I grew up in a fairly small town, maybe 20,000 people in the town and the surrounding area. The two industries were the Navy and some farming. Being a Navy town, there were, in addition to all the active duty sailors, a goodly number of retirees and veterans who liked the area and stayed.
My class in high school had 301 graduates. Of that number, at least a dozen of us joined the Army, and I seem to recall quite a few more. Heck, even one of our cheerleaders joined the Army. That doesn’t even count the numbers of people who joined the other services, nor those who pursued a commission via ROTC.
It didn’t hurt that graduating in 1985 put us squarely in the heart of the Reagan era buildup of defense. Both money and prestige were available in amounts that just a few years earlier weren’t possible. Joining the service was very much seen as an honorable thing to do. And frankly, looking around at my small town, I couldn’t think of any other job I would want to do. I loved my small town, and still do, but also wanted to see more of the world, experience new places, people, cultures, especially exotic ones like Georgia (ours, not Europe’s).
While my job was often physically demanding, for the most part, it wasn’t particularly dangerous. And in those days, while we’d be in the field quite often for training, we very rarely deployed anywhere for more than a single month. The only year long deployment was an assignment to Korea for most folks.
I met good people and bad in the Army. The good outnumbered the bad by a considerable margin.
I am proud of my service, humble as it was. I thought it was important work, and I hope that some of what I taught younger soldiers helped them later in their careers. I hope I didn’t fail any of them too badly. I know I failed them to some degree or another, as no leader is perfect.
I had a brief discussion yesterday with a fellow vet about “Thank you for your service.” I have to say, I always feel awkward when someone tells me that. I did what I did for my own reasons, some noble, some selfish. I got paid to do my job, and for the most part I enjoyed my job. And to some extent, it seems a pro forma thing for a lot of people to say it. But Friday while I was at Point Loma, I saw a couple of Navy Chiefs talking with a vet. A former sailor, who wanted to explain to his wife what he did, and the ship he had served on. When the Chiefs said “TYFYS” to him, I sensed a genuineness to it that I rarely see.
I almost never say it to a fellow vet. Not because I don’t appreciate the service and sacrifice they made. I do. But rather than simply tossing out that phrase, I usually want to hear things like what was your MOS or rating. When did you serve, where? What units? Did you make any interesting deployments, or unusual assignments. Got any funny sea stories? Over at the Lexicans, Bill Brandt tells the story of his tour in Germany through an extensive number of photo essays sprinkled throughout the timeline of the blog. TYFYS is nice, but sharing the pics is better.
Finally, thank you. Thank you for allowing me to serve my country. Service is not a right. It is both a duty, and a privilege.