There is a long-overdue political opinion rant inside of me that is begging to come out. This is not that rant. So, if you popped over here expecting to read that, you will be disappointed. However, please continue to read on. I will do my best to not waste your time.
In the summer of 1987 I found myself in a hard place. I had taken out student loans for college. I have always disliked having debt hanging over my head and was reluctant to take out any more. My scholarships did not cover all of my tuition, none of my fees, nor any of my books. However, I was a young idealist, punker, and, yes, anarchist. So, I can relate to the youth of today who believe that anarchy is the way towards progress. I do, however, also know, now, that is wrong.
Faced with a challenge to pay for school, I took the advice of my father. My father served in the USMC in Vietnam. I have not always agreed with him. However, I listened to his wisdom. Being a kid, I will admit it sometimes took years to sink in. This time, though, he made sense in that very moment. I went to a recruiter and joined the Illinois Army National Guard.
Four years later, I was faced with similar uncertain economic circumstances. I was relatively unemployed. I tore through temporary jobs one at a time, never knowing week by week if I would have a job after the weekend. There were periods of weeks or months I went without a job despite going door to door, dropping applications and resumes. One afternoon, I addressed my problems with my father. Again, his wisdom rang. He asked me what I could do, that I enjoyed, that would put food on my table. After running through a few pie-eyed and unrealistic options, the answer came to one thing: my time in uniform. We struck a deal. I would move back in with him while the transfer to active duty processed. I would work around the house doing improvements and repairs. Then, in June of 1991, I left for an active duty career.
My term of service was intended to be four years. I would save as much of my paycheck as possible. I would then take that GI Bill and my DD214 and go forward with my desired career. At the time, I wanted to be a lawyer. Four years later, I re-enlisted and didn't look back. A year after re-enlisting, I switched Occupational Specialties (MOS) from Infantry to Military Intelligence and fell in love. Including that time in the National Guard, I served for 24 years.
I have had the privilege and honor to spend those 24 years serving with some of the best people anybody could ever meet. Many of them are no longer with us. Many are. I found one of the most diverse groups of individuals and expertise anywhere in the world. Yet we became a homogeneous culture with a common mission and a common oath: "To Support and Defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic".
This military sub-culture, in our diversity, is truly representative of what our country stands for. Diversity is respected without being divisive, unlike several political movements and ideologies out there. If you want to see a true American culture made up of several sub-cultures that unite as one, look at our military. They set a true example.
When I say I have never met a greater group of Americans I mean it. The job they do is a difficult one. Most of the youth of today, especially those camping out at the "Occupy Protests", do not have the fortitude our veterans display on an hourly basis. Some people will respond to that with a quip about "well, there are members of my generation serving". Yes there are. However, less that 3% of the US population has ever served. Less than 1% of the current generation is actively serving. They are the vast minority and not representative of the majority. They are BETTER.
The veterans of our country's Armed Services are, by and large, the most honorable people you can encounter. They may have signed a contract for any of various reasons. But they serve WITH Honor. They server FOR the Honor of our country and what our flag stands for (YOU!). So, I write this TO Honor each one of them, past, present, and future. They have done you, the American People, proud. Please, show them gratitude with the Honor and Respect they earned and deserve.
Now I'm stepping on my soapbox.
Over the past several wars, our military has been a "volunteer" one. Many people misunderstand that statement. There are members of the population who claim that, as volunteers, the military should not be paid. Their benefits should be cut. They believe that retirees don't deserve their benefits either. Well, I want to set a few things straight. Today is Veterans Day. So, I am standing up for my fellow veterans.
By stating we are a "volunteer" force we mean one simple thing: We entered a CONTRACT of service voluntarily, of our own free will. It means we are NOT conscripts. It means we were NOT drafted. It does NOT mean we work for free. We signed a contract with the tax-paying citizens of the United States to serve that oath and follow the orders of the officers appointed or elected over us. We did not sign up to hand out blankets at a Red Cross office. We signed a CONTRACT to provide a SERVICE in exchange for PAY and BENEFITS. Nobody forced us into this contract. We bound ourselves by honor and integrity to fulfill our end of it. None of us did this for free. We did it for Freedom, Capitalism, and our Constitutional Republic. None of us did so for free.
Before anybody does the foolish thing of claiming I slighted Red Cross Volunteers, don't. I have been out there volunteering among them during a natural disaster. They are wonderful people who gave of their time, effort, and resources to help people in times of dire need. I have a LOT of respect for them. I also donate time and money to their efforts. They are charitable volunteers. This essay is NOT about them. It is about the Veterans.
Despite the high paychecks those officers the rank of COL and above EARN each month, even they are vastly underpaid for the services they provide. No Soldier joins and serves just for the paycheck. That is true. It is not a very high paying job. However, those paychecks ARE EARNED. Those VA benefits ARE EARNED. They already are not enough compensation for the services rendered.
Our honor, integrity, and pride fill that economic gap. They are part of our pay. Those are invaluable things, priceless. So I am not begging for higher checks and the like. There are things we earn through our service that no amount of money can buy. However, the benefits we receive we DID EARN. They are the last things any budget cuts should consider. To do so is actually a breach of contract.
Those whining brats at the various "Occupy" protests want for free what veterans EARNED. I have a simple message for them: "Shut up 'princess'. Go earn it before you whine about it. You haven't earned anything and are NOT entitled to anything. 'There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch (TANSTAAFL)' to quote Libertarian thinker and Science Fiction author, RA Heinlein. You are NOT entitled to what WE, the veterans, have EARNED".
Now I will dismount my soapbox leaving it with this thought: this is not political in nature. It is about responsibility. It is about accountability. It is about TRUE entitlement. It is about what is morally and ethically right. I know several people will not like what I wrote. Well, I am entitled to that opinion, not just because I am a free American, but because I FOUGHT for that right for ALL Americans.
Now that I have about 47% of you angered over my words, I will go back to a more historical note. If you made it this far, keep reading. I am going to close this with a speech I wrote for grade-school students I was asked to address last year. Before we get to that, I have a few more things to say, though.
I give my deepest heartfelt gratitude to those who served before me. In addition, I give my brotherhood and love to those I served with. To those still serving, I give the above as well as my deepest respect for serving in these dangerous and uncertain times. HOOAH!
And last year's speech: