A visitor to my home today saw my retirement plaque, which marks my twenty years of service in the US Air Force. He immediately thanked me for my service to my country.
I appreciated his thanks because I took (and take) some pride in having served honorably in the military. But people who thank me make me uncomfortable. Why, you ask?
Because I believe it was an honor to serve my country. It was an honor to be entrusted by the people of our great land with their trust.
So when people thank me, I always feel like thanking them back for allowing me to serve; for giving me this honor, this privilege.
Now, I write articles that are often critical of today’s military. And there’s lots of things to criticize. But I don’t believe in criticizing the military’s ethic of service, an ethic that should be based on humility and tinged with pride. Because our nation’s ideal is a citizen-soldier military. Note how the word “citizen” comes first. We are not supposed to want a military composed of mercenaries or warriors. Such a military is inconsistent with our democratic ideals.
Also inconsistent with our democratic ideals is our national tendency to idolize officers of high military rank. You know, the generals and admirals, men like Tommy Franks or David Petraeus. Why? Because any citizen-civilian outranks any citizen-soldier in the military, generals included.
We must always remember that military members serve us: we the people. We don’t serve them. And we must remember as well that our president, a civilian commander-in-chief, is first and foremost exactly that: a civilian. And that he’s not the commander-in-chief of all Americans; merely of those Americans who choose to don a uniform and take the oath of office (to include active duty, reserves, and National Guard members).
These are fundamental points (or they should be). They are derived from our Constitution. Our founders saw (reluctantly) the need for a military, and perhaps our greatest founder, George Washington, was also arguably our greatest military leader. Not because he was a Napoleon, but precisely because he wasn’t. He was our Cincinnatus, a citizen-soldier, with the emphasis firmly placed on citizen. A man who placed his duty to the Constitution, and to the people, before himself and military vainglory.
If you wish to thank a service member for his or her service, by all means do so. Just don’t be completely surprised when they deflect your thanks, or even thank you back for the honor and privilege of being able to serve in the name of the people to protect our highest ideals as enshrined in our Constitution.