Military Experience Makes Better Citizens

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How I Learned That There is More to Being a Citizen Than Paying Taxes
by David E. Bailey

My father was a member of the “greatest generation.” He served in the Pacific during World War II. Some time during my senior year in high school, he informed me that “I owe more to my country than just paying taxes you will serve in the military.” That was the end of the discussion as far as he was concerned.
 
I attended a land-grant college that in the early ’60s still required serving in the Reserve Officers Training Corps. After the two-year obligatory ROTC requirement, I tried to renegotiate with Dad to not continue on with ROTC with the lame reason that I was going to really focus on my studies and ROTC would interfere. Dad saw through this. I managed to show up for the required drills, classes and a summer camp in Alabama and received my commission.
 
I served three years as a Medical Service Corps officer in Army hospitals in Germany and learned more in this period than the previous four years in college. I learned about “foreign relations” and “personnel administration” more practical knowledge than I would have gained in postgraduate degrees in both subjects…

     

I had six German nationals and 40 military personnel under my supervision. Before the military, I did not know any African-Americans, Jews or Asians, and I found myself learning about different cultures and religions. In short, my military experience offered me a continuing education.
Today, the greatest proportion of our military is made up of the poor and lower middle class from rural communities.
 
My military experience was the norm for that time before Vietnam changed everything. I am not proposing that we return to those Cold War days, but we should reconsider the values gained in education, experience and character building from service in the military that was common at a time when it involved a greater cross-section of our society.
 
There is a real ignorance in our society about the military. Recently, I was privy to a conversation in which a member of the active military was asked how they paid for their incidental living expenses as a member of the “volunteer” military. Apparently, some people don’t even know that our volunteer military get paid.
 
Military service should include acquiring real-life experiences in leadership and gaining skills useful in business and industry today. What are offered as posteducational experiences in civilian life are often unpaid internships running a fax machine or counseling Outward Bound teenagers.
 
Recruiters, high schools and colleges should look to the thousands like me who have success stories to tell young people about our military experience. I dare say that a significant portion of the employees at our local defense plant were trained by the military, and they could speak of the successes and useful experiences of their military service.
 
Parents need to take an objective look at the military as a growing-up period and the educational benefits that accrue during and after service. They should see their children as citizens who need to understand the working of the military from firsthand experience so they can make informed decisions about future wars that will affect their children.
 
Military service strengthened my character and made me a better citizen. I understand the power of the military and its rightful makeup of a broad cross-section of our society. Most important, I learned that there is more to being a citizen than paying taxes.


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