A new Band of Brothers?

April 21, 2014

“But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother.”
– Henry V

When asked what they miss about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, veterans speak in a unified voice: friendship, brotherhood and camaraderie. Eli Saslow’s story on Sunday captures the isolation facing some returning veterans of the wars, and their longing to connect with those who served.

A recent Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 56 percent of veterans saying they miss things about serving in the wars. Asked specifically what they miss, more than six in 10 cited their fellow soldiers (63 percent), including 43 percent mentioning a spirit of camaraderie and soldier bonds.

miss the war

The chart above categorizes individual responses into groups, but their complete answers are also illustrative:

“There is an air of camaraderie that doesn’t exist outside the military. There is a purpose that makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something.”

“I miss the camaraderie, and I miss the friendships. I miss the fellowship, just being there for each other through thick and thin.”

“I miss the friendships of all the soldiers; we were kind of like family”

Nostalgia for camaraderie comes as little surprise given the military’s ethos, but it also stands as distinctly positive compared to other common experiences. Fewer than one in five who miss things cite their job (18 percent), the mission and accomplishments of war (16 percent) and operational aspects of serving in the military (14 percent). Just 8 percent mention the wars’ action and excitement as things they miss.

Those bonds are strongest among veterans who fought in combat. Nearly seven in 10 who served in combat arms roles (including infantry, special forces and artillery) say they miss things about their experiences, as do 69 percent who served in the Marines and 61 percent who fought in the Army. Among those who were injured, 62 percent say they miss things about their service.

Scott Clement is a survey research analyst for The Washington Post. Scott specializes in public opinion about politics, election campaigns and public policy.
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