A panel of three military veterans and two nonmilitary students discussed moral injury and courage in an attempt to establish a better understanding of each other’s experiences and perceptions.

Julie Piering, department of philosophy chair, and Steve Smith, professor of military support studies, facilitated the discussion Thursday night at Ashurst Hall.

The panel members included Shynowah Lee, Veteran and Military Services certifying official and United States Air Force veteran; Cody Lee, freshman philosophy major and U.S. Army veteran; Collin Meadors, U.S. Army veteran and former 2012 student who left NAU to join the Army; Anthony Gonzales, senior philosophy major; and Evan Cuillier, junior philosophy major.

A handout from Veteran and Military Services defined moral injury as “the damage done to one’s conscience or moral compass when that person perpetrates, witnesses or fails to prevent acts that transgress one’s own moral beliefs, values or ethical codes of conduct.”

Smith explained the importance of having conversations about moral injury, rather than only getting an understanding from academic studies and other writings on the topic.

“Some people refer to this as a spiritual injury, that it traumatizes the human spirit,” Smith said.

Piering spoke of the interest philosophers have in taking an ethical perspective of the human experiences of moral injury and difficult concepts surrounding them.

After Piering introduced the panel, she shared a personal story about a veteran she knows who went through the experience of not being able to stop his convoy while deployed in Afghanistan to help a woman and child in need. This was normal because his duty was to protect his fellow soldiers by keeping the convoy moving.

Furthermore, Piering said the impact of that moment was not on the veteran’s mind until he returned to the U.S. and was confronted outside a store by a woman and child in need of help.

“He felt the pole of those two opposing moments were in one context he could not stop, and in the other context it would have felt morally wrong not to stop,” Piering said. “I just use that as a kind of example of the feeling of rupture between two parts of yourself within different contexts.”

The facilitators asked how to make sense of moral injury, and Cody answered that people have a voice inside of them that they tend to agree and disagree with. When others are not in tune with their moral voice and go against it, they begin to question their actions.

Additionally, Cody spoke about how the military trains soldiers to not look at human life as precious in combat situations. However, when it is time to come home and things begin to sink in, it hits a veteran how precious life really is.

Remembering boot camp, Meadors said the military is about putting aside personal needs to learn to work as a team with people from different backgrounds.

“You're not so much focused on trying to engage a target,” Meadors said. “It's someone shooting at you, they're shooting at someone you know and that you care about, and you're just trying to stop that.”

Gonzales said he was not familiar with the military and was hesitant to ask veterans questions because he was afraid of asking the wrong ones and being offensive. He said he has learned, through engaging with the veterans on the panel, that candid conversations make them more human.

Meadors said not to be afraid to ask veterans questions because if they do not want to answer they will let you know. Although, it is still important to be respectful when asking questions.

Cody also discussed how there is a misconception with transitioning because many veterans are not the same people they were when they first joined the military. He said it is difficult to go from having a mission and purpose to having nothing.

“Thinking that we can just come back in, pick up where we left off with friends we had before and the life we had before is really not serving anybody,” Cody said. “It's more like a cultural reintegration."

An audience member brought up the lack of help for veterans, and Meadors said he would like to see more counseling done in the decision-making process to prepare those being deployed. He said a soldier will overanalyze and second-guess their decisions after the fact, which will often lead to more stress and uncertainty.

The discussion concluded with Pete Yanka, the director of Veteran and Military Services, pointing out an empty chair on the panel. By doing so, Yanka symbolically encouraged attendees to take the time to invite a veteran to sit down and tell their story.

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