Do you know the one question you probably shouldn’t ask a combat veteran?

I am going to share a fairly controversial topic, not so much to create arguments but to help others see how a simple question can be inappropriate. My comments will follow below.

@Paul Rieckhoff, founder of @IAVA writes via Facebook:  “People always ask us how many people we killed over there. They never ask us how many people we saved.”

My response to this is:  think about what Paul said.

My husband spent 9.5 years in sniper operations, which is a VERY long time for that MOS. As a result, he saw a lot of action in a lot of countries, in some cases he was “never there” (if you catch my drift.) Because of this, many people unknowingly ask the most inappropriate question:

“So, how many people have you killed?”

He will never tell you, I promise you that. (And at that point I want to smack you for bringing up this horrible trigger for him.) It’s not cool to remind him of how many people he has killed in his career. Why not be appreciative of how many lives he saved instead?

There are books on the market that are centered around how many “kills” a service member performed. They quote numbers and take titles of “the deadliest sniper in history”. Carlos Hathcock comes to mind, as he was famous in Vietnam and provided cutting-edge tactics that are still used today.

He should be idolized, but does it have to be for how many kills he had?

There are many veterans out there who use these numbers for publicity purposes, for bragging rights, for fame. Really, in the heat of battle, you aren’t plucking anyone out and keeping tabs. You are just trying to stay alive and protect your men. I’d dare say many of those numbers are inflated. “Confirmed kills” aren’t something to brag about, either.

My husband hit a target at 3600 meters. That’s 2 1/4 miles away! This number is much longer than any documented “shot” made in Iraq that I have ever been able to research. The point I need to make is he didn’t go back to file paperwork to get bragging rights for that shot. He had a mission to complete, not paperwork to submit!

It’s one thing to brag about an awesome shot someone made, but it’s another thing to brag about (or ask about) kills.

My final thoughts:

Those who overtly brag about the number of kills they have were likely getting in the fray for all the wrong reasons. Their answer just fuels people to ask the question elsewhere, like it’s supposed to be part of a polite discussion.

It’s not.

Please don’t ask that question of any veteran. Instead, thank them for how many lives they likely saved.

Thank you. ♥

Question for my military community readers:  Have you dealt with this problem too?

Question for my civilian readers:  Did this question ever cross your mind or come out in conversation?  How did it go?

About The Author

Torrey Shannon

My name is Torrey Shannon and I am a writer, author, blogger, movie consultant, speaker, veteran's advocate and Blue Star Mom. I am also a full-time caregiver and spouse of a wounded warrior. My husband survived a gunshot wound to the head in a gunfight in Iraq in 2004 after serving in the Army for more than 23 years. We spent three years of his recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He has severe PTSD and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Dealing with the invisible wounds of war first-hand allows me to bring a human element to the problems our military communities face. Blogging gives me the chance to do what I love the most: write about life after combat and help create awareness and solutions for military members and their families. When I am not writing here, I freelance for a variety of publications and media outlets and am currently writing a book.