I’ve been exchanging emails about my visit to the USS Anchorage with friend and regular reader Ellen, who is a retired Commander, U.S. Navy. I told Ellen how impressed I was with the young people I met on the ship, and she responded that she is glad the tradition is being carried forward.
There are many plusses to our having a professional military, where people are there because they want to be, not because they got drafted. One negative is that many of us have no first-hand window into the military and its culture, other than brief visits to a ship on Seafarer Weekend. I had five uncles and one aunt who served in the Navy during World War II, and my late husband Jerry was in the Chemical Corps, U.S. Army, when we met. But Jerry had sort of a regular job in Washington D.C; he lived in an apartment, not on base, and our immersion into military life was limited.
The tradition to which Ellen refers, I think, is the military’s ability to take relatively unformed young people, many high school rather than college graduates, and train them in a skill set, instill a mode of behavior, give them a sense of purpose, and get them to commit to something larger and more meaningful than themselves. I took a few moments, when possible on the tour, to speak to the young service members who had made presentations about their equipment and their roles on the ship. One young man told me proudly that he has six years in the service, he is certified on eight out of fourteen pieces of heavy equipment — he can fix them as well as operate them — and his goal is to certify on all fourteen. He was polite, articulate, and clearly living in a different world from a lot of mid-20’s Americans who are drifting from one job to another, hazing out on drugs, still living at home, or otherwise falling short on making the transition into responsible adulthood.
I don’t mean to romanticize young people in the military, and my window into their lives was very brief. They may still get drunk as a skunk on shore leave, forget to write home to their wives or mothers, and make poor choices in many areas of life. But there is something different here, and like Ellen, I’m glad the tradition and transformative role of military service remains intact.