Sunday, November 10, 2013

Happy Veteran's Day

This Veteran’s Day, I am on a temporary assignment away from my family.  I will be gone for just about a month. I count myself blessed, because I’m not in harm’s way right now, and it’s been years since I had to deploy (I’ve been lucky).  And this is making me think about what it means to be a veteran.  I’m in a really military-friendly town, and I have lost count of how many businesses are offering discounts, free meals, and military appreciation promotions.  I’ve been thanked three times in the past week by random people off the street, and I can’t even put a number on how many “support our troops” signs, stickers, and magnets I’ve seen.  Facebook and other social media sites are crawling with eagles, flags, and other ‘Murica branding.  But to me, none of this is really about Veteran’s Day or veterans.

Veteran’s Day grew out of Armistice Day, traditionally celebrated on the 11th of November and used to commemorate the end of World War I.  In dedicating the first Armistice Day, President Woodrow Wilson said "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."  In 1954, President Eisenhower enacted Veteran’s Day into law as a national holiday, and it’s been celebrated ever since.

“We few, we happy few...”

Who are veterans?  As of 2013, the population of the United States is approximately 313.9 million people.  The military, with a total population across all services (active and reserve component) numbers about 2.3 million people.  This is .7% of the population of the US.  (The army, by the way, at 1.1 million, comes in at .3% of the population).  I could go into a demographic analysis here, but suffice to say that the military is a fairly representative cross-section of the American population.  Rich, poor, all races, religions, and creeds, educated and un-, we’re all here.  Why, though?  What makes us serve?  What sets this .7% apart from the rest of the population?

Some join because of the college benefits (which are pretty good, by the way).  Some join because of economic reasons, some because of no other options.  Some have family traditions.  Others join out of a desire to protect freedom or fight for a way of life.  At some point, all of us realize that we’re here to serve the national interests of the country – and that’s ok.  Ultimately, we all serve because someone has to.  We all volunteer, we all deal with bureaucracy, inefficiency, and sacrifice, because we are all part of something bigger than ourselves.

“...we band of brothers...”

Every servicemember and veteran realizes what our service means.  Some come to it soon, some come to it late, but there comes a point in time where all of us realize that no matter what branch of service, what job, or what unit, we could be called upon to sacrifice.  We give up comfort, safety, family life, and a good portion of control.  We could be asked to give our time, our energy, and possibly our lives. 

At the end of the day, for me, it’s not about any of that stuff.  It’s about my comrades, about the Soldier to my left and right.  It’s about traditions, about a heritage of service and dedication, about the idea of a nation.  It’s about my incredible leaders and loyal followers, about accomplishing missions and pushing myself beyond what I thought I could accomplish – and knowing that everyone with me is doing the same.

Finally, it’s about service.  I serve because the US has been great to me and my family, and I feel like I owe something.  Nothing material that I have would be any use to the country that allowed my family to start over when we moved here, so all I can give are my talents and time.

I’m not the only person I know who feels this way.  And whenever I look out across a formation of Soldiers, I don’t see the kid who’s only in it for the GI Bill or who got tired of working at McDonald’s.  I see someone who has volunteered all that he has for something outside himself, and I love and appreciate that. 

And so, this Veteran’s Day, I think about all those who have served and who I serve with now, for the sacrifice and service, for the dedication and devotion, and I leave you with Henry V’s Saint Crispin’s Day speech:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
Henry V, Act 4, Scene iii

Happy Veteran's Day, and thank you.

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