye. He underwent 43 surgeries over three years as part of his recovery. Having retired at the rank of Master Sergeant, Nelson works at the USAA Federal Savings Bank as a product manager.
Rivard Report: Why did you join the military?
Todd Nelson: I joined to receive vocational training as an automotive mechanic, the chance to travel, and education benefits.
RR: Why did you leave the military?
TN: I was medically retired due to a combat injury.
RR: Did you have family who served in the military before you?
TN: My father served as an U.S. Air Force pilot and my stepfather served as a U.S. Army security officer.
RR: Would you support your child enlisting in the military?
TN: If either of them chose to, I would support them because it is an honor to serve.
RR: Would you support a mandatory draft?
TN: I would do what I would hope all Americans would do to preserve the freedoms this country has afforded each of us, which would include supporting a draft. I would only hope they would call me first.
RR: How much attention do you pay to politics in Washington, D.C.?
TN: Very little, but I do not pay much attention to national media in general.
RR: How would you describe the rapport between civilian and military populations?
TN: For the civilian populations that have exposure to the military community, there is predominately respect and appreciation for the military community. For the civilian populations that do not have the privilege, there is fear of the unknown.
RR: How does that rapport in other cities or countries compare to the one in San Antonio?
TN: San Antonio is the most military-friendly city I have visited, hands down. It is one of the reasons I have chosen to stay.
RR: What was the best part about being in the military?
TN: The spirit of teamwork and camaraderie is unmatched anywhere else in the world. There is a feeling of belonging and pride others outside of the military can not comprehend.
RR: What was the hardest part about being in the military?
TN: Camaraderie is only gained through shared adversity. The military is one of the most demanding professions, and very few have the grit to endure it.
RR: What do you wish civilians knew about the military?
TN: If you do not know what we do, thank us, because that means we are doing our job. We do what you don’t want to do, for your benefit and for pay that you wouldn’t accept. Less than 1 percent of our country has the traits and attributes to qualify to serve. Thank a veteran this holiday weekend, especially if you don’t know why.
RR: What is the biggest misconception civilians have about the military?
TN: That military members are either better or worse than civilians. The truth is that military members were cut from the same fabric as every American. At their core, they are no better or worse than a civilian. The only difference is they had the courage to stand for something and the grit to see it through.
RR: How will you spend your Memorial Day?
TN: I will enjoy the freedom to live my life as I see fit. It will probably be a quiet weekend enjoying the things I enjoy every weekend. This includes sleeping soundly [knowing] that my family’s freedom is safe and secure because I know that there are other Americans like myself in days past, presently standing in the fold, securing our way of life.