Monday, December 17, 2007

armed forces

I spent the weekend in San Diego. My cousin was being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Air Force. It was a joint forces celebration, plus a retirement party for one of their ROTC commanders, so there were 2nd Lt from the Army and Marines, as well as a group of Navy Ensigns.

Each group comes out and they are pinned or striped by someone near and dear to them, like their parents, or spouses or siblings. Then they get their first salute which is given to them again, by someone significant to them. My cousin got to be saluted by his dad, a retired enlisted navy man, after which my cousin hands him a silver dollar. As they said, "the first salute they pay for, all the others must to earned."

In addition, as the top of his commissioned class, there were two of them in the Air Force, my cousin also received a sword, symbolizing the leadership and responsibility given to him. It was a nice sword, excellent weight with his name engraved on it, unsharpened. When they handed them out, they accidentally gave him the Army sword, which was a bit of a joke with as he went down the line to shake the hands of the commanders. The Air Force sword had a globe at the top of the sword.

Some of them already had several children, others were just finishing college. All in all they were all relatively young in comparison to the general population of Gen Yers (are we up to Z yet?) still looking for themselves at 30. But then again, a career in the military is done by 40 unless you decide to play the politics to continue to higher echelons of leadership.

The commander that was retiring had been a Tomcat pilot during the first Gulf War. He looked like he was in his 50s but was more likely in his 40s. Even his wife was awarded a certificate of appreciation for all of her support in his career.

I can see why there's the saying that women like a man in uniform. The uniform symbolizes alot of things: discipline, focus, ambition. And if they don't have that, well the military structure will make them have those things. Plus, they're men who know how to follow orders. I am often amazed at their wives. Like my other cousin who is stationed in Iraq, his wife is taking care of their 3 daughters essentially by herself. They above all, endure a great deal to support their husband's careers.

After receiving their stripes the young men and women will be sent off to various bases for even more training. My cousin the engineer will be stationed at a base to do research and development for the air force. Unlike his father's life at sea, his will mostly be on the bases. The Air Force has one pilot and then everyone else is support. The Marines there, well they will most likely see combat or sent to a volatile area of the world, because well they're Marines.

Of the Armed Forces, the Air Force is considered the "nerds" of the bunch, because the Air Force recruits for brains. When you take the recruiting exam, the Air Force has the highest scoring requirement, then the Navy, then Army, then Marines.

Whether or not I agree on whether our forces should be where they are or not, I was honored and proud of the men and women there. They are not just in Iraq, they are in other parts of the world. Whether or not the developed world likes our president or not, the US has become the armed forces for the world. After traveling over the years to various places abroad, that fact is all too clear. The European nations are too small in population to provide that level of security force, but the US can and does. This is the role the US has chosen, this is the role the world has given our nation. And when you give a nation that kind of role, then military actions in Iraq are inevitable. It was the argument of, "well we protect the rest of the world, we should also protect ourselves." And the rest of the world whether they like it or not, cannot stop the US from doing so. They gripe, but they don't take major action to really, truly stop it. There are no embargoes against the US, no economic sanctions that cause our economy to crawl. The presence of the US military in a given area anywhere in the world is both a benefit and a problem to the area it resides.

People join the Armed Forces for many many reasons. Some do believe they are fighting to protect civil liberties at home. Some want to serve their country. Others are looking for adventure and opportunities they couldn't give themselves back home. Some are looking for the discipline and structure the military can give them, that isn't really found in civilian life.

Ironically, on the shuttle ride to the parking lot, there was a family on the shuttle. The son, not yet 18 was going to enlist as soon as he turned of age. His mother, fearful that he would be deployed to Iraq, was trying to argue with him. She asked him if he really knew what he was fighting for. His reply was that when someone is shooting at you, you don't think about politics. Politics doesn't matter. And in one sense, he is correct, but it is politics that puts him in front of the bullet in the first place. But I could hear it in the boy's voice, the desire for the guts and glory, how he wanted to show he was a man in control of his life, a way to prove to his parents he could be a hero, that he would be able to protect himself and his country. Whether or not the military is an option, 18 is the age for young men to want to seek their fortune and fame. If he dies, there will be memorials for him, whole holidays in which his name will be read. You could tell the boy's mind was made up. His whole life we have been fighting in the middle east.

Just because a person chooses the military life doesn't mean they necessarily agree with the politics that brought them there, but they have often told me, that they made the commitment to serve their country, serve their fellow soldiers, and they must honor that commitment. The politics are sketchy at the top, but down below, the men and women who serve, do so willingly and faithfully because they pledged they would.

I am proud of my family members who have served in the armed forces and the ones who are actively serving and their families who sacrificed to allow them to do so. Regardless of the intent of the politics, they fight for us. And for that, I thank them. And it's us, the ones who remain here, who must find a way to change how they are fighting for us.

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