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Proud to serve: We're soldiers, not victims

Sometimes, people who aren't members of our tribe seem not to know what to think of us. Give America's soldiers your support, not your pity. 

By Thomas W. Young / December 10, 2010

Alexandria, Va.

Imagine the following scenarios:

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1. You're a sergeant riding shotgun with an Army convoy in Iraq. An improvised explosive device – IED – explodes next to your vehicle and showers you with sand, rocks, and flames. Seriously burned, you pull yourself from the damaged gun truck and wonder what will happen next.

2. You're a crew member of a C-5 Galaxy lifting off from Baghdad International. You hear a loud bang and see warning lights: GENERATOR OUT, LOW PRESSURE ... FIRE. A surface-to-air missile has destroyed one of your engines.

3. You're a young airman billeted at Khobar Towers, Saudi Arabia. As you take a shower, you hear a security policeman running down the hall shouting, "Get out! Get out!" That's because he's spotted a truck bomb. A tremendous blast tears open the building and kills 19 of your comrades. Survivors help carry the dead to a makeshift morgue in the chow hall.

RELATED: Thank you, 1st Lt. Shaun Blue, for a life of integrity and service

America's warrior class 

Most Americans will never face situations like this. Less than 1 percent of the US population has served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The all-volunteer military has given us a motivated, highly professional fighting force. But it has also created a warrior class distinct from the rest of society.

Perhaps it has to be this way. According to the group Mission: Readiness, which is made up of retired senior military leaders, 75 percent of Americans ages 17 to 24 are unfit for service. Most are physically unfit, and others have criminal records or inadequate education.

Among those who can make the grade, military service tends to run in families, sometimes for generations. My supervisor in the West Virginia Air National Guard has a great-great-grandfather who earned the Medal of Honor in the Spanish-American War.

I know a pilot who makes mission-related notes in flight on a knee board used by his father in Vietnam. Many of my squadron mates can trace family military history at least back to World War II. Parents wear the uniform alongside sons and daughters.

These family traditions serve the armed forces well, but they keep the burden of war within a narrow group. Those who self-select into the military have become a tribe apart. Sometimes, people who aren't members of our tribe seem not to know what to think of us.


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