Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day

There's a lot of talk on a day like today about how selfless military people are.  People left and right in the blogosphere are thanking veterans like me for our service.  So I just want to set one thing straight.

I joined the Navy because I needed a job.  I had student loans to pay; I was ashamed of not being on my own (unlike many "kids" in their 20's nowadays); and no one wanted to pay a fresh-faced History major anything close to a living wage.

In other words, I joined the military for totally selfish reasons, as do many in the armed forces.  I joined for money, I joined to gain my independence, I joined in the hope I would get a chance to travel.


What I got was a lot more.  For the first time in my life, I worked and lived alongside people of another skin color.  For the first time in my life, I saw African Americans in positions of power.  And I came into close contact with those heretofore exotic people known as "Southerners" and "Texans." (And I learned very quickly the difference between the two.)  I met people who were from comfortable backgrounds and people who had signed up because they were tired of crashing at friends' houses and getting food from dumpsters.  I met people with college degrees like mine and people who had never even considered college as an option.  I also encountered people like my husband-to-be who were taking advantage of the tuition subsidies the military gave them to earn their degrees.

I learned in the military that America is a lot bigger than any one of the segregated social bubbles in which we live and are brought up.  I learned that an organization as hidebound and conservative as the military could still be in the forefront on issues such as equal opportunities for minorities and for women.  Most importantly, I learned that people of different races, religions, and beliefs are able to work together toward a common goal.

I think that last is a lesson that a lot of people in our country today have forgotten.  Maybe they've never even learned it.  It's easy in this country to stick with your own kind, easy to become convinced that your reality is the only reality.  You can watch "your" channels, read "your" news, listen to "your" radio stations.  But the truth of the matter is, this is a really big country with all sorts of people in it.  And none of them are better or more "American" than any of the others.

Go ahead and thank me for "serving."  But realize that I benefited from my service to my country more than anyone else did.  I hated a lot of what I had to do, and the military does have its own particular brand of crazy; but I came away knowing a lot more about my fellow citizens than I could have learned by staying in the familiar bubble of my particular upbringing.

Would you believe that lately I have actually had people say to me, "How could you let your son go into the Army?"

How?  Tell me, how could I not?

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23 comments:

  1. Compelling indeed. Thank you for your service.

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  2. This? Is exactly why I read you. Brava. And thank you.

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  3. Sounds rather familiar. My father joined up because he didn't like the other option the judge gave him. He stayed because he'd found a home.

    Ain't it great when what you have to do turns out to be what you want to do?

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  4. I had no idea you had served in the military! Way to go! (that vintage poster is nauseatingly hilarious, by the way).

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  5. What a wonderful post. Thank you... for serving. ;)

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  6. No comments up yet? I wanted to read the comments!

    I wish I were a man, too. I expressed a similar sentiment to my husband last night, but it wasn't because I'd like to join the Navy. It's probably not printable in your comments.

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  7. I loved this so much that I'm sending my readers over. You were really able to convey something that I have experienced in the military life...and have recognized the difference it truly makes, but have never articulated to others. I think it is a very important point. The military really does give people from so many walks of life, the opportunity to serve side by side and get to know one another in a way they never would have if they had not left their respective bubbles. It binds us together and highlights our commonalities. I feel privileged to personally know the great diversity, skin colors, politics, religions, socio-economic, and regional diversity, that makes up America, in a way I never would have, had we not been military....and I am even more pleased that my children have grown up with this as their "normal"

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  8. Thanks for your service--and your son's. It's appreciated by more than you think.

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  9. I think this is your best post yet :) Awesome and Thank you for sharing!

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  10. Great insights! Thanks for sharing (and serving [smile])!

    ~Luke

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  11. Great post! It's an experience that many would benefit from. I didn't go that route myself, but I certainly considered it, and had friends who did. My father served 22 years.

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  12. That is a side of things I had not heard before. Thank you for that. I came within inches of joining the military when I was 19. It seemed to be a good solution to a lot of issues for me at the time. The door to the recruiting office was locked and I never went back. Some days I'm glad but somedays I wonder "what if?"

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  13. Your post gave me chills--incredible insight offered here, SC. Thank you.

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  14. Very well said and much like my son. He joined for all of those reasons especially the being on his own, but he too also joined because he wanted to serve. The sad thing is that I too have had people come up and say OMG I can't believe you let him join the Army or the Wow I would never be okay with my child joining.

    The most amazing thing has been watching him become before my very eyes not a 19 year old boy, but a 19 year old man. He has focus now, he has the sense that he can do anything. He will be home in 3 weeks and he has been talking about getting his OWN apartment as soon as he comes back even though he will only be working part time & going to Junior College. There is no desire to even move back in with me or his Dad.

    Happy belated Veteran's Day.

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  15. Indeed, how could you not? Thank you for a wonderful post and for serving. I think a lot of young people today would benefit from mandatory service.

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  16. thank you anyway. i love your writing.

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  17. Yes, yes, and yes!
    I recall writing a letter to my grandfather about 10 years ago, trying to explain some of those same feelings. I am thrilled that my boys thought it was normal to play on a soccer team with kids of all colors and creeds. I miss living on an Army Post for that same reason.

    My nephew rapidly changed from a semi-undirected slob to an amazing young man, thanks in great part to the US Navy.

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  18. Well, you learn new things about people every day. I almost joined the Air Force. Good thing I'd already managed to pick up those lessons elsewhere-but I guess I didn't help my country much. Then again, seeing as how if I had gone through with it I would have been shipped to Kuwait only to find out I was pregnant and spend the whole time barfing all over that country, maybe I served two!

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  19. Sounds like the same reasons I joined the Army...and it was one of the best experiences of my life. But if either of my sons ever wants to join, I'm hoping for Air Force....

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  20. Well said!

    This is an awesome post!

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  21. New York City is a lot like the Armed Services, you'd better like your neighbors because they may (and have) saved my life. And they have guns!! When I first moved to L.A. I was shocked that all 'groups' were so segregated. I waited until I found a building with all nationalities represented. It made me feel more comfortable.

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  22. You go girl! I loved this post, particularly paragraph 6. My greatest frustration with our country right now is how divided we are and how vehemetly we fight the other side without stopping to listen and understand.

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