Tonight, just before the taping of "A Night for Vets: An MTV Concert for the BRAVE" (which airs Friday on MTV at 8 p.m. ET), I was out on New York's 44th Street to speak with a number of combat veterans about their experiences overseas, their expectations for the big night and the Bill of Rights for American Veterans (BRAVE), a petition presented by MTV and several veterans' organizations. Most of those I'd spoken with stood outside for hours, braving the increasingly unbearable cold, huddled together as a mass, in an attempt to conserve body heat, waiting for the concert's 7:30 p.m. start.
What struck me about the vets I'd met was the overall sense of family they seem to share. Having all endured similar experiences, war has, for better or worse, bonded these brave men and women, who displayed their dog tags with pride and recounted for me their time in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan — oftentimes, in vivid detail. In fact, one soldier I spoke with was the guy who was ordered into the narrow, dark hole Saddam Hussein was hiding in, beneath a two-room mud shack on a sheep farm ... but I'll have more on that tomorrow afternoon.
Waiting to get inside, I saw Marines greeting each other with that familiar call, "Semper fi, do or die." I saw soldiers reuniting — men and women who'd shared the same battlefields, hugging each other solidly. Veterans shared doughnuts and entire pizza pies with complete strangers — other soldiers they'd just met, but people they share a unique connection with; a familial connection. One soldier, Air Force veteran Jerry McDougal, perhaps summed it up better than any of the soldiers I'd met.
"By being there, we became something of a family," the 27-year-old Alabama son said; he just returned from Baghdad six months ago, and is still adjusting to civilian life. "You bond with the rest of your unit, and you're there to protect each other. When you leave, you're leaving behind family members."