Military

Although I seldom mention it, most of you probably already know that I served in the United States Air Force shortly after the First Gulf War. My active duty service lasted slightly less than four years, after which I was given an honorable discharge. During my enlistment, I was awarded the Southwest Asia Service campaign medal for serving in direct support of Operation Southern Watch.

I never saw anything remotely resembling combat, since my time in Saudi Arabia was after the war itself and before the Khobar Towers bombing. However, according to some definitions, I am a combat vet simply by virtue of having served in the AOR. I have never taken advantage of any of the special preferences for which I am eligible, and it never occurred to me to try to get any sort of disability rating upon discharge.

I am telling you this to qualify (or disqualify, depending on your point of view) the following remarks.

Recently, Chris Hernandez has written three blog posts about USAF veteran Lauren Johnson. For those who do not want to follow the links, I will summarize.

Ms. Johnson served in a support role in theater, but saw no real combat. She managed to have an article written about her time in Afghanistan, and the challenges she has faced since returning home – supposedly without her permission or direct input. Both the article and her blog are linked above.  The article hints that she got a disability rating for chronic adjustment disorder, which she calls PTSD-lite. Her stated emotional trauma included soggy vegetables, minimal internet access, and the constant knowledge that something bad could happen at any minute.

So far, I am with Mr. Hernandez. If that is the whole story, and she is collecting permanent disability for it, then she is abusing the system and should be exposed. It doesn’t end there, though.

In an older post about stolen valor, Mr. Hernandez says that honorable peacetime service is more than enough to be proud of. Yet he takes exception when Ms. Johnson expresses gratitude for not having to experience or observe a deadly encounter. He claims to be thankful for all the carnage he has observed, and in which he has participated. He goes on to imply that if you don’t want people actively trying to kill you, then you probably shouldn’t sign up for military service.  OK, so he didn’t say that exactly, but pretty close.

I have a huge problem with this. Mr. Hernandez has seen and experienced many things, the least of which I probably couldn’t have handled on my best day. I intentionally took a technical job in what I perceived as the wimpiest military service branch (from a physical standpoint) for which swimming was not a necessary skill. I didn’t want to die for my country, and I took steps to reduce the chances that I would. At the same time, I knew it could happen, and on at least some level, I was OK with that.

There is a huge difference between being willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, and actually wanting to be in a situation where there is a high probability of it happening at any moment. Anyone who wants to have people shooting at them and trying to blow them into oblivion is, in my opinion, mentally defective. However, according to the third post on the subject, Mr. Hernandez seems to be of the opinion that those are the real warriors, and the rest of us are “other”.

I don’t think that Mr. Hernandez intended to disparage any of the non-warriors who serve, or who have served, except those who are all about milking the system for everything that they can, when they don’t truly need or deserve it.  The way he came across just struck a nerve, and I had to vent.  I chose to do so here instead of being an ass in his comments.

You may or may not have noticed that I didn’t swear a single time in this post, except for the “ass” in the last sentence.
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14 Responses to Military

  1. Craig says:

    My dad never took advantage of the benefits because he didn’t see battle. He was in the Army Air Corps then transitioned to the USAF. He served in Guam. Something to do with weather recon. (Yeah right) he went on to serve in the Iowa ANG for another 11 years. I guess I say that to say this; Thanks to all mentioned who served their country.
    There will always be those that abuse the system, sadly. They will meet Karma.
    I respect those that served in the kitchen as well as those that saw the blood and guts first hand.

  2. Craig says:

    Oh yeah, nice job on the swearing restraint! Ass. We all have one. Lol.

  3. Grumpy,

    Thank you for commenting on my essays, and please feel free to respond directly on the blog, even if you disagree. I welcome intelligent and well-spoken dissenting opinions.

    Just to clarify, although I’m thankful I served in combat, I am happy that certain things never happened. I’m happy I wasn’t wounded. I’m happy I didn’t lose any close friends. I’m really happy I wasn’t killed (if I had, my fledgling writing career would probably be doing even worse than it is now).

    I do respect peacetime military service. I mentioned more than once that I respect Ms. Johnson’s actual service, combat or not. As I also wrote, I served in peacetime for 15 years before going to combat. Before Iraq, I was extremely proud of my service, although I did regret the fact that I had never been in combat.

    Here’s the crux of my argument though: military service, even in the “wimpiest” capacity, still exists for one purpose, which is to fight and win wars. That purpose requires a level of dedication far above what a typical job requires. Nobody expects a car salesman, copy machine repairman or house painter to fight to the death in defense of his employer. But we in the military are expected to do so, if necessary.

