Veterans Ruminate on Kneeling During National Anthem

Esquire enlists opinions from four vet about NFL #TakeAKnee controversy.

National Anthem
Olivier Vernon #54 of the New York Giants kneels during the national anthem prior to their NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on November 12, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Amid the continuing protests by athletes — particularly in the NFL — of taking a knee during the National Anthem, the battle lines have been drawn over whether or not the gesture marks disrespect to the troops.

Those who support the movement see the kneeling started last season by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as defiance against the continued police brutality across the country that disproportionally impacts black males.  Others, including President Donald Trump, see the #TakeAKnee movement as an affront to the men and women who serve and the flag they carry into battle.

To gauge the stance of some of those men and women, Esquire recruited four veterans, each with their own take on the issue. And their answers were both varied and nuanced. Here is a small sampling:

Sergeant Rocio Serna,  Army Petroleum Supply Specialist from 2005 to 2008. 

The movement is against police brutality. There are many people in our country, specifically African-Americans, who feel they’re being discriminated against—that there’s racism, that there’s bigotry. I’m not African-American, I’m Hispanic. I cannot deny their feelings. I cannot deny their emotions. I am a veteran. I support my country. I love my flag. I may not agree exactly with what they’re doing, but I do agree with the democratic process. If they feel the need to take a knee and say, “Hey, something’s wrong, and not everyone’s being treated equally,” who am I to say, “No, what you’re feeling is wrong”? What we need to say is, “OK, you have my attention. How do we get going? How do we get this show on the road?”

Michael “Rod” Rodriguez, a former Special Forces Green Beret Sniper and Medic with 21 years of service

Those people kneeling, they are completely ignorant of what oppression really is. They don’t know. They live in a bubble here in the United States. I don’t think they understand that. In all those dark corners of the world where you’ll find military presence or the U.S., you know what the flag represents? Do you realize how many children and how many families, their eyes light up [when they see it]? They know they’re safe just by us being there. It symbolizes so much more to the people we help than it does to these guys. They don’t even know what they’re doing. They really do not. They have such an opportunity to make a positive influence. Their influence is so large on the future of this country.

If they cultivate a generation of individuals who aren’t proud of this country, who don’t love this country, who’s going to fight for this country in 20-to-30 years?

Kelly Rodriguez, veteran Army medic with 21 years of service and wife of Michael Rodriguez

Was (Kaepernick) originally within his First Amendment rights? Yeah, and I do support everybody’s. But do I think he could have chosen a better time to do it? Yes. He is protesting the flag, which symbolizes the country—which actually ironically gives him the right to protest. He’s using the country to protest a very specific subject matter, which is injustice [in policing]. He could have chosen a more relevant way to do it. I don’t feel disrespected by it. Maybe they have some intentions, but it’s fallen on deaf ears. It means nothing to me. I don’t need their approval. It has no bearing on my life.

William Lyles, former Green Beret who served for 11 years

In all honesty, there are a lot of bigger fish to fry in the world, than [President Trump] weighing in on it. He’s entitled to his opinion, and he is the president of this country. I support him wholeheartedly as the president. But at the same time, there’s a lot more, and bigger, issues in the world than that. I would hope that eventually those things take the forefront.

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