When I joined the Army in 1987, I didn’t do so out of some overwhelming patriotic duty, or a desire to uphold the Constitution or to preserve American freedom. I did it because I was looking for a better job than I had, and the Army had some cool jobs, decent pay (if you consider the benefits package which I’ll elaborate on in a moment) and opportunities for an actual career.
As a full-time, Active Duty soldier I received pay, food, clothing, shelter, job training and full medical benefits. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the non-pay items, because a soldier can literally put his or her entire paycheck in savings and have the Army provide everything for them. The Army gave me clothes, they gave me a place to live, and the Mess Hall fed me three meals each day. If I needed to see a doctor, they paid for that too. I knew quite a few enlightened soldiers who stashed away a lot of cash while we served together.
After the Army trained me in my chosen job, that of a helicopter repairer, they sent me to Germany for my first job. The Post Exchange provided an inexpensive and tax-free means to purchase some extra goodies for myself, and the USO tours allowed me to be a tourist for pennies on the dollar had I not been a serviceman. When I decided I wanted to be a helicopter pilot, I applied to the program and was accepted, heading to Alabama for a year’s flight training–which was likely a $10K-$15K value–at no cost to me. Every time I moved, the Army picked up the tab. Every penny.
I served in Gulf War I, known as Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and I was fortunate not to die there. After a tad over 5 years, I exited the Army and returned to civilian life. I soon used my Veteran’s Administration loan gaurantee to buy my first house for a total of $50 down. I have VA Health Care for life, free of charge.
Now then, I personally feel that I was properly compensated for a job that I voluntarily took on. In addition to the pay and benefits discussed above, which I received while actually doing the job, I received training and experience that has been invaluable to me since my separation from service. I can say, without exaggeration, that my Army experience helped me get my first “real” job in the civilian world. The training I received, and the duress under which my job was performed, helped forge a work ethic, along with a tolerance for abuse and bullshit, that served me quite well in Corporate America. The time management and task prioritization skills I possess are well above the average guy or gal I have encountered in my post-military professional life, and I have Warrant Officer Candidate School to thank for that.
With the stage now set, I come to the final act in this dramatic prose. No one need thank me for having done my job. I wasn’t drafted into the service, I volunteered. I was fairly compensated. I continue to receive benefits for my short time wearing the Battle Dress Uniform (I wore a flight suit for a lot of those years, but that didn’t read as well as the BDU). The United States of America was not attacked during my tenure and I didn’t fend off the enemy hordes to protect the American populace. Yes I am a veteran of a foreign war, and we can argue and debate whether that was “fighting for our freedom,” but that doesn’t entitle me to spout bumper sticker slogans and assume a holier than thou attitude, shaming you for not thanking a veteran often enough or with enough gusto. I find it in particuarly poor taste when this shaming is done to score points in a political debate, as if somehow the mere fact that one of the jobs I’ve held in my life was a government job, elevates my opinions. It does not.
Our men and women in uniform volunteered, it’s true, and they knew what they were signing up for, but the jobs can be difficult and in war time they can be exceedingly stressful. Police, fire fighters, EMT and other first responders, ER doctors and nurses and countless other ways of making a living can make the same claim. There’s no need for those who chose a different path, a different way of making their way in the world, to feel an obligation of gratitude. What they can do is provide support.
Supporting our troops is noble, and I certainly do, but the support I’m suggesting doesn’t fit into some patriotic slogan. Our civilian leadership must earn the trust that our servicemen and women place in them; that their lives will not be risked in a foreign entanglement unless the United States is truly at risk. I support the troops by not supporting needless war. I support the troops by wanting them at home; with their families and friends, with their dogs and cats, and not losing an arm or leg to an IED in a far away land. They don’t need our thanks, they need reasoned, intelligent, logical decisions made by leaders who value their lives. We can do our part to give them what they need by not supporting those leaders who’d send them off to die because they want to seem tough to get elected.
Don’t thank a Vet; help keep them alive.