    Compare military service with any other profession that requires “unto death” dedication, insert gratitude for never having actually performed that profession’s duties, and listen to how it sounds:

    “I was a cop for four years. Thank god I never had to actually respond to a crime.”

    “I was a firefighter for four years. Thank god I never had to fight a fire.”

    “I was a paramedic. Thank god I never had to save anyone’s life.”

    “I was an emergency room doctor. Thank god I never had to actually treat a patient.”

    Also, from a mental preparedness standpoint, I’ve concluded that those who truly don’t want to be in combat will generally not be effective once combat is thrust upon them. As I wrote in my blog, if someone is on a mission thinking “I hope nothing happens” they’ll immediately be on the defensive when something does happen. That defensive mindset doesn’t help win wars. Marines and US Army Rangers are good at fighting wars because they want combat. They hope for it, they constantly prepare for it, they volunteer repeatedly for it. No, not every member of the military is going to be like that. But we voluntarily joined the military knowing it exists to fight wars, we trained with weapons and practiced first aid, we lived within a societal framework specifically structured to reduce confusion and produce cohesion in combat. Given all of those things we freely chose to do, it seems odd that we would be thankful we never actually practiced what we trained for.

    This is just my opinion, and I respect your opposing viewpoint. You are not the first person to suspect I’m mentally defective. 🙂

    Chris

    • alaskan454 says:

      Sir,

      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment. We will probably agree to disagree on some points, but I did want to respond to a few things that you brought up.

      I don’t think your fireman/policeman/paramedic analogy really applies very well. Those are specialties within the public service sector, just as the military has many different MOS or AFSC designations. The paramedic should expect to be called upon to save lives. It is the primary job skill of their chosen profession. It would be a bit of a problem if they had a negative reaction to the sight of blood. However, should we hold the person who makes sure the paramedic has plenty of bandages, IV lines and other necessary items to the same standard? Does it really matter if they get queasy at the sight of blood?

      I know that the sole purpose of a military is to make war. Kill our enemies and break their shit. That is what a military does. Not everyone within the military is the tip of the spear, though. A significant number of people support those who do most of the killing and breaking.

      Take Private Smith, for example. He makes sure Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Federal, … get paid every month so they will keep making the “stuff” necessary for the missions. Does the fact that he doesn’t embrace the danger of the front line to the degree that you do, in any way impact his ability to make sure you have the ammunition that you need when you go out on patrol? I submit that it does not.

      Yes, all Marines, and the soldiers/airmen whose primary job is something along the lines of machine gunner, sniper or infantryman need to be able to manage the risks of the front line in order to be effective at what they do. Being able to deal with that requires that one be at least a little bit nuts, and that is not a bad thing.

      But back to Private Smith. His is a vital job. Many REMFs are vital to the war effort, at least when they are doing their jobs and not doing stupid shit like handing out green safety dots. Were the enemy able to stop him from doing his job, your job on the front line would be much more difficult. Try going on patrol without ammo. Fortunately for Pvt Smith, in today’s US military, he doesn’t need to be on the front lines to make sure the bills get paid. As a result, the chances of him engaging in direct combat is small.

      I’ll make this personal. There are many reasons why I joined, but one was the desire to serve. I knew my limitations. I was a reasonably good shooter, but I have always struggled in the physical fitness department. I was able to meet Air Force PT and height/weight standards while on active duty, but I don’t know if I could have survived what would have been required to bring me up to the Marine Corps level, much less maintain it. Because of this, and because I’m relatively risk-averse in general, I chose to turn wrenches and make sure the equipment that kept our birds in the air performed properly. Should I have avoided military service altogether? You seem to imply that I should have, and that is what struck the nerve that prompted my post.

      Not everyone is a warrior. Not everyone can embrace that mindset. But is it really necessary that they do, simply because they are a servicemember, if their job keeps them otherwise occupied away from the front lines? I say no, and you likely disagree. Feel free to comment.

      • Alaskan,

        I have to disagree with your assessment of my analogy. This might be unfair, because I took an EMT course a few years back and have some insight how most EMS systems work. The people who provide the supplies generally aren’t paramedics (in my experience), they’re civilians. Just as with civilian contractors supporting the war effort, I don’t expect them to do the job, just to support it. Would I have a problem with a paramedic who can’t handle the sight of blood? Absolutely. Nobody forced them to become a paramedic, or forced them to stay one. They can move on to something they’re better suited to.

