Remembering Why People Join the Military

I am proud to come from an Air Force family. My father served for 20 years, my grandfather served for 20 years, one of my uncles served for more than 20 years, and there are others in the family who have served or serve now in the armed forces. We have a strong legacy as a military family, and I am thankful for the opportunities the military offered to my family and me. I am also thankful that there are people willing to join the military, something I would be incredibly reluctant to do.

But there is trouble in the water.

Today, Memorial Day, as I navigated 3 different airports, I heard many people pay homage to deceased military service persons and express gratitude to those currently serving. Often, military personnel are praised for their “selflessness”, “sacrifices”, and “serving our country”. Of all the military people I know, none have ever declared any of those 3 things as the reason they joined the military. Rather they joined because they couldn’t afford college right away, they didn’t know what else to do, they wanted to get away from their hometown, they  needed medical benefits for themselves and/or their children, etc. Most have joined in hopes of gaining some economic leverage, and their decisions have been remarkably pragmatic.

It’s true: military life does require sacrifice and I am thankful for their service.But I would (sacrilegiously) implore you to consider the ways we romanticize the reasons people join the military and superimpose all kinds of honorable intentions that, if true at all, are tangential. 


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