Worth saying up front, this is my personal response to some of the craziness that’s been in the news over the past couple of weeks. It does not reflect the official view of the Department of Defense or the United States Army.
The past couple of weeks have been pretty terrible for the military in terms of press. Right after a massive report on sexual abuse within the force was released, a wave of arrests and investigations were announced on individuals whose job it was to lead and fight these problems in the military. Terribly ironic and symbolic.
Sexual assault and harassment is only the latest in what has been a steady stream of bad news for the military. After a decade of war, we’ve read over and over about PTSD and the mental health stigma, suicide, unemployment, and extremism within the ranks. Without question, as a military, we have some issues, some things we need to address and fix.
But the things that I read about on a daily basis – all of these problems – while real and important, do not reflect the reality of what I live and what I see as a soldier.
In other words, this is not my Army.
Yes, we’re growing as an organization. We’re learning. We’ve been at war for over a decade. We’re trying new things and adapting to a rapidly changing world. America’s expectations of who we are and who we should be are also changing. With that, problems are bubbling up to the surface that have been long ignored – and we are addressing them.
But this fractured force that I read about full of misfits and miscreants is not my Army.
The Army I serve in is composed of brave men and women who joined the force during a time of war, fully knowing they will likely be placed in harm’s way. They’ve seen the images of veterans coming home with missing limbs and those who struggle to transition back to civilian life and still choose to sign the line. These are men and women who are unafraid to be patriotic at a time when doing so is uncool and out of fashion. These men and women live the Army Values, and are just as shocked to learn about the scale of the problems we’re facing as a force – and as a nation – as the rest of America.
And we want to get better.
But this group of broken and sorry soldiers, fumbling along being victimized is not my Army.
The Army I serve in shows up and works, focusing on their daily drills, with a watchful eye on far away global hotspots, listening to the talking-heads non-chalantly discuss “boots on the ground,” waiting for the call to be whisked away again to some far off place. Talk of an “Asia Pivot” or a return to a “garrison Army” falls on deaf ears for the family tearfully saying goodbye to their soldier at the departure airfield heading to Helmand province for a year.
This is not to make light of the difficult problems we face. They are real and need to be fixed – and I believe they are, because I see it on the ground.
No, I’m writing this because even with these problems, the men and women who serve in our armed forces represent the absolute best our country has to offer. They are our greatest resource – the less than 1% who choose to do a hard, often thankless job. They sign up, really having no idea what they are committing to – a complete investment of mind, body and soul that they can’t possibly understand until many years later, after careful reflection and hard earned wisdom. Only an inkling of an ideological pull exists that carries them forward. A nagging yearning to do more. A precious gift that too few give to their country.
I’m writing this because I don’t think that we are getting a fair evaluation. Or, rather, the heavily slanted negativity simply does not reflect what it is like to serve. It is an honor and a privilege. I am daily surrounded by the most amazing Americans I have ever known. I don’t show up to work in the morning and dig myself out of mental health issues, suicide, unemployment, sexual assault, or whatever else becomes the issue of the day. Yes, those things are there, but they are not the dark cloud that colors my experience as the media would make it seem. Rather, these represent another piece of the giant puzzle of military life.
America expects us to be the best, and at the risk of sounding pompous, we’re pretty damn good. Yes, we have our problems. And we will fix them. We will fix them because that’s what we do. We learn. We get better. We take care of our own. We don’t simply ignore our issues. They’re out there. They’re public. We’re working on it.
Change is coming and it’s probably going to hurt a little. That’s fine. Through it all, I know that I am serving with special men and women who make this country great and will do so long after they take off the uniform.