Via Fox News, I came across an interesting video today of a gentleman purporting to be a US Army Ranger and combat veteran.

There is no doubt in my mind that he is not now, nor has he ever been, a solider. He might have had a relative in the service or did some internet research, but no one who has spent more than a day in uniform would claim to be shopping with his Sergeant Major looking like him.

First of all, there’s no reason to be in a shopping mall on Black Friday in uniform. Secondly, no soldier would even think of putting the American flag where a combat patch is supposed to go (and no Sergeant Major would let that go uncorrected) especially if he had, as he claimed, given his combat patch to a child earlier. That would mean he deliberately moved the American flag to the incorrect position after he ripped off his combat patch. The answers he gives – especially to the question of why he’s wearing three Combat Infantryman’s Badges – make no sense and he uses language no soldier, much less a Ranger, would use. Lastly, the guy is probably 50lbs overweight and unless that is due to some sort of combat-related injury, the 2nd Ranger Battalion is not going to keep a guy that out of shape around for very long.

The other amusing thing about this story is all the fact checking the reporters did. Looking up how many people have been awarded three Combat Infantryman’s Badge, for example. They could have just called the 2nd Ranger Battalion and checked to see if he was assigned there. They would gladly have said no, especially after seeing that video.

So he’s a fake, and not even a very good one. Like any good actor, he did commit to the role though, in what turns out to be a comical way. But should we be bothered by this?

I’ve never come across such an obvious case of stolen valor, but I might have come close a few weeks ago. I went to a USC football game in Columbia, SC and on my way back I was pulled over by a police officer looking for drunk drivers leaving the game. Having not had a drop all day I was fine but when the officer saw the military ID in my wallet as I was pulling out my driver’s license he asked me about my service. He then said that he was in a reserve artillery unit in Iraq but when I asked him where he’d been and when – I was curious to see if we’d been there at the same time – he clammed up, quickly said he’d write me a warning, and went back to his car.

It’s nothing more than a curious episode to me – he could very well have been telling the truth – but I’ve noticed a tendency among almost exclusively men who, when they find out I was in Iraq or Afghanistan, begin the very next sentence with "I would have joined, but…"

The guy who fixed my dishwasher some time ago felt compelled to give me the 15-minute version of why he didn’t join. I only got 5 minutes from the guy who installed my cable.

I’m sure part of it is a desire to connect on some level with someone you’re forced to spend some time with. If I had ever thought about going into the dishwasher repair business, for example, I might have told that guy the story. On another level I think there is a pang of guilt in some people’s minds that they didn’t join, that they let other people fight for them.
I don’t think the fake Staff Sergeant in the video has that guilt, I think he just gets a kick out of people looking at him as a respected figure, even if he did nothing to deserve that respect. I’m not a psychiatrist so that’s a pathology I won’t attempt to diagnose, but it’s all very sad to me. I don’t know what its like to have a life so unfulfilling that I have to pretend I’m someone else to make myself feel better.
But I don’t get worked up over it, and I don’t think he should be charged with any crime – unless his actions violated the Stolen Valor Act and there’s no evidence at this point that they did. He needs help more than anything, and maybe his antics generating 2 million hits on YouTube will be the catalyst.
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