Why We Serve

Posted: May 27, 2013 in Military
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I came to the Army a little later in life than the average soldier did back in ’93.  I was a few years out of high school already, had a 6 month old daughter and was on my way to bad things in life if I did not get my act together.  Back then, at the ripe old age of 23 I was older than some of the NCOs running around telling me what to do and when to do it.  In the close to 20 years since then I have come to realize that I am not as atypical as I once thought I was.  In fact as I get closer to retirement I realize that late bloomers are more the norm these days.  It is a pretty hard job to get fired from, the benefits are good and if you have a family to take care of it is well worth it.

Over the last 20 years, to this point 12 of them at war, I have come to realize there is no universal truth as to what possesses people to put on the uniform and risk their lives for our country.  For most, the reasons they came in for often are not the same ones that they stay in for.  This has been the case for me as I went re-enlistment by re-enlistment working towards retirement.

Some people come to service because they are patriots.  9/11 introduced our country to a whole new way of war for our people.  Some are legacies, the LT Dans of the world.  They are expected to follow in some set of footprints or another.  Many sign up simply for the benefits.  Those we can only hope will change their minds at some point and realize one of the key tenets of military service is selfless service

Somewhere along the way, the realities of the uniform set in.  I do not mean the endless reactive “classes” we are forced to take because something is seen as problematic in the ranks.  It is not the endless parade of service and professional development schools we have to go to.  It is not putting up with the micro-management of leaders who should have never been in charge of people and take every word of what they learned in those schools as the gospel and only way to lead.  It is none of those things or the countless other mundane tasks that happen day in and day out.

The realities of the uniform are the losses we face, in training, in combat, and sometimes just because it was someone’s time.  It could be at PT, a car wreck, mother nature’s ever present assault on the body.  It is the wounds we see, and the ones we cannot.  It is seeing your comrades in arms coming back from their wounds and setting the example for all around them.

The realities of war are ever present and never ending.  When I first came in the Army if you had asthma you could be put out medically.  In the last few years I have had the privilege of knowing numerous people who have lost limbs just to fight for the right to come back and serve alongside their men and lead them as if nothing has happened.  It is witnessing the changes of trauma medicine on the battlefield and seeing soldiers survive wounds that at one point in the not too distant past would have been fatal.  The realities are making phone calls from 8000 miles away to inform your friends wife that he has been wounded.  Fortunately, not fatally and since returned to do good things.

Despite the advances which increase survivability we have all lost people.  It is inevitable and it is no less painful the more it happens.  The death of my first soldier as a NCO, SPC Michael Gleason, on 30 May 2003, was painful because I had moved on to another organization by the time he died in Iraq.  He was the first soldier I was responsible for as a leader.  In the 10 years since I have lost more than 20 comrades and been to memorials for easily five times that amount.  I have witnessed the movement on to the next objective, putting aside what could be put aside to complete the mission and I have seen their families fall apart at their memorial.

I have seen wives comfort their children as we spoke about their daddy.   I have seen little boys soldier on because that is what they think their father would want them to do.  I have seen the eyes of a fallen soldiers princess fill with tears because their hero is no longer there for them.  There have been numerous times where the angry words of parents cut deep because they just want to know why their child died and we have no words for them.  It is usually less the how they died and more the why.  Seldom is there ever an answer for that one, not one that would satisfy the reason for asking it anyway.

So in the midst of all this tragedy, why do we continue to serve?  Why do we continue to follow orders and do things that others not in the service feel should not be?  Again, there is probably not an answer that would make sense to most.  How I answer will probably not be the same way that someone in a foxhole next to me would answer the same questions.  The difference is that we would understand each others answers.  We would not even question them, despite the fact it is not our answer, we know that it is still the right one.

After all these years I have come to realize that I serve in spite of these things rather than despite them.  I am part of a legacy that serves the memories of the fallen and has a responsibility to pass that legacy on to their loved ones, no matter how they may feel about it.  As frustrating and mind-boggling as it may seem at times, I am truly comforted to know that I live in and fight for a country that has the spectrum of freedom which allows our citizens to span between embracing the patriotism and questioning the use of our most precious resource.  It is comforting to know that our country has a respect for life despite some of the examples we see each day.  In the same breath that it is tragic it is inspiring that we can witness the mourning of others and that they have the ability to demand answers.

There are many places on this planet in which that is simply not the case.  Humanity is a commodity to be spent with no regard.  Loss of life in these places is used as a means to perpetuate and foment hatred.  As fucked up as things may seem from time to time, we pale in comparison to many of the places we currently have people in support of our country.

We do the things we do simply because someone has to.  Someone has to make sure that little princess can wipe away her tears.  Someone has to take the weight off the little mans shoulders.  Someone has to help a widow navigate the maze she is thrown into.  Someone has to try and answer the angry parents “why?”.  Someone has to make sure that Westboro Baptist has the ability to speak their vitriol at the same time we  protect the rights of thousands to stand between them and the bereaved.

Through our history support for our military has waxed and waned.  We are still fighting a war that started more than a decade ago which saw a complete sellout of American flags as a civic response to our military answer to terrorism on our shores.  Today that patriotism is not nearly as strong as it was then and some of the loudest proponents for using us then are now questioning our continued use.  Through all our history we have continued to serve.

We serve at the leisure of some who are unpopular and most often do not understand the power that they possess.  We contractually obligate ourselves to a life of servitude in support of agendas not our own, but to support an ideal which has never changed.  We fight so that others do not have to and we grieve at the most inopportune times.  We serve because our country cannot serve itself and despite her faults relies on us to be there when needed.

We celebrate Memorial Day, not for those of us who have been fortunate enough to make it through.  We celebrate it so that our country has a reminder of those who have sacrificed for it, whether they agree with how it was done or not.  Memorial Day is for those left behind, a chance to honor our fallen.  The sacrifices they have made have been to honor those to their left and right and for the legacies of those who have fallen before them.  It is the least we can do to honor them, to serve them and they did us.

Rest In Peace My Brothers and Sisters

Your sacrifice is honored this day

You have paid the ultimate price for your seat at the table

It shall be reserved in your names and with honor



  1. Well said! and so true. We as civilians (speaking about myself) will never forget the sacrifice soldiers like you have made for us. Thank you for your continued service. If not for people like you where would we be? God Bless


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