        Part of my mindset comes from my police experience in Kosovo. All of us Americans on the police mission were officially the same rank, just regular patrol officers. But some guys started clawing for supervisory or administrative positions right away, and some of those decided they weren’t responsible for doing any actual police work. One guy I worked with insisted, when I challenged him, that he didn’t have to respond even if he saw a violent crime occur, because he was an administrator. He still carried a gun and badge, he still had all police powers, he was paid just as much as I was, but he was convinced he had no responsibility to perform the job.

        I see *some* of that mentality with some support troops I’ve known. I’ve seen soldiers hide instead of participate in combat training, because “I’m just a mechanic, what do I need to know that shit for?” Then the previously-mentioned 507th Maintenance Company makes a wrong turn, and a bunch of mechanics are fighting for their lives and the lives of their friends. The “I’m not here to fight” mindset failed them from top to bottom; their company commander had confiscated all hand grenades and AT-4 rocket launchers prior to the ambush because he didn’t trust his soldiers with explosives. After all, they weren’t combat troops.

        I get your point, and believe me I know not all troops are intended to be the tip of the spear and maybe shouldn’t be expected to have a warrior mentality. However, I also have my life experience. In Iraq we had cooks and mechanics on convoy missions. In Afghanistan we had Civil Affairs teams composed of Army, Navy and AF support troops outside the wire constantly. Sometimes they were engaged; when that happened, whether they thought of themselves as warriors or not, they were combat troops and lives depended on them. The first time someone is shot at is not the time for them to realize they weren’t cut out to be a warrior. We can talk about how someone’s MOS or AFSC means they *should* stay out of combat; however, the last 12 years of experience tells us that’s not how war works.

        I apologize for striking a nerve. I truly did not intend to offend anyone for their honorable service, no matter what their mentality. However, I’m torn on this. I’m happy that you and others choose to serve, even if you do it within certain limits (I also have limits, which is probably why I was never an infantryman). On the other hand, I’m frustrated and angry that even after 12 years of war and countless incidents of “noncombat” troops suddenly and against their will becoming “combat” troops, we still have people in the military who think combat isn’t their job.

        Maybe my feelings on this should be limited to people who have served since 9/11.

      • alaskan454 says:

        I understand your thinking, and based on what little I know of your life experiences, I get why you feel the way you do. I am the first to acknowledge that if all servicemembers had your mindset, our military would be vastly more effective.

        However, the warrior mindset is rare. In the absence of such, I would like to think that there is a place in the military for non-cowards like myself who, while we may not embrace combat to the level that you do, are competent in our support roles, and would not turn tail and run or otherwise prove detrimental to our teammates if we found ourself in a firefight.

        As for those who refuse or resist combat training because of their MOS, and chickenshits in general, they have no place in the military, no matter how talented they are at logistics.

  4. If not for those who work in the areas that don’t see battle, those who DO face battle wouldn’t be as well prepared and equipped for their duties. It takes everyone doing their part – no one job is less important than another, as each relies upon the other to some degree. Not wanting to put yourself in a position where your death is almost certain doesn’t make you less brave or your service somehow less important. As usual, we’re in agreement on all counts.

    • As I stated in my essay, I don’t hold anyone’s noncombat service against them. I also pointed out that I’ve held both combat and support specialties. Every support role is important, and those who fulfill them, as I have, should rightfully be proud of their service.

      However, nothing about wanting combat equals “putting yourself in a position where your death is almost certain”. Those who want combat aren’t, in my experience, kamikazes or suicide bombers. They’re not necessarily more brave, but they are more willing than those who say “I volunteered for the military but am happy I was never in combat”.

      When I was in the Marines we believed every Marine was a rifleman, no matter what their MOS was. In the Army we’ve learned the same thing, but too late, and to far too small of a degree. In Iraq we had cooks, mechanics and other support soldiers outside on missions; when they were outside the wire, they were combat troops. The 507th Maintenance Company, whether they liked/wanted it or not, were combat soldiers who were expected to fight, not just support. My point is that everyone in the military, EVERYONE, shouldn’t just grudgingly accept the fact that they might be in combat. They should realize combat is their job, not an unfortunate side effect of military service.

      • alaskan454 says:

        Points taken. Please see my response to your earlier comment. I may reply to this comment later, but have to leave for work at the moment and wanted to approve your comment before I did.

      • alaskan454 says:

        Marine, eh? Your mindset makes more sense to me now. I still respectfully disagree, but so be it.

        Since I didn’t say so specifically before, thank you for your service. You do what most (including me) can’t.

      • Just wanted to add, thanks for your service as well. My father and his brothers were all AF. My dad was a disburser in the 60s and hated every second of his military service.

    • alaskan454 says:

      Well, you may be a little bit biased when it comes to me, making you more apt to agree. Even so, thank you.

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