I hail from a family that has had its share of military members, me included. I spent six years in the Air National Guard knowing that I would never be active duty or even stay in the ANG as a lifetime member. I used the money that I received from the military to go to school and achieve some of my undergrad education. My gig back then wasn’t as challenging as say, joining up in this day and age as a “volunteer” and immediately getting shipped off to a war zone.
When I joined the Air Force’s branch of the National Guard, Desert Shield had just commenced. That’s right. I may be dating myself, but when I took the oath, the first George Bush was president. After I got home from my training – both boot camp and tech school – Desert Storm started and we all got to see a live war on CNN for the first time ever. I didn’t really watch.
At the time, the policy of the military was to select the National Guard and military reserve members to fill in for active duty members. The active duty troops would have to vacate their posts stateside in order to participate in the war. You were never at constant threat of being deployed into an area of conflict. I separated from the guard somewhere around 1996; long before the horrific national experience of 9/11.
This all brings us to present day. “Volunteers” – those who join the guard or reserve – are no longer waiting around for something to happen. They are not training at home for this possibility. They are living it on a daily basis in a war zone, far away from their families. Many do still join as I did, thinking of the GI Bill as a great way to get an education without having to pay student loans. But, they must also consider the grave responsibility that comes with this financial aid package. It’s a heavy burden to bear in today’s volunteer military corps.
Still, people do continue to join the many branches of our military, taking chances for this country and for many foreign civilians living in terror. It is honorable and brave, and I always sit in awe when I consider our history as a nation. The first to fight – the colonists – were all volunteers. There was no “regular army”, no organized tier of command. These were militia. They were mostly farmers.
It goes on and on to present day and our current involvement in the Middle East. Still, some of the most ordinary of citizens join in the fight to defend freedom. And if you consider it, none of them are ordinary. They are making extraordinary sacrifices on a daily basis. They are our nation’s heroes, and deserve to be recognized for their service.
So, find a gathering of vets. Approach said gathering. Hug away.