Where Has The Desire To ‘Serve Our Country’ Gone?
July 16, 2008
When my son decided in, 1988, during his Junior year of High School to join the National Guard, as a mother I had mixed emotions. I was very proud of my son for deciding that he wanted to serve our country. At the same time, the “mother instinct” was there as well, which caused me to worry about what might happen to my son if he were deployed during wartime. The advice I gave him at that time was to make sure he researched his options and was well aware of the positive and negative aspects of joining the military. I knew the reasons that led him to the decision to join the military and fully supported him in his choice. He still serves in the National Guard today and he has been deployed and I’m damn proud of the choices he’s made and the direction that his life has taken.
Last year, when my step son was a Senior in High School, he made the choice to join the Active Duty Army. I gave him the same advice I gave to my son. I told him to make sure that military life was what he wanted. His dad told him the same thing. While he was going through Basic Training, his father was just finishing up a tour in Iraq and preparing for retirement from the Army after 22 years. Having grown up in a family where his dad was active duty, his entire life, Sean was knowledgeable in what the military was all about, how it affected families when the Soldier was deployed. Even so, he chose to go active duty and went to Basic Training last June. He’s now serving in his first duty station in Korea. We’re very proud of him and the direction that he’s taken his life.
I just can’t fathom, as a mother, not supporting my child, if he or she chose to enlist in the military. What a noble calling it is. Feeling that you can best serve your country by serving in it’s military. Isn’t that the premise that our ancestors lived by? I know that I was taught, that it was the right thing, to want to do something to serve your fellow man, whether it be in the medical field, in law enforcement, firefighting or in the military. As children, my siblings and I were taught about the military service of our ancestors, both living and dead. We were proud of what they’d done for our country. So it was only natural for 3 out of the 4 of us children, to go into some form of public service work.
Unfortunately, today it’s not considered such a good thing if one’s children wish to enlist in the military. The subject is just almost taboo. If the subject is brought up at a public gathering, most would gasp in shock to hear a young person say that they wished to enlist in the military. Some would try their best to provide them with all kinds of reasons that they shouldn’t enlist. They might enlist the aid of others to help dissuade this “poor misguided soul” who thought that joining the military was an option. Often you hear comments about how only those without any other options join the military, as if it’s some kind of bad thing to want to serve your country. I just don’t understand how our citizens have gotten to that way of thinking. It’s almost as if you’re looked down upon anymore, if you want to join the military. Kind of fucked up thinking if you ask me. I’d like to share with you, an opinion piece written by a young woman about just this very topic, that was published in the Christian Science Monitor. Ms. Reiss is an Army ROTC graduate and an Army Officer who is currently deployed in Iraq with the 20th Engineer Brigade(Combat, Airborne).
‘I’M JOINING THE MILITARY’ SHOULDN’T BE A JAW-DROPPER
Giving back to the nation isn’t about where you stand on war.
By Colleen Reiss
JOINT BASE BALAD, IRAQ - Imagine standing on the sidelines of a summer league lacrosse match in an upper-middle-class suburb somewhere in the Northeast, chatting with parents about upcoming vacation plans, their children’s struggles finding summer jobs, and which teachers to avoid. Want to bring the conversation to an awkward silence? Just ask if any of their teens have considered serving in the military.
Military service has become a taboo subject in many corners of America; supported in principle by the ubiquitous yellow ribbon car magnets, yet silently considered to be outside the realm of “enlightened options” for an educated young person.
This sentiment is reinforced by college administrators who block ROTC programs from campuses, while asserting that their institution, “has the utmost respect for the men and women who serve our country in the military.”
A recent MoveOn.org advertisement depicts a mother declaring that her baby son “Alex” will not serve in the military. The underlying assumption is that military service is an implicitly bad choice. On college campuses, when the ethical call to forsake corporate salaries and serve the greater good is made, military service is rarely mentioned by faculty and public figures.
What is the reason for this dismissive view of military service? The root lies in the misconception that the military is the bastion of those who are pro-war and anti-peace. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Most decent human beings hate war. However, the soldier hates it with the depth of knowing firsthand the suffering, destruction, and long-term cost of armed conflict.
Another underlying root cause for this view is the idea that the military is devoid of critical thinking – that it is a culture of obeying direct orders and nothing more. Again, this type of assumption belies a deep naiveté. Problems on today’s battlefield are often too complex for that kind of robotic interaction.
Finally, many institutes of higher education use opposition to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy as a reason to discourage young adults from serving. Why don’t these same educators and administrators bar members of Congress, the legislative body that crafts such policies, from visiting campus? Let’s remember that the policy is set by civilian leaders. If anyone is to be targeted it should be them.
Regardless of one’s political leanings, class, education, race, or aspirations, military service is a valid way to answer John F. Kennedy’s timeless call to “ask what you can do for your country.” It is not a call to serve that goes out to only one specific region or one type of town. It is not a civic duty reserved for young adults who have few options in life, as some depictions would suggest. And it is certainly not a betrayal of the ideals of independent thought cultivated in our nation’s universities.
The new security dynamics of the 21st century demand that we leave behind perceived divisions between military and civilian culture, and move away from those ideas formulated in the 1970s – ideas that unfortunately still resonate strongly with those who influence my generation.
Serving in the armed forces is giving back to the nation, accepting personal risk in contributing to the well-being and safety of others. It is no less honorable than participating in PeaceCorps, AmeriCorps, Teach for America, or other service organizations marketed toward young adults. Certainly it is as critically important to the future of our nation and our nation’s standing in the world.
Americans must ask themselves what it means to “support the troops” while sending messages that convey a sense of disbelief at the idea that an ambitious high school junior would want to join Army ROTC in college. Or, check themselves when they claim to “respect those who serve” while responding with a look of confusion when a dean’s list biology major remarks that she is going to go through the Officer Candidates Course to become a marine.
Such reactions expose the need for Americans to reform preconceived notions and place the armed forces back where they belong, as a legitimate, compelling, and satisfying form of national service.