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Military service earns its rank

Dan Smith

Military or civilian, we’re all glad that there are people who want to serve America. But every good deed is not heroic, and every act of heroism is not necessarily in what some believe is a good cause. Yet that does not lessen the goodness of the deed, nor the heroic nature of the act. There are certainly parallels between heroism in a military context and good deeds in a civilian one – both good and bad parallels. Not everyone who volunteers for the Salvation Army, or drives a nail for Habitat or walks in a protest march does so with good or pure motivations. However, altruism being a part of human nature, the vast bulk of such acts remain well motivated. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be Red Cross volunteers who skim off thousands in hurricane relief money, or United Way executives pocketing hundreds of thousands in salary and perks.Similarly, not everyone who is serving or has served in the military has behaved well. In any group of people under stress, there will be those who rise above the situation, as well as a small number that fail to measure up. But between the good deeds of the civilian and the potential heroism of the warrior, there is a difference. The civilian usually has had a recent bath, typically a good meal and goes home at night to sleep in a dry bed. Not so the warrior – especially if he or she is involved in ground combat.I hope you never experience it, but a friend of mine drew the following parallel: If you want to know what combat is like, first pick a rainy night. Than go into your neighbor’s back yard without telling him, and dig a hole about chest deep. Make sure to lug a bag with about 60 pounds of stuff with you. Now, spend the night, in the rain, in that hole and despite the calls of nature, never venture more than seven steps away from it. Make sure your wife calls the neighbor and tells him there is someone prowling around his back yard. Where upon the neighbor fires a 12 gauge shot gun into the back yard just to scare the intruder away. Now do this every night in a different neighbor’s back yard for about a month. And, oh, by the way, don’t take a shower, change clothes or eat anything that isn’t in a pouch or a can. While this isn’t typical of every day of every warrior in every war, it isn’t typical of the experience you get answering phone for a local charity, either. I think you get my point. There is a difference between the environment in which the good deeds of the civilian take place and the day-to-day life of the warrior. Yet both seem to produce the occasional abhorrent behavior. Could it be that both groups, civilians and warriors, come from the same source, humanity?Warriors do not often start wars. They are simply the ones who have to fight them. Societies start wars, whether their leaders are good or evil, sane or insane, well or badly intentioned. Thus complaints about the glorification of war or the use of the word “hero” seem a bit hollow. There is no glory in war. Just ask anyone who’s been there. There is also probably very little glory in working as volunteer improving a trail on Shrine Pass. Yet Americans continually volunteer for our military, as well as for trail duty. Why? Because both give the individual an internal satisfaction of having served. The difference between the two is the potential cost. The warrior places his or her life at risk, and binds themselves to a code that values the life of their squad mates above their own. I doubt that the same logic structure occurs to the volunteers at the Rotary duck race.Wouldn’t it be wonderful indeed if we lived in a world populated only by nice people who valued our interests as much as their own. But we don’t and are not likely to. We do, however, live in a world that contains some people, be they religious zealots or just power mad megalomaniacs, who want to eat us up to preserve their own tortured view of reality. What stands between them and us, whether in Iraq or on the dark side of the moon, is the warrior and his mates, not the volunteer cleaning up Vail Mountain. Just because you don’t wish to join the military, don’t scoff at someone who makes the opposite decision for what he or she feels is just as good a reason. Don’t presume to inflict your judgments on someone else’s decisions. Just vote your views and don’t bitch at the people implementing the views of the current government. While we’re all glad that people are willing to serve America through local nonprofits, the next time you see a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or Coasty, be sure to say thanks to them, as well!Dan Smith is a veteran of the U.S. Army who served in Vietnam.Vail Colorado


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