For many who have never been in the military or on a military installation, its hard to fathom what it is like. As an aficionado of anthropology and all its nuances, I really notice differences in common culture. With my work, I have the opportunity to visit military bases on occasion. Every time I do it, it feels like home to me. Its the safest place on earth. People obey laws. They obey the speed limits. When I am walking around, people call me sir, open the doors for each other, and are generally much more polite. But not only that, soldiers are aware. What does that mean?
When I used to take training for weeks or even a weekend drill with the National Guard, your mind completely shifts when you become predator and prey. When you don’t know what’s around the next bend, whats in a tree above you, or that an enemy bunker is within a hand grenade’s throw but you only just noticed it. You notice if there are clouds in the puddles, grass that is tamped down by footsteps. You see a candy wrapper and mentally age if its a month old or was dropped just minutes ago. You are watching the weather to think of how it affects your concealment. Leaves rustling in the wind that masks the sounds of your own footsteps, or those of someone else. Birds suddenly are spooked to flight in the distance; but by what or whom? You become hyper aware of your surroundings when in combat or training. You become very aware of every detail of life.
Then you consider walking around hundreds of people who think the same way you do. They are thinking about the next step they take. They are backwards planning in their minds the priority of work that needs to take place. They are conserving energy so they can spring load themselves into action at any time.
It is interesting to think of the iterations of cultural shifts and how they affect the military. When I joined the Army, it was just past the Vietnam Era and the draft. A lot of vocabulary that was used was "volunteer Army". It was a paradigm shift from men who were "forced" into service because of the draft. All of us standing in a mud pit after a grueling PT session volunteered to be there. And the Drill Sergeants let us know that. Recruiting also became a big issue because now you needed to attract people to the Army. And, the Army had to be a bit nicer to its people. They began to restrict what DI’s could say and do to us. Even when I became a DI myself a few years later, changes were still taking place. And when a colleague of mine left the Army as a First Sergeant, he said the rule was to get them trained for battle. That was the foremost priority. With brown boots that don’t need shining, uniforms that are no longer pressed, and other general GI tasks that were of prime importance for soldier development going by the wayside, you wonder its effect on discipline. I thought of seeing soldiers coming out of basic training after me and thinking they weren’t as respectful as the people I graduated with. The changes are always palpable. Most of life changes with time.
So when Chief Eddie Gallagher was acquitted of crimes as a Navy Seal, he was emphatic about how "millenials" were affecting the teams. Old school traditions were no longer being kept. The ideas of honor and duty had changed. And just a few days ago, that Seal team was returned from overseas duty to evaluate their ability to operate effectively. Yesterday, I read that more than a dozen Marines were arrested for human and drug trafficking. These are not things I think about when I think of the military. It is the complete opposite.
Yet I watched a TV show last night that made me confident that we are going to be OK. The civilian who was given a tour of Grafenwohr training area in Germany was treated with ultimate respect. Everyone called him "sir". I saw all the little things. The Army is in good hands. Its proven every time I visit an installation. The elements of respect and honor are still in tact.
In any honorable profession, law enforcement, fire fighters, soldiers, seaman, doctors, and the clergy, human nature is still human nature. If 3% of the human population is prone to violence, rape, or other crimes, then 3% is usually reflected in the honorable professions too. You can never bias against a group for a few bad apples. And that’s exactly what they are. Bad apples. They will always exist in even the most cherished duties. Its hard to defy mother nature.
Our military is so respected by me and all of the people "in the know". For those who served, we know what it takes to be there. Maybe many of us when we return to civilian lives don’t appear to be very veteran like. We let our bodies go and grow long hair. But there is still a part of us that has a heart for all we did. We’ve been through the fire together. As much as we possibly can, we should always hold on to the ideals of our training. We should always be the respected person in the room. We are always at the service of others and are willing to lay our lives down for the common good. That’s how it should be. And that’s what is expected.