Lest you think I’m making some sort of judgement on fortitude, mental toughness, or the ability to fight let me clarify that title. Working with a non-profit for which I am associated, I was excited to hear that we had some volunteers from the local Air Force Base on the way. Great I thought as we could certainly use the military work ethic and can do attitude on this project. But then three pre-pubescent junior high kids showed up asking where we needed them? With genuine confusion I asked which group they were with as we worked with many that day. When they told me they were with the United States Air Force my jaw hit the floor. One male and two females, you might could have convinced me that they were all trying for a spot on the varsity sports team but that’s about it. That these faces and many like them are the ones facing the likes of ISIS overseas was a shock to me although it shouldn’t have been. For but a decade or more ago for many of us there go we baby faces and all. It’s a fair question to ask now what our role as Veterans is to this modern generation of babies, er I mean warriors. Where can or should we lay aside our reckless youth and put on our grey beards of wisdom on their behalf?
I Have the Right to Call You Babies
I know right now there is a grizzled Staff Sergeant ready to drive a boot somewhere dark for associating him with babies. Clearly the military has its older generation but you guys are easy to stick out because you age horribly. By 30 you look like you have been smoking and drinking since you were 5. Mostly I’m talking to the group that makes up the bulk of the modern military and that’s the 18 to 20-year-olds. If any of you are upset with me I’m going to need you to take down that Justin Bieber poster off your barracks wall before you talk any trash.
But I feel justified to call you babies because when I joined I was the baby of all babies. Just 17-years-old I looked 12, a fact my friendly Drill Instructors were kind to point out on a regular basis. I barely had to shave and in fact almost failed my battalion commander’s inspection because I missed the literally peach fuzz on my neck. Drill Instructor noted it and let me know he was gonna burn me bad after formation. Thankfully the Battalion Commander passed over me as the Drill Instructor passed by behind him he turned to me and mouthed, “You’re mine!”
Such was the case for many of us, but for some reason it was a fact that I had come to forget as my boot camp experience was some 20 years ago. Since getting out in 2003 after Iraq I had not spent time around any large military bases and apart from seeing the occasion boot out in town I never thought much about it. So maybe its just pushing 40 that the inner grizzled Clint Eastwood is coming out in me for when I saw these kids I thought, “My God they’re just babies.”
So What’s the Grizzled Vet to do?
So I guess the question I’m posing to my fellow Vets of advanced age is if we have a unique responsibility to this generation of modern military. Clearly, 18 to 20-year-olds have been charging beaches, storming hills, and accomplishing feats of inexplicable gallantry for generations. So none of this is meant to demean their ability to do the same. But it’s often the prior generation that sends the current generation to war and perhaps that is something us GWOT vets ought to give a little more thought towards.
When I was in Iraq I was 22, single, no kids and patrolled the streets with complete disregard for my own life. I honestly didn’t think twice nor cared that much about dying as I was just all motto and excited to be there. And yet, so were many of the Marines and Soldiers who never came back from Iraq. Seeing those young kids in the Air Force who looked like they just came from an episode of the Wonder Years, I started to wonder whether we as the modern generation of Veterans have a responsibility to not treat the lives of the modern military as recklessly as we treated our own.
Namely, if any of us at that age could have voted ourselves into any war we likely would have done so. Because the person that would do so is exactly the type of person/kid you need in that uniform. But in light of the end state in Iraq and our 15 year experience in Afghanistan whether or not us older generation of Veterans ought to be the ones not beating the drums of war but the drums of caution. When I went to Iraq it was my WW2 Vet Grandfather who expressed the most concern. From Normandy to Germany, he above all would have wanted to be sure this war was worth it.
I know many of us modern Veterans are all Infidel, Kill, blood makes the grass grow, but keep in mind it will be this modern generation of babies, er I mean warriors that you’ll be sending. Perhaps our responsibility is to not treat their lives as recklessly as we treated our own. Perhaps our responsibility informed by war more than others is to be sure that when and where we send them is worthy of the lives the fallen would have lived. Seems like history demands as much. After all the average age in that truck below is likely 19 or so.
North Korea will take many of this generation. Sure we will win, but let those of us no longer in the uniform be more careful about how hard we beat the drum to send this modern generation into the fray. Those veterans who rode their veteran status into political office I’m talking you above all others. You need to think like the mature Veterans you are rather than the 20-year-old kid just excited to get some that you were long ago. But if the war should pass the test of worth, then I’ll trust this generation of babies to give them hell like every generation of babies before them. For after all, once so were we.
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