Last week, a young Marine from my hometown was killed in Afghanistan, on his second tour of duty there. He went to high school with my oldest daughter and was only 21 years old. He was typical of many young men and women killed over there; loved by his friends and family, instilled with a sense of responsibility from childhood and eager to protect his country. I cannot imagine how his parents are coping, having carefully raised their son, keeping him safe from the many pitfalls of childhood, only to lose him to some anonymous enemy half a world away.
I am part of a military family; my husband, myself and my eldest son have all served. My younger son, now a senior in high school, plans on enlisting in the Marines when he graduates, just like his older brother. I fear for him. My oldest son was a mechanic for Chinook helicopters as part of a Marine Air Wing out of San Diego. He was on the USS Boxer when it was chasing pirates around off the coast of Somalia, was onshore a brief time in Dubai, and spent the rest of his enlistment participating in various trainings and deployments at sea. I felt so very lucky when he completed his 4 year enlistment last summer and came home to us, whole and with his witty, prankster nature intact. I can’t help but feel that maybe asking for the safe return of both sons from duty in the Middle East is pushing my luck. But, how can I try to dissuade my younger son from doing the very thing that we have all done? He is 17 and “unstoppable,” as all teenagers see themselves at that age. I know that he would see himself as somehow less than his father and brother if he didn’t go. He has always stood up for what he thinks is right, often getting in trouble for his vigorous defense of various causes and people.
Many, especially those who have never had a member of their family in the military, can’t understand why young men and women enlist. Some stereotype them as rednecks, or under-achievers who couldn’t afford college on their own, or even as right-wing dupes brainwashed by the Republican Party and its agenda. They would never consider risking their lives for honor and integrity, traits which are mocked and exploited in their worlds of politics and business. Which brings me to a point: In one way, the elitists are correct. Many of those enlisting can’t afford college and feel the military is their only way out of a dead-end future. Unfortunately, for too many, they are seriously maimed or killed while serving their country.
I consider myself to be a moderate, liberal in some ways, conservative in others, but nothing radical in either direction. Despite my political inclinations, I have found myself wondering why the U.S. doesn’t adopt a period of mandatory service for all citizens, rich and poor alike, following high school graduation; either traditional military enlistment or full-time volunteer-type service similar to the peace corps. Israel requires this of its citizens. The movie Starship Troopers was also based on a similar theme. Once their service was complete, then they would be able to attend any state college, free of charge. Just something to consider, wishful thinking, mostly. I think it would be good for the character of our citizens to have to put others before themselves, if only for a short while. I know that the ACLU, and many other organizations,would be all over this like white on rice, but that is their right. Just as it is the right of the Westboro Baptist Church to insultingly, hurtfully demonstrate at the funerals of fallen soldiers. The rights my son will be defending when he signs those enlistment papers next spring, the rights LCpl Terry Wright, and many others, have died defending for you. Please appreciate the sacrifice.