Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. On Military Service

 
“Color Guard at Fort Belvoir” by US Army Corps of Engineers, via Shutterstock.

Last night, I went on a short adventure that got me to thinking about my time in the military. We were having dinner with friends when we learned that their son, in his 20s, was stuck out on a dirt road somewhere and needed help. They had contacted another friend, Mick, who lived nearby, and we also ventured out to help. When we arrived, Mick was on the scene, but he was surprised to see me. I said “I can’t let a Navy man have all the fun!” Later that evening, I was thinking about the ribbing that guys give each other when they’ve served in different branches. But I also thought about the bonds that exist almost immediately between most men, once they learn that each other served.

In my case, I spent four years Active Duty in the Army, as a tanker. I was fortunate to spend most of that time in Europe and never ended up in the Gulf. I regularly think about the time that has passed since I got out, compared to how long I was alive before I joined. I was 18 when I joined, and nearly 25 years have passed since I got out. I think about those numbers a lot — which I’ve always thought was odd — until last night, when it hit me why it is important to me. The four years I spent in the Army are a pivot time for my life in many ways. Up until then, those years were filled with points of adversity that were the greatest I’d faced in my short life. I met different kinds of people. I lost a lot of weight and became physically fit. I did a lot of things that most people would never do. I saw concentration camps close up. I visited cities like Paris and Frankfurt. And I was a part of a long tradition that went all the way back to George Washington.

I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about serving the Army, however. The greatest of which is the sense of honor. I wasn’t the best soldier I could have been. I was young and impetuous. I didn’t listen to great leaders who tried to mold me. Almost from the moment I joined, I began counting down the days until I would get out. That isn’t honorable. And to this day I am uncomfortable when people thank me for my service, because there were better men than me who served along side me, some of whom went to war. They are the ones who should be thanked. Once, in Arlington National Cemetery, a World War II veteran shook my hand and thanked me for my service. I was flabbergasted.

Yet still, I did something that many able-bodied men do not do. I chose, of my own free will, to put on the uniform. And there is something honorable in that. That does set me apart in some way that I cannot fully explain nor understand. I remember when I out-processed through Fort Dix, New Jersey. It’s the Army, and you do the whole thing the Army way, in a group, with lots of paperwork, and standing around waiting. Toward the end, 20 or 30 of us were sitting in a briefing room, waiting for whatever was the next step. A sergeant came in the room, and told everyone that he was going to read a list of names. And when he was done, anyone who’s name was not on the list was to get up, and leave the room, and await further instructions.

After the names were read, less than half the men and women remained in the room. He told us to stand up. Then he explained: “You are the ones who have fulfilled your commitment. You are the ones who kept your word. All of you are getting out honorable. Not because of a medical issue, or a discipline issue. You are the heroes.” Then he gave us each an Army pin, which is never worn on a uniform, but is still the award that I cherish the most. It isn’t lost on me that the sergeant read out the names of the people who stayed in the room. He didn’t give those others the honor of having their names read aloud in that setting.

And that is what sets us apart, I think. Having served honorably in any capacity, having done what you set out to do, makes you someone special. There is a competing sense of honor and gratitude that I think most of us feel. We do feel that sense of pride for having served. But we are also grateful that we were privileged to participate in the United State’s great military tradition. When we walk down the street, we sort of feel that people ought to get our of our way, because we are the warriors. Yet that is tempered by the knowledge that these are the people we swore to protect, and that greater men and women than us have walked the same path. It’s an odd sense of dichotomy that, for me at least, has never gone away and is never fully understood.

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  1. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    Concur.

    • #1
    • December 31, 2015, at 7:06 AM PST
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  2. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Our drill sergeants in Basic delighted in separating the draftees from the volunteers and assigning the most unpleasant details to the volunteers on the grounds that they had asked to be there. Another fine tradition lost due to the all-volunteer Army.

    • #2
    • December 31, 2015, at 7:36 AM PST
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  3. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    That you for this – very thoughtful and interesting.

