“It makes me twitch a little when you refer to me as a millennial,” said Sarah Fiocco, 27, Marine Corps veteran and American University student.
Fiocco, who served from 2008 to 2016, says that the label of ‘millenial’ has a largely negative connotation in her book.
“Snowflake comes to mind. People who are whiny, who don’t work for much,” said Fiocco. “You can’t be as hard on them.”
Millennial, which is the term usually applied to anyone born from roughly 1985 to the late 90’s, has come to mean a number of things in popular culture. From the purely date-based of the most recent generation to a bunch of narcissistic, participation-trophy wanting, brunch-loving hipsters, the internet has all manner of labels to attach to the word ‘millennial.”
“I think sometimes you need to get yelled at in front of your peers”
As with any diverse group, however, not all veterans agree.
“These are things that we all do. And as much as people talk about the military-civilian divide, the things we do in our culture, it’s essentially the same shit,” said Kris Goldsmith, an Army veteran and founder of High Ground Veterans Advocacy Group. “The only difference is that we served a couple years.”
Where some see a divide, Goldsmith instead focuses on common ground between the two cultures.
“I haven’t put a razor to my face in 5 years. I brew my own beer. I make my own jerky. All my coffee is craft coffee,” said Goldsmith. “Vets who don’t view themselves as millennials because they served and they think it makes them different, they’re just lying to themselves.”
Many of the things veterans focus on when setting themselves apart from their civilian peers are their reactions to stress, to uncertainty, to growing up.
“When I came in in 2008, people who were my leaders were on the back end of the millennial era,” said Fiocco, citing the rigorous, sometimes harsh discipline taught by older generations of servicemembers.
“I think sometimes you need to get yelled at in front of your peers,” said Fiocco, talking about a common response to errors in the military.
Whereas most veterans have had their limit for stress raised significantly by the rigors of military discipline, extended deployments, or combat, most people have not, making the things many veterans view as insignificant seem like much larger issues.
A Marine or soldier on a combat deployment will have the lives of their squad and his platoon depend on their ability to perform their job absolutely flawlessly.
In the civilian world, the stakes are rarely so high. Civilians are frustratingly bad at handling that stress, said Fiocco, relaying a story when the majority of students in one of her college classes cited anxiety disorders to get an extension on a paper.
Even so, Fiocco said, there were upsides to interacting with people who hadn’t gone through the same personal hardening.
“They’re very empathetic. They have lots of sympathies,” said Fiocco. “Because of my experiences with them, I’m a better listener than I would have been, had I not interacted.”