The Military Veteran

The Military Veteran
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The  Unthinkable Happened    

We live in a different world than we did just a few years ago when my son served in the Marines. 9/11 changed us forever. Never again will we be that naïve, somewhat arrogant, society with the attitude that no one would ever dare, much less successfully, attack us on our own soil. 9/11 showed us how vulnerable we really are, and terrorists continue to threaten us with a repeat of that tragic day.
     Now it is time to be creative in our endeavor, think “outside the box”, and come up with inventive ideas on what we can do to preserve our country for the generations who follow. Had our forefathers done anything less creative when forming our democratic society, we wouldn’t be the country we are today.
     When Americans hear the word “draft”, they naturally think of a military armed service with men and woman who are trained in warfare to serve and fight for their country. When the draft ended in our country many years ago, our volunteer armed service was formed to replace it. This unique body of men and women has stood alone in defending our country. They have proven to be the best our nation has to offer, and today we look to them as our real heroes. Their volunteering has allowed the rest of us to become spectators.  And, whether we want to admit it or not, we are comfortable with other people doing the job for us so we can get on with living our lives.
     However, since 9/11, this is no longer acceptable. There now is a need for yet another change in our society - a National Compulsory Service (NCS). We need to form a separate division of the armed service to protect us within our borders. Unlike the existing armed service, it could be an unarmed task force trained not with weapons but with knowledge that comes from schooled programs on how to defend our country from within.    

If young people out of high school or college were expected to give two years of their lives to our country, they would get as much, if not more, in return. Due to its efficiency, it would be easy to model much of a program after the already existing armed service, including a similar form of boot camp. Taking advantage of the learning time, it would prove to be an excellent opportunity to reinforce in our youths education, the history of our government and how it works. They could become knowledgeable in antiterrorism defense and other specialties. Then, at the conclusion of their schooling and training period, they could be tested, evaluated and dispersed to different sites and projects. This kind of NCS program would become a tremendous support system in our country, participating in and maintaining order where our manpower is weak, or where we are lacking in resources. The list of places they could serve is extensive and ranges from, port security, border patrol,  government facilities, state and county health departments, forestry, the Environmental Protection Agency, airport security, the Food and Drug Administration, park services, the Veterans Administration, Indian Health Services, public health, to nursing homes. Their program could tackle disaster readiness ranging from hurricanes, tornados to flooding. As an added bonus, the NCS program could help the elimination of illegal immigrants. When all of our youths are accountable, it’s easy to find the ones who don’t belong, the ones who successfully slip through the cracks. Our country would no longer be a “hang-out” for them; they would be returned to their country of origin. A program such as this would be a call to all our able young people to come forth and be held accountable.
     One might ask, “Why should we ask this of our young?” Because we need them. We need their intelligence, their energy, their creativity and their manpower. This idea, although not original, would make us a different kind of society than we are used to, it would make us a better one.    

Many years ago when I was a young adult, I met a family from Greece. They were friends-of-a-friend who came to St. Louis on business. Meeting them for the first time at a restaurant, I was surprised to see their 20-year-old son with them. Polite and well mannered, he would join in the conversation when appropriate. Then, long after the introductions and a few glasses of wine were poured, his father, who spoke perfect English, explained that their son came along to learn the family business. He had finished his formal education that year, and before he entered the service, he needed to learn all that he could about the business. I had just a few moments to wonder why he had joined the service if he was so eager to follow in the family business. When his father explained, that all young men have to leave their homes and go to training facilities, where they are taught how they will serve their country. They are allowed to get their education behind them if they wish, but then, they must serve for two years.
     My husband and I were both surprised to hear this, but I remember being the most inquisitive and asked a few questions. I couldn’t believe that the lives of the young people would be interrupted to serve, so I remarked how difficult that must be for the entire family. It was explained that it is expected of all Greek men, and if his sons have sons they will serve too. However, they won’t take two sons at the same time because the government realizes how hard it would be on families. Sons in many poor families are the ones who bring home the paycheck. I looked over at his wife who spoke little English but understood quite a bit. With a smile, she was nodding all the while her husband was explaining and when appropriate, I could hear a weak “yes” as to add further approval to what her husband was saying. The conversation became less serious after the father added, “It is good that we do this. It helps the children feel responsible, and they learn about our country.”
     The discussion that evening on Greece’s compulsory service left me with the thought that our country was missing something in our young men and woman. When we ended the draft those many years ago, it was easy to agree that it wasn’t necessary any more. It felt comfortable to have that big weight of responsibility taken from our young and their parents. The kids coming out of school could jump-start their careers and get on with their lives. However, ending the draft sent a message that freedom was theirs forever and they didn’t have to do anything to preserve it. It sent a message that someone else would do it for them- someone else’s child, brother, sister, mother, or father. Can we blame our young if they don’t understand the sacrifices made by a few, so we can live in a free society? Relieving our young people of the need to serve took from them the feeling of what it’s like to participate in maintaining their freedom. We sent them the message that they weren’t needed in that effort anymore.
     The dinner with the lovely Greek family happened many years ago, and having kept in touch with them through the years, my husband and I witnessed both boys’ weddings. They now have children of their own and know that when their boys reach the right age, they too will pay their obligation to their country.


