On July 4th, at the same location where Martin Luther King Jr. stood and gave his “I Have A Dream” speech, our president gave a very different speech. Having no military experience, he encouraged young men and women to enlist in our nation’s armed forces, saying, “to young Americans across our country, now is your chance to join our military and make a truly great statement in life. And you should do it.”
I was an enlisted sailor in the Navy for six years, and there are a few things that irk me as a veteran. Don’t say “happy Memorial Day” to me; it’s a day of remembrance not of celebration. Don’t ask me if I am offended at the sight of Colin Kaepernick; I think he has the right to protest. Stop asking me if I voted Republican; it’s rude to ask who someone voted for and even ruder to assume that all veterans are conservatives. But above all of that, please, do not ever encourage anyone to enlist in the military unless you yourself have served.
You cannot understand the challenges military members face until you have faced those exact same challenges. The time away from family members, deployments, long and erratic work hours — oh, and you might die. These are just a few of the seemingly endless list of reasons why being a service member is so difficult.
But this highlights an even bigger issue with our president and our political system. This naivety of what the military is and how it operates has not stopped the president from invoking the War Powers Act. The president has used the military as a political prop on more than one occasion. Such was the case when over 5,000 troops were sent to the U.S./Mexican border days before the midterm elections (and also Thanksgiving). Or when our troops were assigned the task of painting portions of the border wall. Or, when our president decided that having a military parade like the ones in Pyongyang would be a good idea. This is all politically motivated. Our president is not interested in the well-being of our service men and women. He is only trying to convince young men and women to enlist so he can put it on his political resume (unless you are trans, then our president does not want you).
Maryland is a very military friendly state. There are multiple military bases here and even a military academy. The roles the military plays in our state are much larger than in many other states due to our proximity to the nation’s capital. And with the large number of service men and women whom you may come across on a daily basis, it is easy to see their successes and want that for your children. Military families have a guaranteed paycheck, great health care, a strong community and so much more. Essentially, it is a ticket to the middle class.
But there are so many different facets to being in the military that it is hard to say with certainty it will always be a good deal. Military deployments cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Yes, you can attach a fiscal amount to how many taxpayer dollars were spent during the duration of a deployment. But it’s more than that. There are marriages that end because of distance. There are fathers and mothers who will miss pivotal moments in their children’s lives, such as graduations or even births. Mental illnesses develop and can take years to be detected. In some cases, they never will be detected.
You cannot assign a dollar amount to this because there is no dollar amount. When you thank a service member, this is what you are really thanking them for. Our president's use of the military illustrates his disconnect with what it means to serve. Please, unless you yourself have served, do not encourage others to enlist.