We cannot be in favor of “boots on the ground” and expect someone else — another millennial — to do the fighting for us while we turn a blind eye.
MY heart sank when President Obama and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter recently announced that more U.S. military personnel are headed to Syria and Iraq. Married to an Army infantry officer, I — at age 26 — understand all too well what this means for hundreds of soldiers heading into harm’s way (and what it means to their families).
But these headlines appear abstract to most millennials. Even in Seattle, where Army, Navy and Air Force bases are a short drive away, there is a deep psychological distance between young adults and the military.
Like many of my peers, I did not always have a strong connection to today’s military. My grandfather told captivating stories about his oldest brother — a Navy pilot — flying in the Pacific during World War II. He also reminisced about his own Army service, spending bitterly cold winters in Korea in the 1950s. What I knew about the military was from a bygone era — until I met my husband.
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As a soldier, he went weeks without talking to his parents, wore body armor in Iraq’s sweltering heat and led soldiers into Afghanistan’s most violent insurgent strongholds. His best friend from West Point was killed in action. He was deployed four times in four years. His selfless resolve to serve his country, humbly and without fanfare, drew a sharp contrast to my cushy life writing research papers as a graduate student.
Four more years, three deployments and a wedding later, I’m adjusting to the rhythm of military life: training schedules, months of separation, joyous homecomings, repeat. I have met other spouses — seasoned veterans in their own right — whose resilience inspires me.
Yet, I’m surprised by my fellow millennials’ ignorant and sometimes dismissive reactions when my husband or I mention the Army. Some people ask polite, uninformed questions, but usually they change the topic or look away in uncomfortable, apathetic silence. This disconnect between my generation and our troops is worrisome, especially considering the foreign policy and military dilemmas the U.S. is grappling with.
We cannot be in favor of “boots on the ground” and expect someone else — another millennial — to do the fighting for us while we turn a blind eye. Instead, our generation should pay closer attention to military news. We should show sincere interest in the perspective of soldiers, asking what inspired them to join the military and what is rewarding about their jobs, just as we would ask a friend working in tech, finance or health care.
We must begin to see a bit of ourselves in the young men and women in uniform who risk their lives for others, for us. Only then will we be able to support our troops with informed opinions on military action.