Thursday, November 11, 2010

No Thanks!

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?

[Yes, this is a repeat from last year.  It's still relevant.  More relevant, even....]


  1. My daughter just graduated from high school, class of 2010. She was registered for community college, but decided to enlist in the Army instead, for the same reasons you did: She wants to be independent, have an income, and not rely on us. Her job is 68W, Healthcare Specialist. She leaves for basic training on Feb. 15th. Personally, I'm terrified. And proud. And my daughter was 18 and made this decision on her own. I didn't "let" her (like people saying how could you "let" your son go in the army?) do anything...she's an adult, and she enlisted all on her own. Against my wishes, actually...but I think it will be good for her. I hope.

  2. Hadn't read this before. It was great.

  3. I am glad you reposted. A point of view I never considered. Really great post. Thank you.

  4. Fabulous, and I, too, missed it last year.

    I would be proud of my boys if they chose to join the military. Sure, there are dangers and I may worry incessantly if they go to a war zone, but I would encourage them every step of the way.

    Thank you and all the men and women who serve and have served.

  5. I love this (again). Your reasons are similar to those of my dh, and he, too, is uncomfortable with all of the thank you's. But maybe the thank you is for volunteering so the rest of us didn't have to be drafted.

    Perhaps if all of our leaders today had those experiences of working together, Congress would actually accomplish something great for our country.

  6. Good post, as usual. The line that made my day, however? "the military does have its own particular brand of crazy;"
    Amen to that. But the Navy was good to us, and we had a good run. Civilian life is taking some adjustment. Den has the same reaction you do - he signed up to fly, but came away with an entirely new outlook on life and people and the world.

  7. Fantastic post and beautifully written~


  8. I remember this one from last year. I found I still like it this year [smile].


  9. I wonder if people from different political backgrounds can learn to work together? Maybe we should send all of congress for a tour of duty.

  10. This opened my eyes SO much--thanks for posting it again. I needed to read it again.

  11. Clearly I was meant to stumble upon this post because something very similar had been preying on my mind lately. Particularly the part about your reality being the only reality and one being more American than the other. It is so very true and you see people living in their bubble every day. My vision is every graduating senior would live and work in a community wildly different from the one they were raised in. Kids from NYC would head for the cattle ranches and farmlands of the Midwest, rural kids would head for the big cities, and my little suburbanites might spend the year on a Reservation or replanting trees in West Virginia. You get the idea. These are just the small steps of getting to know what is American. What I would hope is that the experience would expand their minds and they could see what a big, beautiful, wonderful country we live in and although people may not be the from the same region, adhere to the same religion, or think the same way, they are still American.