The Qualifications of a Combat Veteran

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

The Qualifications of a Combat Veteran

Stephanie Sorich

While coding our most previous group of cases, my coding partner, Zion, and I got into a discussion about the way to code for veteran status and combat veteran for this particular group. We were in the midst of coding a case from 2005, revolving around the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, otherwise known as FARC. FARC is noted by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), due to its status as a quasi-military group as well as its involvement in drug trafficking. They’re listed here on the FBI website next to groups such as Al Qaeda and Hizballah.

The distinction of quasi-military is important when coding for veteran status. In the tPP codebook, we’re told to ask ourselves if a defendant has prior military experience, but it must be military experience in a military recognized as legitimate by the United States government. For this reason, our defendants from FARC were unable to be coded as veterans. Zion, however, raised a good point in terms of coding for combat veteran.

When you look at the photo above of FARC soldiers marching, they are easily distinguishable as militants. If these men had seen combat through FARC, would that combative experience not be important to mark when coding this case? If so, wouldn’t the best place to code it be under combat veteran itself?

I, for one, was intrigued at this idea. After all, the point of the project is to pinpoint the different experiences, ideologies, and demographics that go into the creation of political violence. However, we needed to focus on the purpose of that particular variable. The value coded for the variable does not necessarily signify a certain experience in combat, but rather a specific status that a person holds. Whereas any war veteran sent overseas can participate in the war ‘directly or indirectly,’ combat veterans were deployed specifically to engage in combat in an offensive or defensive measure (while the difference between the two is often described in terms of the different benefits received after service, a good explanation of the difference can be found here). So while combat is certainly an aspect of their duty, the variable itself acts to differentiate recognized war veterans as combatants or non-combatants.

Even now, I still find myself considering Zion’s question about differentiating those who have experienced any sort of combat interesting. However, I think coding for this difference would be best done outside of the scope of veteran status. Veteran status and combat veteran stand as a means for the team to determine the effects a legal status as veteran might have on the choice to commit political violence. In the future, a potential look at the groups like FARC that experience combative roles and the actions that they later come to take could be an interesting point of analysis

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