    I am grateful to all who serve – not because they are amazing or heroic, but because they have signed up to be part of a truly noble cause: the defense of the beacon of freedom, the greatest nation in the history of the world, warts and all.

    • #3
    • December 31, 2015, at 7:37 AM PST
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  4. BrentB67 Inactive

    Your comments about time in service and time after really hit home.

    There are 2 times I’ve been sad about getting out: 9/11 and the when I had been out longer than my service.

    Sad for all the reasons you discuss here.

    • #4
    • December 31, 2015, at 7:45 AM PST
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  5. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Basil Fawlty:Our drill sergeants in Basic delighted in separating the draftees from the volunteers and assigning the most unpleasant details to the volunteers on the grounds that they had asked to be there. Another fine tradition lost due to the all-volunteer Army.

    Yeah, a different time.

    • #5
    • December 31, 2015, at 7:50 AM PST
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  6. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    I work at the place where I left the Navy doing a job I did while in the Navy. My wounds stay fresh on this one.

    • #6
    • December 31, 2015, at 7:55 AM PST
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  7. Ramblin' Lex Inactive

    Don’t beat yourself up for resisting those who tried to “mold” you. I ignored good and great advice for almost 30 years (active duty and reserves) in the Navy. Perhaps it takes a certain kind of knucklehead to join in the first place. This knucklehead misses it everyday.

    • #7
    • December 31, 2015, at 8:31 AM PST
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  8. Tedley Member

    I’ve always had trouble seeing what I did during my service as more than “doing my job.” However, that Sergeant recognized what you, me, and so many others truly accomplished–more than simply volunteering, we followed through and fulfilled the terms of the contract we made with our nation. This is how we earned honor from our service.

    • #8
    • December 31, 2015, at 8:33 AM PST
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  9. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    To quote my friend’s grandfather, “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for the 21 years I served, and I wouldn’t give you a plug nickel for another 21 just like ’em.”

    • #9
    • December 31, 2015, at 8:38 AM PST
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  10. Eric Hines Inactive

    I have a somewhat different take. I’m proud of my time in the military, no doubt, albeit like OP, I never saw combat.

    However.

    When people thank me for my service, I generally have one of two different (silent) reactions, neither of which seems common. One reaction, regarding those who are sincere in their thanks, is, “why are you thanking me?” I did my duty: that’s not remarkable; that’s only doing a right and proper thing. What is remarkable, and what should be remarked on and often, is all those who stand on the sidelines watching instead of doing their duty, and all those who actively shirk their duty.

    The other reaction concerns those whose thanks are purely a square-filler, a lately version of “Hi, howareya:” buzz off. You’re cheapening the service of those who were in combat defending your right to be complacent.

    Eric Hines

    • #10
    • December 31, 2015, at 8:44 AM PST
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  11. Cow Girl Thatcher

    Great essay! I’m the daughter and wife of Navy vets. One of our sons is currently serving on a submarine. I really like how your discharge went. The honor afforded to you at that moment was excellent. My husband used to say that he recognized that the Navy owned him, 24/7, and that is what people are thanking veterans for–the willingness to fulfill the commitment. The follow through…

    • #11
    • December 31, 2015, at 8:53 AM PST
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  12. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Eric Hines: I did my duty: that’s not remarkable; that’s only doing a right and proper thing. What is remarkable, and what should be remarked on and often, is all those who stand on the sidelines watching instead of doing their duty, and all those who actively shirk their duty.

    Do you believe it is everyone’s duty to serve in the military?

    • #12
    • December 31, 2015, at 8:53 AM PST
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  13. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Fantastic post.

    The only thing that I have to say is that, in my experience, one of the marks of a true hero is his denial that he is worthy of the honor.

    • #13
    • December 31, 2015, at 8:56 AM PST
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  14. Eric Hines Inactive

    iWe:

    Eric Hines: I did my duty: that’s not remarkable; that’s only doing a right and proper thing. What is remarkable, and what should be remarked on and often, is all those who stand on the sidelines watching instead of doing their duty, and all those who actively shirk their duty.

    Do you believe it is everyone’s duty to serve in the military?

