Today, November 11, is Veterans Day and I’m proud to be a veteran today and everyday.
When I was 17 years old, I joined the U.S. Army Reserves and nine days after high school graduation I shipped off to basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I turned 18 at boot camp, and on that birthday, life was put in perspective for a middle-class kid from the suburbs since that was the day I learned how to fire a M-16.
After eight weeks at Ft. Jackson, I shipped off for Fort Gordon, Georgia for two months of Advanced Individual Training where I learned my specific military occupation. There I became a “Cable Dog”, learning how to strap metal spikes to my combat boots and climb up 50-foot telephone poles to install communication lines and I trained on some of the high-tech communications systems that were starting to come on-line in the 90′s.
I spent six years in the Army Reserves and my unit was stationed at Camp Pike in North Little Rock. I was probably more Gomer than Rambo during my service, but I’m still proud to say Arkansas was never attacked on my watch. During my time at the 820th Signal Company, I was fortunate to take part in some interesting training missions in Egypt and Germany and picked a medal or two along the way. I chose not to re-up after my six-year commitment was over and was honorably discharged.
I joined the Reserves as a way to give back to my country, challenge myself with rigorous training and use the GI Bill to help pay for college. In today’s world, unfortunately, it seems the idea of giving back to one’s country is not as prevalent as it once was.
On the one hand, some join the military, law enforcement or fire department and put themselves in harm’s way to protect their country and communities. Their families also share the burden of sacrifice by having a spouse overseas for long lengths of time or the constant worry of a late-night phone call with tragic news.
Then, it seems, there’s the rest of us.
Other than joining the Reserves, I haven’t had to sacrifice much, if anything, for my country and many of us born from roughly 1960 onward have avoided the sacrifices our parents and grandparents made.
We missed the Great War, were never subject to the Korean or Vietnam draft, never faced food or material rations, and frankly many, but not all, of us have had it fairly easy once you consider the course of human and American history. Not to mention the fact that our country was involved in two wars in the past decade, but to the average American, life went on fairly normally. We’re in some tough economic times and families are struggling and that should not be forgotten, but young men aren’t being drafted to fight wars while families grow Victory Gardens.
I wish our culture put greater emphasis on encouraging young people to really give back to their country or community. Joining the military is not for everyone, but there are other ways to give back to your country. Great programs such as City Year or Teach America get youth involved in giving back to their community, but creating government programs is not the answer to encouraging young people to give back to their country, it must first become a larger part of our culture.
Once our culture really starts encouraging all young people to give a year or two giving back to their country, then we can expand the opportunities to serve. Once we fully embrace the most famous line in John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, our country will become ever better than it is today.
We are the greatest country in human history, and everyday I remember how lucky I am to be an American.
Take a moment today to thank a veteran and say a prayer for those who “gave the last full measure of devotion.”