I have friends in many of the US Armed services. Some do search and rescue, others patrol rivers and coastlines, some man tanks, others make sure that the essentials happen – like keeping phones and satellites connected, man checkpoints or simple deliver the mail. One guy is a bona-fide overseas Jack Bauer. Outside of the military, there are the guys who risk life and limb as firefighters, paramedics, and surgeons. One guy quit a plush job as an investment banker to work the NYPD night shift in Jamaica Station. He knows a thing or two about machete-wielding crackheads, I can tell you.
Some other friends I have cash government checks working intelligence stateside and abroad. Others earn a living in the hazy world of defense contracting. One guys who owns his own fabrication shop even built accessories for the M1 Abrams tank.
What they all have in common are really, really interesting stories. Where my work stories start with ‘this one time, in my cubicle’ theirs start with ‘this one time, when the US turned security over to Iraqis we trained’ or ‘this one time, hunting pirates in Somalia.’ While I am thankful for all of them – both as friends and as viable and productive members of society – I feel especially indebted to those who go to work armed each and every day. If your job description includes the phrase ‘forward-deployed,’ if you’ve every been stabbed during office hours, or if your expected results ever included ‘supressive fire,’ there is a debt of gratitude that can never be fully expressed on paper.
When talking with the guys that do this I experience a range of emotions. Guilt – Why do they make all the sacrifices? Regret -I had my chance to serve and gave it up to chase girls at college, enter the workforce, and become an entrepreneur. Envy- outside of Office Space, no one would ever make a movie of my job. There is some comfort in that most of my fellow cubemates feel the same way.
What my friends from the service tell me, what my like-minded cubemates don’t know is that both sets of professions are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other.
You may have heard a variation of this argument before. That the taxes cubicle dwellers pay (and that their companies pay) make our military possible. This is not where I am going.
What has been expressed to me, that I have been slow to comprehend, is that it is a cycle. Americans and their Businesses pay for American Military. American Military ensures the freedom of those citizens. They speak of a sort of virtuous circle.
Unfortunately, I believe that the circle they describe is incomplete. Broken, in fact by those of us who have not served.
US Citizens enjoy the freedoms laid out by our forefathers, buttressed by enormous forethought and sacrifice – read 1776 for a gripping account. But there is more to our side of the equation than simply enjoying the freedoms. We must protect them, too.
Protection of freedom does not come at the compulsion of a gun. It comes from education, legislation (or repeals of unjust laws on the books), and self-improvement.
Civilians free from the worry of mortar shells have luxuries of time and peace that our service men do not have. Why do so few take the time to educate themselves on the founding of our nation, the canonical texts and self-evident truths that our system of government and indeed way of life are founded on? At the time of the Revolutionary period Americans were among the most educated in the world. On whole, they purchased and read more books than the entirety of the rest of the British Empire (See the excellent Teaching Company’s American Revolution for a course in this.) If you want to help protect freedom, learn more about it. At the bare minimum you should be able to pass the same educational requirements the US requires new citizens to.
American ( and Canadian, English, Polish, South Korean, etc) soldiers, sailors and Marines made it possible, at terrible cost, to topple a megalomaniacal, psychotic dictator and give an entire people the ability to self-govern and vote. Yet in our own country, only a percentage of the eligible do so. Even those who do vote pay the lion’s share of attention to national races where they would be hard-pressed to name their own representatives. US soldiers are dying on foreign soil, the least you can do is vote in your own country.
One of the biggest overlooked cost of our servicemen is the time-cost of what they are doing. If you are on patrol in Kanbar province, it’s really hard to go back to school to get your degree, start a new business, or compete in a marathon. What do most American’s spend their free time doing? Watching television? You must be joking me. I am not about to say its your patriotic duty to start a new work out regimen but consider the list of dreams you have, the Bucket List, and highlight anything that you would never be able to pursue if you had to spend 18 months in the desert. Even if it’s something as mundaneas learning to swim, mixing a cocktail, or skydiving – do it!
Another thing civilians are woefully inadequate at is ambassadorship. I can’t tell you how many times I have experienced wonderful charity and patience traveling overseas only to come back stateside to see my fellow Americans barking at visitors here. The news is full of people complaining that the acts of our servicemen make people in other countries hate us. Well, how have you treated foreign nationals. I can tell you that the way the people in the customs line in any major US airport treat our visitors is deplorable. Speaking of traveling abroad, why don’t you?
Have you always wanted to visit another country? Well, your passport has already been paid for in blood and bullets, take advantage of the freedoms bequest to you. And don’t be the ugly American.
In closing, take this time to re-evaluate how you spend your time. Are you fulfilling your side of the agreement? Are you educated? Are you active in your community and family? Are you exercising your freedom?
Our soldiers are ‘being all they can be.’ Are you? Why not? And what are you going to do about it?