Here’s a thought: “Some people have an opinion on EVERYTHING, especially those things they know nothing about”. This thought comes from someone who is, like me, an Army Wife and Mom. For those with opinions about our military who know nothing about us, please read on.
First, it’s no surprise if you know nothing about us because, according to the Pew Research Center, less than one percent of U.S. adults currently serve in any branch of our military. So, I’ll start with three holidays: Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Armed Forces Day.
What are those? Memorial Day honors those who died serving our Country. Veterans Day honors those who have served. It happens every year on November 11, marking the day in 1918 that World War I ended.
Armed Forces Day honors the men and women of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Space Force now serving. Armed Forces Day happens on the third Saturday of every May at military bases, with parades, flyovers, and displays of gear. Events are usually open to the public and are a great opportunity to see our world. Check out next year’s schedule at Fort Drum for an interesting visit.
You’ll notice a serene small-town vibe, but most small towns don’t have a parade ground. Or tanks sitting at the front gate. Or bombers flying overhead. These pieces of the Good Old USA sit all over the world and look remarkably similar. Streets are wide and immaculate, with housing set in clusters. Residents are encouraged, make that required, to keep yards neat. There’s an unwritten code that taxpayers are watching. Families are of course close. They live and work here.
In our military family, count my father, two uncles, my husband, his father, his uncle, his brother, his sister, and our sister-in-law. Two of our children now serve. Sadly, there were losses: a grand-uncle killed in action in Europe in World War I, an uncle killed in action at Iwo Jima in World War II.
My father spent World War II in Alaska, but the night before he shipped out, he stopped at a USO dance and met an attractive USO Hostess. She was no fool. You could meet a man at the USO. When I see a USO center on a base or at an airport, I stop in and drop some cash in the donation jar to thank the USO for introducing my parents.
After the war, my father-in-law made the Marines his career. My husband and his siblings (aka Marine Corps brats) crisscrossed the country, living from base to base. Their father, an aviator, spent long stretches away on aircraft carriers. My husband enlisted right after high school, shipping to cold-war Germany, to the Republic of the Congo during a civil war. We met in college. I knew a quality guy when I saw one. He wore his army jacket.
After college, he joined a Reserve Unit that became part of our lives. We traveled to trainings. We celebrated holidays and promotions, like the surprise party where, with great ceremony, I served my husband creamed chipped beef on toast on a silver platter (inside joke – ask a vet). When unit members deploy, other unit members head to the airport for sendoffs and welcome backs. One night, my husband called saying he’d be late: a buddy developed leukemia. He and the guys donated blood. Another buddy worked at a medical center and rushed the patient in an ambulance to the top specialist who saved his life. But there were sad times. My husband’s good friend in the unit lost his life on 9/11 at the World Trade Center. He is considered the first military casualty of the Global War on Terror. One of his children now serves and trained one of our children.
Growing up, our children shared military life. We shopped at the PX (the Army department store) and the Commissary (the Army supermarket). We had summers on the Delaware shore near Dover Air Force Base while my husband took classes all day. Dover has the serene atmosphere I’ve described, but as we headed there one year, reality hit. We heard in the car that Saddam Hussein’s army invaded Kuwait. The first Gulf War began. On base, people were hurrying but notably tight-lipped and focused. They had a job to do. The highway to Dover passes the airfield where about 50 massive transport planes usually sit, row upon row, the wealth and power of the United States on display. Suddenly, packed supply trucks zipped along the highway. In mere days, the airfield was empty.
It was a powerful lesson for our children, two of whom are now soldiers. They live the military life, with friends all over the world who flew in for their weddings, holding sabers in the traditional arch to “welcome” the spouses to the Army (another inside joke).
One day the phone rang: “Mom, I’m going to Korea”. A few months into that deployment, we visited and saw a wonderful allied country once war-torn, now thriving.
Another phone call: this time a year of deployment to Iraq at the height of the surge. Difficult days, sleepless nights, but our military world steps up. Chaplains had the best advice: “keep those cards and letters coming”, explaining that soldiers best avoid PTSD with strong outside-world connections. A group of nervous parents and Vets got to work. We crowded weekly into another Army Mom’s living room, loading mountains of outside-world loot into shipping boxes: work gloves, magazines, drink mix, coffee, boot laces, candy. We sewed neck coolers to relieve desert heat and Christmas stockings by the hundreds. Interestingly, nobody’s car outside was overloaded with patriotic decals and bumper stickers. Maybe you’d see a military ID or a traditional blue star, but that was it. We have nothing to prove. We respect our nation’s symbols. I once saw a political candidate march into an American Legion Post in a stars and stripes covered jacket and cap, doubtless as a patriot display. Wrong. We never disrespect the flag by wearing the flag.
Clearly, military service isn’t for everyone, but consider this: our country should revive the draft. Not military for everyone, but public service for all. A menu of choices, job training, benefits. Imagine if, say, a Florida native shared a bunk with an Alaska native? If all eighteen-year-olds, before college or career, learned to deal with everyone, to give back to the country that gave them so much. Think what it would mean for our nation’s hospitals, our schools, our forests, and yes, our national defense. Think how it would heal our nation’s divisions. Other countries do this. We should.
Arlene Garbett Feldmeier is an Attorney in Little Falls and Chairs the Herkimer County Democratic Committee