However, times have also changed in Greece. Even though they still have compulsory service and it’s still a criminal offense not to serve, they have shortened the serving time. Now it depends on whether they join the Army, Navy, or Air Force as to how long they will serve. However, while they are serving, the government has classes to educate them on drug prevention, career counseling, vocational training and other curricula that will be helpful for them when their service time is over. This is their way of preparing the young to be responsible Greek citizens.
     Greece is not the only European country with compulsory service. There are many. The most famous is the Swiss Army. A book by the name of “La Place de la Concorde Suisse” by John McPhee, published in 1984, quotes a Swiss officer as saying, “Switzerland doesn’t have an army, Switzerland is an army.” Due to their compulsory service, they have more soldiers per capita than any other western democracy. They call themselves the Citizen Army.
     When a Swiss male reaches 20, he must undergo 15 weeks of military training. Then, over the next 32 years, he will attend a succession of two-to-three week training camps per year until he has accrued 300-1,300 days of active service.  Until 1996, if you were a conscientious objector and said that you would not serve, you went to jail. But, now you can perform civilian services in a nursing home, sanitarium, etc. at a cost of serving 50% longer than if in the armed forces. The Swiss feel so strongly about their military program and what it does for their people that their population voted against changing it in the 1980.
     Change is difficult for many people. With this extraordinary concept, there will be skeptics who will come up with more reasons than one can imagine why we should not move forward with the concept of a NCS. However, we must remind ourselves that times are so much more different now than just a few years ago. We need to protect our country from within and who better to do that than our young people. This is an opportunity for them to participate. It’s for their future and the future of their children.
     Consider how many could profit from a NCS program - the high school dropouts and the ones who after completing their education don’t know what to do with themselves. The troubled who, for whatever reason, join gangs and bring a nightmare of war into their neighborhoods, sometimes killing innocent bystanders along with themselves. Then, there are always the disgruntled that have lived on this earth for such a short time, have experienced very little and yet are filled with a negative attitude about life. We all know who I’m talking about-the ones who think the world owes them everything. Why not bring a perspective to all their lives. Give them a cause, and they will be there, not necessarily willing-at least not at first. Many will grumble and complain. It’s their way of handling things, but give them time and that will change. A dignity will arise from the very depth of their souls, and they, along with our armed services, will become the mightiest of all forces. Our leaders of tomorrow will find their way today.    

Our country is shrouded in fear of terrorists lurking about with their weapons of mass destruction. We are overwhelmed with disbelief that the very pillar that our country was founded on, freedom of speech and the press, would be used against us to recruit others. We know that at this very moment cells gather across our nation meeting in homes, apartments, on college campuses, right under our very noses for no other reason than to strategize how to destroy our wonderful country. The feeling for all of us is real, and we should never let 9/11 get so far in our past that we forget the pain and suffering we went through. Not since the American Civil War have we fought a war on our own soil. Now it is time to once again rise up and actively fight to defend our precious freedom.
     While our Homeland Security Department is hard at work ironing out the logistics to bring that feeling of security back into our society, why not include in their program a large body of young, well-organized men and women educated to protect and defend our country from within?
     Our President, sending a message to all of America on February 26, 2003 stated, “Our country is a battle field for the 21st Century.”
     We are not going to rid our country of terrorists until we, all the people of the United States, come forth as we have in the past when our beloved country has been threatened and do something about it.                           .                      .                       .
          This is the epilogue from my book “A Marine’s Mom”

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