Captain Dye's Blog
These are all the Blogs posted in January, 2011.
Tuesday, 4
The Warrior Class
America's military is at war. America is at the mall. Or more likely these difficult days, America is out looking for a job or standing in line to apply for unemployment benefits. It doesn't matter. The point of the bumper-sticker cliché is still the same and still appropriate. Our men and women in military uniform live in a world entirely divorced from the society they are sworn to serve and defend. And to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling who knew a thing or two about professional soldiering, it's looking like never the twain shall meet.
Soldiers and Marines - and to a lesser extent sailors and airmen - these days have about as much in common with the average civilian as a timber wolf in the wild has with a domestic lapdog. And that's not a bad analogy come to think of it. Civilians live in a world of relative security and comfort. Military folks live in the tense, turbulent gaps between combat deployments in a world where violent death is always right out there on the horizon. It's no wonder those two classes of our nominally classless society don't mingle. They have so little in common; so little to talk about.
It's a good time to ponder this situation as we roll into a new year fraught with domestic uncertainty and national security challenges, so let's review the bidding while our American military begins a tenth continuous year of combat commitment. For the first time in our national history, this nation has excused the vast majority of its citizens from service while engaged in a brutal, decade-long conflict. We're fighting one of the most difficult, complex and demanding wars ever waged; undeclared and against a shadowy, non-state enemy that uses religion as a motivational hook. And we're doing it all with true professional soldiers, all volunteers and not a draftee in sight.
Operational tempo - a military buzzword that simply refers to how many times a person in uniform can expect to deploy in a given period of time - is frenetic and the withdrawal of major combat formations from Iraq has done little to ease the strain given an administration-imposed deadline for ending American involvement in Afghanistan. In that difficult theater of operations, American military commands are trying to get as much done as possible, create trust among the population, prop up a shaky central government and train Afghan soldiers to continue the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives before the towel gets tossed this summer or fall. Then there's the constant global patrolling and humanitarian work that's straining our Navy and Air Force assets to the breaking point. You don't find any time-marking homesteaders or placid couch-potatoes in uniform these days.
What you do find are solid, healthy recruiting numbers and record-level reenlistment rates that don't seem to square with an occupation that's over-worked and under-paid by most civilian standards. Some of that can be credited to decreased employment options outside the military, but that's a relatively small part of it. While there's no question in any right mind that our military folks are patriotic, self-sacrificing and unselfish, there's also little hint that they are masochistic or stupid. There's got to be a practical reason why they put up with what they do and based on personal experience, I believe I know what it is.
For nearly ten years after I returned from my initial combat experience involving multiple tours in Vietnam, I refused to have anything much to do with civilians. I can't remember giving a big rat's ass about anti-war protests or the virulent anti-military attitudes that permeated much of society at the time. Those folks didn't get it and I didn't care whether they did or not. The people whose opinions I valued and whose company I sought in those days were people like me; people who had seen the elephant and heard the owl in the deadly jungles and mountainous badlands of Southeast Asia. Inside the gates of military bases and especially down in the ranks of my own units were my peers; my family, my brothers and sisters who understood my concerns and empathized with my problems. I was comfortable in my tribe and the rest of the word could piss up a picket-rope for all I cared.
And that, I believe, is where the vast majority of our military people stand today. We have a military force that has turned inward for understanding, fellowship and succor, leaving the rest of America on the sidelines. There's a shared danger - physical and emotional - in what they do, so our military folks rely on each other for support, company and comfort rather than trying to explain it all to clueless civilians. It's logical and in many ways it mirrors the way civilians chose to live and work among others who have similar experiences and who speak a common language.
Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines appreciate the bumper-stickers, slogans and other symbols of support from the civilian sector but much of that rings hollow on an emotional level and often sets up awkward social situations. It's nice to hear the roar of a supportive crowd but you know in your heart that those folks up in the stands won't be out there on the field with you taking the hits and playing the game. They don't know what you know from first-hand experience and most of them never will. American civilians may respect their warriors but they do it at a safe distance. There are too few shared values and beliefs. Civilians are not members of the warrior tribe.
Our military folks are discovering - as many combat veterans have before - that there is little common ground between them and large segments of the civilian population. There is a huge gap between those who serve and those who demand to be served. The gap can't be bridged with patriotic rhetoric and common ground is too often full of emotional landmines. Once a young man or woman has experienced a situation in which every decision and every action has enormous consequences, there's really no going back. They've changed beyond remission. Life for them has meaning beyond what civilians whose actions rarely engender serious consequences can grasp. It's addictive in a way and it's the reason our folks in uniform keep doing it without complaint.
These gallant men and women come home from multiple combat tours and take a look outside the gates where they see wildly lose values, sloppy discipline, a decaying moral yardstick and rampant self-interest; a situation where anything and everything is acceptable in pursuit of a quick buck. Then they do a sharp about-face and they see their tribe, a tight-knit assemblage of lean, hard warriors who not only understand but live by a code that involves concepts like duty, honor and courage. What's not to like? Why shed the uniform and go out there where you'll be challenged to explain yourself to people who have no chance of understanding? And before long the very concept of a civilian life just fades away like the apocryphal old soldier. I get it...and I can't say I blame them one iota.
Posted By Captain Dale A. Dye at 6:26 PM / Category:General News
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