I have come to a somewhat painful realization that I guess I have not wanted to accept. PLW says I have been a romantic idealist and I need to face the truth. This unwanted reality involves our military and their reasons for serving, and I so desperately want to be wrong. But I'm afraid that for a certain segment of our armed forces, my fears may be too realistic. Let me explain ....
First of all, let me say that I have no doubt this is true of most of our servicemen; especially the older ones who have served in previous conflicts or wars. They "get it" and their service is from the heart. But after this last trip to Fort Sam Houston, and an extended conversation with some of the wounded vets and their wives, I'm beginning to form a different picture; one that isn't quite so sentimental.
I know for a fact that many of these young people join the military because it provides them with a means to an education. But it is becoming more apparent that for some, it is exactly what they are telling us it is .... it is "a job". One young couple tried to thank me for coming to serve them through our ministry Angel Chefs. But when I told them we were there to thank them for their sacrifice, they repeated the oft-spoken phrase, "We're just doing our job." Of course, I'm assuming that once again, they are just being polite, so I tried to explain that we appreciated what they sacrifice for us so that we can live in freedom and liberty; that we are in awe that they would be willing to fight in our place so that we can continue to be a free nation. But they said, "We don't look at it as a sacrifice." They expressed the security they felt within the brotherhood of the military and that they had been trained to do a job and they weren't happy in the civilian world; they just didn't fit in. He enjoyed what he did, what he had been trained for. I had to accept the truth ... he enjoyed his job.
Then it dawned on me. For this couple at least, serving in the military was not the patriotic, emotional sacrifice for "love of country". It was more practical, or pragmatic. This was his chosen method of employment. And once I had made this painful discovery, it opened the door for more disquieting thoughts. Things began to make a little more sense, whether I wanted to admit it or not.
And I can only guess at the training they received and the mentality of their superiors. Did they instill patriotism or was it their job to create a workforce of soldiers that would follow orders? I don't mean to sound cynical or downhearted, and I am sure there are some military members that will vehemently deny my supposition. I am also aware that there are differences between the military branches of service. So I do not want to paint a broad brush across all branches or on all service members. But I would really like to believe, with all my heart, that these young men and women who take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States know what that document represents and what it stands for. I don't want to think that their oath is hollow and meaningless to them; something they were instructed to do, and therefore it is an empty promise.
Because that Constitution represents us -- we, the people -- and if they are simply "doing their job", then what happens when their "job" involves going against that precious document.... and us? Where will their loyalties lie? And will they know to whom they owe their allegiance? These are thoughts that disturb my soul.....
Psalm 144:1 "Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;"
Ummm...gotta disagree with PLW on this one (I'm actually amazed I just typed that!)... I would say that patriotism and pride of country run as strong in today's military as they ever have.ReplyDelete
Whenever I've been thanked for serving in the Navy, I've always responded with a quiet thank you for the recognition and stressed that I was grateful for the honor to serve, and honored to be able to earn the trust and respect from my countrymen and women.
I suspect that when a service member tells you they were just doing their job, it comes from a fundamental principle that the military is subordinate to civilian leadership and must always guard against an idea that they are in any way "better" than anybody else. This is especially true for junior soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines: these fine young people have been brought into the best shape of their lives, been taught skills and have access to equipment & systems that are second to none in the entire world. But their senior NCOs and leadership know they cannot be allowed any sense of entitlement or selfishness because the essence of service under fire is the willingness to put mission and comrades above self. These 'youngsters' must be constantly reminded that they serve their nation, fulfill their oaths and are part of national service because they have been accorded a privilege to serve in uniform. That privilege must always be earned. Us "oldsters" are probably more open about our opinions and motivations merely because we've traveled the road for a few decades and have the benefit of hindsight to be sure of what we say and how we say it. Like good muscle-memory is gained from regular shooting and training, there is a certain "outlook-memory" that builds in the military from just keeping a frame of reference that it's "just what we do" even when many of the parts of serving might be considered incredible if scrutinized in detail.
In every large organization, you will find a spectrum of people who are there for all sorts of reasons and circumstances. To be sure, there will be a few in uniform that are really there for just a job and security. But in my experience, even the most "non-military" minded person I've ever known that got out after just one tour of duty has a deep streak of patriotism and responsibility instilled in them. In fact, some of folks I know that left after just a tour or two have actually turned out to be some of the strongest patriots I've been honored to know.
Here's a real-life example from an amazing Green Beret I used to work with: he proudly said that he was glad that his grand-mother had no idea what he did so that she could just happily go shopping and see her friends without ever worrying that bad people might come to her town. He had no interest in being considered a hero or receiving any recognition other than respect from his comrades and a chance to "put good metal on bad people." Belle, as sweet a lady as you are, if you had ever told him "thank you for your service," he would have given you the same reply about just doing his job. Now, inside, he would have been proud and happy that you said something, but there would be no way he would admit it!
If you want to consider the extreme differences between somebody who doesn't openly seek public recognition for their service and somebody who utterly craves it, I suggest you consider the past and current residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as a study for comparison & contrast.
Here's my suggestion for the next time you thank a young man or woman in uniform and get the "just doing my job" response: tell them that you think it's a fine job they're doing, that you know what they do is part of a great tradition (I'll admit that the even Army has some good parts...), and that you know being in uniform means they protect America and our Constitution. There could be nothing better that a true member of our military could hear. And if you've found the rare one that isn't really in uniform for anybody but themselves...Well, you'll have gently reminded them about what Honor, Courage and Commitment mean to you.
PS Tell PLW I still love him like a brother from another mother. Oh, and his recommendations for running a good low-magnification holographic sight with an angled fore-grip on the AR platform were excellent!
What I probably didn't make clear (but tried to) in the post is that we don't see this as a universal truth. As I stated, I believe that an emotional patriotism DOES exist for the majority of the military. And I also think that the branch of service makes a huge difference. I am only speaking of the conversations we have experienced with the young 20-year-olds in the Army.... not ALL of them, but a FEW of them .... I absolutely know that the older servicemen know what the Constitution means and what is behind the oath they take. But you have given me a great response the next time I get that spider sense that something is lacking in their humble comments, and I can make it understood that I revere our military for the commitment, sacrifice and service they undertake on our behalf.Delete
P.S. We are REALLY looking forward to dinner at the end of the month! More good conversation and company!
I have another perspective, this from my 19 year old grandson who enlisted in the Army. He grew up playing video games and I fear he thinks this is 1 giant video game played with real guns. He has never had to suffered hardships of any kind, he feels invincible. He will be deployed in June to Afghanistan. I pray daily that the army has trained him well and has opened his eyes that this is not a game.ReplyDelete
I would like to think he enlisted because he is a patriot but he enlisted because he couldn't find a job.
I will also pray for him and his safety. And I pray that when the Army trains them, they instruct them about the history of serving for the noble cause of Liberty and Freedom. I'm just afraid that these hard economic times are more of a stimulus for serving than patriotism and love of country. This younger generation has lived in a different America than their elders who are serving. We need them to know their heritage and what they're fighting for.Delete