Something's been bothering me... the words 'But they chose to join.'
Here's why they're bothering me. It was Easter and I reposted a picture meme of service men and women deployed to Afghanistan huddled around a meal at their DFAC (dining facility). I mentioned something about take a moment and think about those out there serving.
And one of my followers said simply 'But they chose to join.' I looked at it for a long time. That's not a simple sentence, no matter how simple it appears. To post that as a reply to my request seemed to mean that this person shouldn't have to take time out of their Easter Day to think about these service men and women because of a choice they made. After all, they chose to join.
Think about that.
There are young men and women out doing what our nation commands, living under very rough conditions, at risk of violence or death, and receiving poverty wages but because they weren't drafted they get no respect? Not even a moment out of your day?
To make it perfectly clear, they didn't choose to join, they chose to serve. You join a gym or a club. You serve your country. Big difference.
I'm sure this has made me testy because of my nearness to the subject. I've spent the last 30 years in the military. 20 as a US Army soldier. 3 as a DoD contractor. 7 as a DoD civilian. When I go to work I see soldiers marching. I hear them call cadence. I see them salute. Fort Huachuca is predominantly a training post so most of these young men and women have chosen to serve and are getting ready for their first assignment. They're idealistic. They want to do things for their country. They want to have that feeling of service. They curate their own version of patriotism through their actions. They put up with poverty wages, working 15 hour days, being screamed at by drill sergeants, getting up and being forced to exercise and stand in formation, and eventually going to a combat zone instead of getting a regular job like regular people.
|Me serving in Afghanistan 2013|
When I chose to serve, I had lots of choices. I joke about how my mom made me join because I'd messed up two scholarships. That's partially accurate, she did lay down the law, but I had choices. I was smart, from a good family with great connections, I know I could have landed on my feet. Hell, I was waiting tables at the most expensive restaurant in Chattanooga at the time making almost $2000 a month back in 1984. It would take me more than a dozen years in the military to get back to that salary. But you see, I have this idea that we as citizens should give back to our nation. We should protect it and her people. Maybe it was my grandpa. Maybe it was John Wayne. Maybe it was all those old WW II movies. I dunno, but it made me want to serve.
Everyone doesn't have to. In fact, less than 1% of the US population serves. But that doesn't mean the other 99% get off free and clear. So when you're asked to pause a second and reflect on someone else's service that seems like a kind of respect.
I get that there are politics at work. I get that there are folks who don't like violence and war. Guess what? Soldiers hate it even worse. Let me set you straight. Whether you like the reason for a service man or woman being somewhere, don't confuse the issue with the person. The person was ordered to go there. They fight for those beside them, they fight for their command, and they fight for the ideal.
But they chose to join. No, they chose to serve.
Serving like my best buddy SGM Marshall who just received a Bronze Star for his outside the wire actions in Afghanistan.
Or serving like Sgt Keri Paulson, a young girl who could be anyone's daughter in a shopping mall anywhere in America but instead pulled a deployment to Afghanistan and turned out to be a crack NCO.
Or like my writer pal SFC Lincoln Crisler who's pulling an unaccompanied tour of duty in Korea, leaving his wife and kids back in America for a year.
Or serving like the 72 year old SFC (retired) Melvin Morris, who chose to serve by joining the Oklahoma National Guard in 1959, only to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor last week for actions he conducted in 1967 while serving in Vietnam.
They didn't join a bridge club. They didn't choose to join a political party. They didn't join a frigging bowling league. They chose to serve and deserve a damn moment of your attention.
But they chose to join.
Let me backtrack a few inches so people don't think I'm being overly semantical. It really is okay to say someone joined the military. You don't have to say that they chose to serve. But it's only okay if you understand that by joining the person is also serving.
It is absolutely not alright to use the world join as an excuse not to show someone respect.