Monday, April 17, 2017

"Thank You For Your Service"

Anyone who has worn the uniform sooner or later is thanked for his/her service.

This is a welcome change from early in my career when wearing the uniform off base or post was not encouraged. Vietnam had made anti-war, anti-military sentiment main stream. Uniformed personnel were unwelcome in polite society, as the military served as society's de facto prison for guys who "couldn't make it" on the outside.

Popular entertainment reflected and then intensified the perception: Soldiers were goofs (F Troop, Gomer Pyle: USMC, Hogan's Heros), generals madmen (Doctor Strangelove, I Dream of Jeannie), and politicians crooks (Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon).

Soon cliché became dogma: anyone in uniform was an unpaid extra on M*A*S*H.

The Army led all services in reviewing and then renewing its mission. In her 2010 article entitled An Army Transformed: The U.S. Army’s Post-Vietnam Recovery and the Dynamics of Change in Military Organizations, US Army Lieutenant Colonel Suzanne Nielsen wrote:
"During the 2 decades preceding the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the U.S. Army went through tremendous reform and rejuvenation. It recovered from the Vietnam War, transitioned to an all-volunteer personnel model, and refocused on a potential future war against a very capable adversary in Europe. The Army’s transformation was evident to external observers: from being seen as an organization in distress in the early 1970s, by 1991 the Army became an organization whose professionalism was the source of admiration."

The 1991 Gulf War re-established the military in the public opinion as an honorable profession. September 11th and the immediate success in Afghanistan helped intensify that perception.

The pendulum -- ever-swinging -- has been stuck on the "everyone's a hero" side of the clock for a while now.

Veterans are thanked, praised, and appreciated – but that’s as far as it goes. Veterans are not asked to describe that service, expected to have opinions, or express disappointments or regrets. Military service held only in honor is untouchable, and therefore inhuman.

Anyone who’s served in uniformed military service recalls the complex admixture of duty, sacrifice, selflessness, and courage ever wrangling with the human flaws of selfishness, pettiness, boredom, ennui, resentment, and disgust. We served with people and are people that are flawed, always disappointed that what we hoped to do was limited to what we were able to do.

My response has become: “Thanks, but it was my privilege to serve.”

I appreciate the effort and intent of those who express sincere thanks. But I also understand my time in uniform did as much (probably more) for me than I did in service to the Nation.

Not everyone has that view and –again – we’re facing the complexities of military service. Some soldiers with less than a hockey season's time in service lost limbs, eyesight, or their lives.

How can I stand and accept thanks when the ledger is so unbalanced?

I’m not suggesting people stop expressing appreciation.

Rather, I am suggesting we reconsider public displays of thanks and spend more time listening and then understanding so we can truly appreciate those whose sacrifices far outweigh any benefits.

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