Czechoslovakia was formed shortly after the end of World War I and the Czechoslovak legions played the main role in breaking it free from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During the course of the war the legions were formed by compatriots, who lived abroad, and soldiers who were conscripted into Austro-Hungarian Army and deserted or were captured by Coalition Armies – i.e. By the troops of France, Russia, Great Britain, and later Italy. Shortly before the end of the war these units comprised 140,000 men and achieved great success. After the 1917 revolution in Russia they held the expansion of Bolsheviks by controlling the Trans-Siberian railway.
After returning to their home country the legionnaires were celebrated, and they provided further help with building up the Czechoslovak Army and Gendarmerie. Veterans of the Great War enjoyed certain advantages, e.g. disabled veterans were engaged as tobacconists (since then the expression “dostat trafiku”, i.e. gain a tobacconist’s, which means to receive an easy job has been used in Czech). Nevertheless, Czech and German citizens who battled in the Austro-Hungarian army and did not join legions did not enjoy any special advantages.
When Czechoslovakia was sacrificed to Hitler in 1939 within appeasement policy, many soldiers and civilians left the territory to enter national units within allied armies. They excelled in the battle of Tobruk, Dunkerque, and especially in the battle of Britain, where the German Luftwaffe strived to gain air superiority over the Royal Air Force . On the Eastern Front they contributed to liberation of Kharkov and Sokolov. Of small extent, but of large political importance were the landings of paradesant brigades in the territory of Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, within which the deputy reich protector Heydrich was assassinated. Nevertheless, the Nazis took their cruel revenge, a.o. by slaughtering the village Lidice. The WWII veterans enjoyed social acknowledgement only for a short period of time – after the communist coup d’etat in 1948 they were systematically removed from the army, subjected to false accusations, sentenced to death or imprisoned until the sixties. They waited to see social rehabilitation after 1989 and now (in 2019) the Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic only registers about 300 veterans.
The Czechoslovak Army (and since 1993 the Czech Army) joined international missions to enforce and keep peace immediately after the return to democracy. The Chemical Defence Unit with 200 members covered the Allies in the Desert Storm Operation. In the nineties thousands of soldiers were deployed in the countries of former Yugoslavia. In the beginning of his career the former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, General Petr Pavel, had a chance to demonstrate his capabilities when he successfully led a volunteer group to rescue French soldiers. Since then the demanded units have also included field hospital, military police, helicopter aviation instructors and special units. The latter joined the Operation Enduring Freedom.
Thousands of Czech soldiers were deployed in Afghanistan within ISAF, currently it is mainly the Guard Company at the Bagram base. Nevertheless, involvement of Czech soldiers is substantially broader – Czech units rotate also in the Baltic region and in Mali. Interceptor aviation also joins Air Policing in favour of NATO states, which do not dispose of this capability themselves. Since 1990 29 soldiers fell in foreign missions, 14 of them in Afghanistan. According to Czech legislation war veteran is a soldier, who was deployed in an operation for the period of at least three months, nevertheless it is quite common that veterans of the present were serving several years in total. The Ministry of Defence registers more than 16,000 veterans.
Perspective of the Czech public was very cold for many years. It has been changing during the last years though, which can be related to increasing concerns about Islamic terrorism, as a result of which nationwide collections to sustain survivors are organised when a soldier falls in a mission, funerals are attended by hundreds of ordinary citizens, more and more often people wear poppy flowers pinned on lapels on the Veterans Day (11th November), and, last but not least, representatives of the Army and veterans are invited to basic and secondary schools. Despite of this, social and psychological services provided to veterans are very limited.
Certain support is provided to veterans by the Ministry of Defence. Veteran ID cards are issued to them. Retired soldiers (regardless of whether they served in a mission or not) are entitled to receive retirement benefits after 15 years of service.
A wide range of support services is provided to veterans by charity organisations. The first support organizations in the form of associations of veterans from specific missions formed in the nineties. In the last decade several foundations and volunteer organisations were established focusing on various problems ranging from financing rehabilitation and retraining of injured veterans to complex social, legal and psychological support. Apart from that there is an increasing number of enterprises, retailers, and employers, who want to support and provide benefits to war veterans (soldiers in general) in cooperation with nongovernmental non-profit sector.