I was listening to a call-in radio segment on NPR about Veteran's Day yesterday that really got me thinking: aside from my young cousin Ronnie (who I probably shouldn't call Ronnie anymore) who is currently in Officer Training in the Marine Corps at Quantico and my grandfather who sailed in WWII, my family is devoid of people who served in the military. And I'm not talking just about my immediate family, but also my numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins, friends, kin-of-friends, and so on. I know for me, while growing up, the military wasn't even something that was considered. Not because I looked down at it -- if I ever did actually give it some thought, I imagined I'd have been scared to death (thank you Hollywood) -- but because it just wasn't something any of the people around me even thought about.
We were on the conveyor belt that carries you from high school right to college and then straight off into either graduate school or the workplace.
Many of the callers on NPR yesterday were very proud of their service but nearly every one of them said that, if asked by a young person today for advice about enlisting, they'd tell them no on account of misguided war policies and lack of care for veterans when they return. What a shame.
One caller though really stuck out. He was a lifer in the Air Force who recently retired and although he too was hesitant to endorse enlisting in the military, he did suggest that many of the social gaps in this country could be gradually filled in if service to the country was mandatory, as it is in Switzerland and Israel. He wasn't talking about a draft, but rather a requirement to commit time to the Americorps or Peace Corps instead of the military. About there being avenues to link all 280 million of us in a common shared-experience; something besides the Super Bowl (my words).
Kristin and I had been talking for a while about possibly entering the Peace Corps after our RTW trip, but I never thought of it as a way to serve the country that has given us so much. I always looked at is as a mechanism to volunteer in a foreign land and gain some unusual life experiences and perspective. I forgot that it is actually designed to help serve America's interests abroad -- and what a nice alternative to bombing runs and sanctions!
I used to compete as a civvy in numerous triathlons and mountain bike races at Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg when I lived in NC and there was a part of me that, after spending a day on the base and seeing the comaraderie shared amongst the enlisted, that was ashamed for having not considered a stint in the military. I was considering joining the National Guard for a while to help out the local area after disasters, then September 11th came and a short while after the National Guard starting being deployed to Iraq. Talk about bait-and-switch!
But current situations aside, what is it about so many of us that grow up in societies that don't even consider giving anything back to this country? What is it about ourselves that makes us think paying taxes is all we need to contribute to the country's security? What is it about so many who think buying a yellow bumper sticker is all they need to do? What is it about the rest of us who don't even do that?
I don't know. I certainly don't have the answer to that one. But I think it's worth giving some thought on this day of honoring those who risked and gave everything for this country -- those who helped make it possible for me to do something so self-absorbingly as to while away the week in a scenic cabin working on a novel.
So, to everyone who served, is serving, or like my cousin, a willing enlistee who looks forward to serving, THANK YOU.