It has been a long time since I was in the military myself, and even longer since I was a “military brat,” a child of someone in the military. But, from time to time, I reconnect. This week was one of those times – and I don’t mean just about the mission in Pakistan that resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden. I have indeed participated in the spirited discussions that share information, ponder the tactics and explore the details of the Pakistan incursion – the successful mission. But I have also helped in a small way to prepare a Vietnam-era retrospective video for the Elk Rapids Rotary Show as well as listened to an excellent presentation about our own Coast Guard Air Station in Traverse City.
Some of the welling feelings I’ve known all my life. The military has a certain espirit-de-corps that you don’t often find elsewhere. Young people out on exotic adventures. Veterans reminiscing about Okinawa in the 40’s, Libya or Cuba in the 50’s and so on. Part of my childhood passed in Asia, where stories about Pearl Harbor, Douglas MacArthur and Soviet aggression were part of dinnertime conversation. I’ve known both the remarkable exuberance of the successful mission and the crushing depression of failure. And the stories that follow.
Other things about the military have changed significantly. For example, racial integration started before I was born. But the standout change in the military, for me, was brought home by comments aside about how difficult it is now to get into the military. In the military I grew up in, it was easy to join. Stories abound among my family and family friends about underage boys joining up and good kids from broken homes making it in the military. My own father joined the army after his father died — leaving him parentless – and difficult circumstances resulted. In those days, you could escape your past and get a fresh start.
Today the military is much more professional. Increasing sophistication of technology as well as strategy, tactics and deployments have helped create an educated military full of lifelong learners. The quality of the people, not just the number of guns, project American competence as well as power. But now, the entrance requirements are much different. Kids often must have spotless records to even have a chance of getting into the military. The knocked-about kid likely gets rejected for a single infraction. One “driving under the influence” (DUI) can mean good bye to military service. Where once the military was a haven for the down-on-their luck, it now can be just another unattainable aspiration – another disappointment. Couldn’t get in. Couldn’t experience the espirit-de-corps.
What a profound change this has been in my lifetime. My own father likely could not have joined today’s military. No wonder parents today fret about their children’s future. What is to become of the less-than-perfect child?