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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

3 Military Myths Busted

Veterans Day is a second-tier holiday for most folks. Outside of a few parades, some military tributes on TV and an outside chance at a day off, it ranks alongside Columbus Day, Arbor Day and MLK Day as either an “Oh, is that today?” holiday or a “Federal employees are off for what?” holiday. But it is a reminder, eight years after I walked off a base for the last time, that I gave ten years to the Navy, and got more back in return than I ever could have hoped for. If it weren’t for the Navy, the Naval Academy, the submarine service and the tireless efforts of countless mentors along the way, I would never be where I am today, never have gotten as far as I have gone. Along that leadership gauntlet, and in that professional crucible, I became the man I am today. But after a decade, I took a look around and realized that things had changed. The way the rest of society looks at its warrior class has shifted, and is rife with misconception, misunderstanding and simple misinformation. So, as my own tribute to my veteran brethren, here are 3 things you need to know about the modern military:

1. Perks Up. There was a time when joining the military meant inuring to the benefit of countless government perqs; including top-notch comprehensive health care, high-quality housing, and financial support of post-secondary education. That time was the 1960’s - and just like everything else from that era, it’s mostly gone. Military health care is performed with no malpractice recourse for its recipients - and like any other consequence-free environment, the product suffers as a result. Imagine what kind of car repair you’d get if you didn’t have to pay for it (nor did anyone else), and the only thing you could do if they irreparably damaged your car was to ask the same people to try and fix it again (or just get really mad). The housing, which was new in the 60’s (and hasn’t been updated since), is now just north of the “Projects”, with that similar warm, institutional feel. And the educational benefits which were more than adequate to cover even pricey institutions back in the day, are now barely enough to cover the price of community college. I’m not sure where or when people got the idea that the “G. I. Bill” is some magical plan that covers all a veteran’s or service member’s educational expenses no matter where you want to go - but that’s more of a fantasy than the Notre Dame leprechaun riding a unicorn down a yellow brick road after winning a decent bowl game. The good news is that the next time you tell one of us how good we have/had it with all of our government “benefits”, you won’t have to wonder why we’re looking at you like you crapped on our front lawn.

2. Army of Four. Okay, listen, this isn’t rocket science, and it is something every citizen ought to have at least a rudimentary understanding of. There are four major military services and they are not all parts of the “Army”. It’s the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. With the exception of the Navy and Marines, we don’t share bases (i.e. not every military installation is a place you can find all of the above), and outside of the horrible pay scale the services have very little in common. There are different ranks, different jobs, and completely different languages to refer to many of the same things. It’s your freedom we’re out there defending, after all - the least you could do is know the basics of how we’re doing it. While we’re talking about it, there are also three major service academies: The U.S. Military Academy at West Point (Army), The U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis (Navy/Marines) and The U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs (Air Force). We are not affiliated, and there is only one of each (I was once asked if I knew about the Naval Academy in Oklahoma - yes, seriously). We are rival schools, so we’re not keen on being confused with one another. And finally, the services are huge. As of June, there were over 1.4 million active duty service members. What does this number mean to you? It means that the likelihood that we’ll know personally, the one person that you know who served in the same service as we did, is about the same as you hitting the lottery on your next trip to the Gas N‘ Sip - so maybe you can wipe that disappointed look off your face, and just be thankful that both of us were willing to go out and do what we did.

3. Stupid Is As Stupid Doesn’t. No matter what you’ve seen in the movies, read on the internet or heard from your friends, the military is not a repository for the leftovers after universities, community colleges and trade schools have taken their pick. I know what you’re thinking - no one out there really thinks that do they? Yes, they do. John Kerry thinks it - and more importantly, the extensive staff of articulate, educated and intelligent speechwriters and strategists thought it, too. Take it from someone who went to military school - even when it comes to the folks on those storied campuses, most people think we’re there because we couldn’t get into the Harvards, Yales and Princetons. And while it may be true that there isn’t a whole lot of “old money” (or new money for that matter) in the service - I can assure that there is no shortage of intelligence. There are just as many reasons for joining as there are people that join, but precious few include being a “last resort” or “an alternative to jail.” Those days are long gone. The military is not a federal reform school for miscreants or group therapy for people with anger management issues. I personally know dozens of men and women who worked hard, did their homework, made an effort to be smart and still ended up in the desert in Iraq - fighting for their country, and the freedom for someone to be stupid enough to say that kind of nonsense out loud.

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More so that most other things you can choose to do when you’re 18, the military is less something you’ve done and more something that you are. And while every society since the dawn of man has had its warrior-class, the similarity between them mostly ends there. In some nations, the fighting force is revered and held up as kings, in others, they are servants and peasantry. The one thing they do have in common, however, is that you can’t really know what it’s like unless you’ve done it yourself. One of the greatest things about the American military is that we live among you - both during and after our service. Take this opportunity, not to say thank you, not to tie a ribbon around anything, and not to simply attend a parade. No, take this opportunity to get to know the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that you already see everyday - you might be surprised what you find, you might be even more surprised at what you don’t.


Anonymous said...

Amen brother

Lewis said...

Glenn, As a fellow 97 USNA grad I always enjoy checking your blog. I will have to respectfully disagree with you on the quality of military medicine. After seven years I doing subs, I went back to medical school and am now in my third year of residency. I actually decided not to stay with the military for my medical career so I don't have that bias. While I was in the military I had much the same impression about military medicine that you do but that has changed.

You would be surprised at the number of department chairs and respected faculty at major medical centers that have been military docs (now that I am in medicine I know some of them). The military has always lead the way in
innovations in trauma research and treatment as well. Military medicine is also not practiced in a consequence free environment (unless you view litigation as the only possible consequence). If the this was true then it is a miracle that the military does anything of quality as military lawyers, those in the civil engineering corps, reactor operators, etc all operate without fear of litigation. However, they would certainly not agree that they operate in a consequence free environment.

I do appreciate your column and great wit, but my perspective on military medicine has certainly changed over the years and wanted to share my perspective.

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