    What gives you that idea? Not at all. There are lots of valuable and honorable ways to serve our country.

    Eric Hines

    • #14
    • December 31, 2015, at 8:57 AM PST
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  15. 4CuriousJohn Thatcher

    Not servicing is my biggest regret. With all my allergies, I’m not even certain, they would have taken me. Hell, I can’t even now carry in a pine Xmas Tree without a visit to the ER. Dust and mold almost cause the same reaction. But at a time, I wanted to go OCS after college. Thinking I would like to fly helicopters in one of the services. I let my roommate (that was an E3 in the Navy, before school) and some Air Force & Army ROTC friends talk me out of even picking up the phone in 1986. I know I could have use some straightening up, in a way the services couldn’t help but do. I’m proud and jealous that my nephew is currently servicing in the Navy as a Master of Arms in Bahrain. I know he needed some straightening up. I believe the Navy will put him on a path to success. I wouldn’t mine if my kids pick a Service, but that doesn’t seem to be a path they are going down. The wife is basically saying don’t force the “Services” onto your son because you regret not doing it.

    So all that I can say is “Thank You for Your Service”.

    • #15
    • December 31, 2015, at 9:09 AM PST
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  16. Rightfromthestart Coolidge

    Interesting post , Spin, I’ve felt many of the same feelings over the years, Navy (64-67), Vietnam 1967, thus according to my DD-214 and my real estate taxes I’m a combat veteran. However I was in a ship in the Tonkin Gulf and never felt in any danger so I’m a little sheepish about accepting thanks or implications of heroics. I joined the VFW and I met men who fought at Tarawa, Okinawa , Omaha Beach etc and thought , ‘ My God, these guys are the real thing!’
    In the case of Vietnam vets we occasionally have the experience of someone expressing surprise upon hearing that we served since people have been conditioned by 40 years of media saturation to think that we’re all psychotics , ‘ Gee, you don’t seem crazy’
    Coming home in the 60s it really wasn’t that big a thing since at that time almost everyone had been in one service or another or could say exactly what infirmity kept them out. As the years have gone on and service had gotten rarer I’ve become prouder about it. I’m particularly happy I don’t have to ‘ hold my manhood cheap while any speak’
    Within the last few years I’ve had the great joy of reconnecting with several buddies from those years .
    As you said , a sense of honor, gratitude and pride and I’d add satisfaction that I did my part.

    • #16
    • December 31, 2015, at 9:11 AM PST
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  17. Front Seat Cat Member

    Spin and others – you all deserve to be thanked, your thoughts are so important and I hope can be shared with the new generation – they have no idea – the world has changed so fast – that they do not understand the importance of serving. I often see elderly in the stores and know they saw it all – how many were at Normandy, or saw the camps, experiencing incredible history that changed the world. In Walmart, an elderly man had a cap on covered with military emblems – he tipped his hat to me as I passed, and smiled – my gosh! Manners of a time gone by, and he was the one who sacrificed all.

    • #17
    • December 31, 2015, at 10:06 AM PST
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  18. Pilli Inactive

    I turned 18 and registered for the draft in 1967 during the height of the Viet Nam years. It turned out I was 4F … medically unfit for military duty due to acute asthma.

    I don’t regret not being drafted. I do regret the way my generation treated those that did serve in Viet Nam. It was and still is shameful. A large portion of those who served there didn’t want to be there but did their duty and served their terms. That deserves respect.

    • #18
    • December 31, 2015, at 10:15 AM PST
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  19. Profile Photo Member

    Thanks, Spin. I enlisted in the Air Force in 79. In 85 I took an opportunity to leave rather than apply for OCS. I was a linguist and analyst, so work was really cool, but I was and am not meant for bureaucracy, so it was a good decision. The only time I ever really regretted it was in 1999, when I had just successfully completed a really nasty transaction, but somehow managed to get sideways with my boss anyway; I was in Portland, ME for a due diligence visit on another deal and was walking in the snow one night, just thinking, when it hit me: If I had stayed in I would, at that moment, have been eligible for retirement.

