Saturday, November 11, 2017

No Thanks

[A repeat, from previous Veterans Days - STILL relevant]

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?


  1. I don't care about any of the selfish reasons I guess. I appreciate the risk you take as part of this job. My daughter wanted to join the air force, and her two grandpas, who had both served, talked her out of it. "Not for women" they told her. Sigh. She needed to be shaken up a bit and I I thought the air force would be wonderful for that. She chose college first, and is serving as a missionary for this year instead. She will be plenty shaken up with that. Still, part of me thinks it would have been good for her. I wonder if I wrote any of this same stuff last year. I hope not!

  2. I taught at two military bases for a couple of years, and I learned more from my soldier students than they learned from me. And yes, they join for all sorts of reasons, but they JOINED. So we thank them for that!

  3. I didn't know you were in the Navy!

    I think the armed forces was a great place for boys (and girls) who were lost and maybe didn't fit into the school situation. I think it's a bit sad that they don't accept kids that don't have a diploma anymore. I think that was one way that a lot of kids found their way in life.

  4. I don't think it's selfish at all! There are many options available to people- most wouldn't even consider signing up!

    My best friend's son just enlisted this past summer, right after he graduated from high school. She's heard the same thing!

  5. Beautifully said - I think many people thank veterans because there IS a potential risk, along with the many benefits. My brother-in-law (also Navy) knew he wasn't ready for college after high school, and enlisted - he met my sister when he was stationed in our hometown. And I think he would agree with your assessment of what you got out of the Navy, though he was the Southerner learning to deal with Yankees.

  6. What a great perspective. And whatever the reason, I am always thankful for those that decide to join the military.

  7. Amen. Very insightful. My father was in the military and, yes, it was hard moving around so much, but mostly I am so grateful for the opportunities it gave us. The world is big, divisive, and full of strange and different cultures, but if everyone had the opportunity to (at least once) live in a country where English isn't spoken, eat foods from different cultures, or hang out with someone who is a different race or religion, then I think we would come together collectively as humans of the world rather than citizens of a specific place. Very Pollyanna-ish of me, I know, but I really believe that.

  8. I'm glad you shared this again. I loved the experiences that my children had growing up because we lived in such a diverse community (the Army). My husband hates being thanked, due to the "selfish" reasons you list as well as being an introvert who dislikes attention (although that never stopped him from making presentations to generals).

  9. This post taught me a lot of perspective. Perhaps other countries have the right idea, requiring some service. It might help us iron out some of our differences as a nation if we made people join together more to really know and work with one another. You gave me food for thought, SC. And thank you.