    My dad volunteered for the Navy after Med School and was turned down – high arches. So he was drafted by the Army. He told the draft board the Navy had rejected him because of his feet and they said: “That’s okay, doctors don’t march much.”

    My daughter served in the Navy. She refers to me having served in the Chair Force, but you are right – all that interservice rivalry is like siblings digging on each other. It can get rough, but they always unite against the rest of the world.

    • #19
    • December 31, 2015, at 11:08 AM PST
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  20. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Eric Hines:

    iWe:

    Eric Hines: I did my duty: that’s not remarkable; that’s only doing a right and proper thing. What is remarkable, and what should be remarked on and often, is all those who stand on the sidelines watching instead of doing their duty, and all those who actively shirk their duty.

    Do you believe it is everyone’s duty to serve in the military?

    What gives you that idea? Not at all. There are lots of valuable and honorable ways to serve our country.

    Eric Hines

    I agree, and I also think that many of those ways do not involve becoming a government employee. To the critic, though, what I do it might be seen as “standing on the sidelines watching.”

    • #20
    • December 31, 2015, at 12:18 PM PST
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  21. PHCheese Member

    I was on active duty June 1968 to June 1970. I was drafted. I had a football injury that precluded me from taking basic training but was not discharged like most people were. I would have preferred a discharge but dug in and did my best. Spent 15 months as a driver for the battalion commander. I finished as a confidential courtier. Of course I never left Agusta GA. I chafed at authority but kept my mouth shut for the most part. I was actually Soldier of the Month once. I could have been an E5 but turned it down in favor of a fellow that had more than a year left. I only had three months left. It would have been about $40 a month difference for me. He was thinking of making the Army a career and I wanted out as soon as possible. Looking back ,I am glad I served, but no one has ever thanked me for my service except General William Westmorland on a form letter that I still have.

    • #21
    • December 31, 2015, at 12:24 PM PST
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  22. Eric Hines Inactive

    iWe:

    Eric Hines:

    iWe:

    Eric Hines: I did my duty: that’s not remarkable; that’s only doing a right and proper thing. What is remarkable, and what should be remarked on and often, is all those who stand on the sidelines watching instead of doing their duty, and all those who actively shirk their duty.

    Do you believe it is everyone’s duty to serve in the military?

    What gives you that idea? Not at all. There are lots of valuable and honorable ways to serve our country.

    Eric Hines

    I agree, and I also think that many of those ways do not involve becoming a government employee. To the critic, though, what I do it might be seen as “standing on the sidelines watching.”

    I’m not sure teaching gentiles, or anyone else, the Torah is very near the sidelines.

    Eric Hines

    • #22
    • December 31, 2015, at 1:43 PM PST
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  23. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Eric Hines:I have a somewhat different take. I’m proud of my time in the military, no doubt, albeit like OP, I never saw combat.

    However.

    When people thank me for my service, I generally have one of two different (silent) reactions, neither of which seems common. One reaction, regarding those who are sincere in their thanks, is, “why are you thanking me?” I did my duty: that’s not remarkable; that’s only doing a right and proper thing. What is remarkable, and what should be remarked on and often, is all those who stand on the sidelines watching instead of doing their duty, and all those who actively shirk their duty.

    The other reaction concerns those whose thanks are purely a square-filler, a lately version of “Hi, howareya:” buzz off. You’re cheapening the service of those who were in combat defending your right to be complacent.

    Eric Hines

    I agree with this, 100%. I was going to work it in to the OP, but it ran long. I hate it when people thank me for my service, unless it is another service member. It probably seems odd to someone who never served, but there it is.

    • #23
    • December 31, 2015, at 3:11 PM PST
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  24. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Arizona Patriot:Fantastic post.

    The only thing that I have to say is that, in my experience, one of the marks of a true hero is his denial that he is worthy of the honor.

    A real soldier is the guy who never wants the recognition, but can’t shut up telling you his stories. People who know me well know that when I’m illustrating a point, the first words are usually “When I was in the Army…”

    • #24
    • December 31, 2015, at 3:14 PM PST
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  25. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    iWe: Do you believe it is everyone’s duty to serve in the military?

    I do think everyone has a duty to serve in the military, if they are capable. That is not so say I judge those that do not.

    And I fear I will offend many when I say this: I don’t like the comparisons people make to the military. “Well, I didn’t go in, but I did go to the Peace Corps” or something. It isn’t the same. Those other things people do when they are young aren’t bad. But they aren’t the same. There is a bond that forms instantly between two men when they learn they’ve both served. They go from being strangers to being brothers in arms in an instant. This has happened to me so many times, and I know others can relate. It happened on the range just two days ago. One man from the Navy, the other an Army Combat Engineer. Both a few years older than me, but not old enough to have been in Vietnam. And we were instant friends.

    But, I do feel sorry for the people who want to go in but can’t. My daughter, all she wants to do is join the military, but she’s got a medical condition that makes it impossible. I feel sad for her.

    • #25
    • December 31, 2015, at 3:23 PM PST
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  26. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    iWe: Do you believe it is everyone’s duty to serve in the military?

    Spin:

    I do think everyone has a duty to serve in the military, if they are capable. That is not so say I judge those that do not.

    Hm.

    I can see the merits of this position, though from a purely practical perspective the military has no need for anywhere near that number of people.

    So the question, I suppose, is whether you reckon a person has a duty to be willing to fight for his nation, or whether the nation has a duty to use every citizen?

    I have no problem at all with saying that if the US needed me, I would support in whatever way I could. That is quite different from suggesting that the best role for each person is to be in uniform – that each citizen has an obligation, regardless of national need, to take several years and serve.

    ?

    • #26
    • December 31, 2015, at 3:51 PM PST
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  27. Boss Mongo Member

    Eric HinesWhen people thank me for my service, I generally have one of two different (silent) reactions, neither of which seems common. One reaction, regarding those who are sincere in their thanks, is, “why are you thanking me?” I did my duty: that’s not remarkable; that’s only doing a right and proper thing. What is remarkable, and what should be remarked on and often, is all those who stand on the sidelines watching instead of doing their duty, and all those who actively shirk their duty.

    The other reaction concerns those whose thanks are purely a square-filler, a lately version of “Hi, howareya:” buzz off.

    The “thank you for your service” always leaves me uncomfortable. I have two responses, depending on the presentation (which breaks down pretty much the way you stated).

    Thank you.

    and

    Not necessary, I’m doing exactly what the Lord put me on this planet to do.

    • #27
    • December 31, 2015, at 4:13 PM PST
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  28. Boss Mongo Member

    Spin:.Almost from the moment I joined, I began counting down the days until I would get out.

    Me, too. I have issues with authority, hate the bureaucracy, and can’t stand externally provided discipline. I went in in 1985 and immediately started counting the days until “obligation complete.” I’m now on terminal leave and get out next month.

    That isn’t honorable.

    Yes, yes it absolutely is. “A veteran – whether active duty, retired, national guard, or reserve – is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to The ‘United States of America’, for an amount of ‘up to and including my life.'”
    You signed the check. Just because US Army didn’t cash it out to the max has nothing to do with the quality of service or your honor. Remember, there is only one award for performing “above and beyond the call of duty,” and most of those are awarded posthumously.

    When we walk down the street, we sort of feel that people ought to get our of our way, because we are the warriors. Yet that is tempered by the knowledge that these are the people we swore to protect, and that greater men and women than us have walked the same path.

    Agree, except Walmart. I still want people to get out of my way at Walmart.

    • #28
    • December 31, 2015, at 4:30 PM PST
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  29. Boss Mongo Member

    Comparing and contrasting the widely diverse time periods in which commenter-Veterans have served, and their interactions with those who haven’t, this video is one some may enjoy. Just putting in a link, not embedding the video. Be advised: wildly CoC non-compliant.

    • #29
    • December 31, 2015, at 4:46 PM PST
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  30. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Boss Mongo: Agree, except Walmart. I still want people to get out of my way at Walmart.

    That goes without saying…

    • #30
    • December 31, 2015, at 5:01 PM PST
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