Memorial Day is a national holiday intended to honor our men and women who died while in the military service. As we pause to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us, let us also appreciate those that have been prepared to make that ultimate sacrifice, yet ultimately were not called upon to do so.
As a nation we citizens ask our young among us to serve their country voluntarily. We ask them to do our nation’s bidding, regardless of their background, race, gender, religion or political ideology. As a nation we ask them to leave their friends, families and hometowns, and to risk life and limb so that we, as their fellow citizens, may continue to prosper and enjoy our cherished civil liberties. Indeed, the notion of the citizen soldier is at the very core of our national ideology.
In doing our bidding, our military has become particularly skilled at taking our youth and transforming them into our warriors. Billions of dollars are spent every year to develop and maintain our all volunteer military. The various services recruit individuals from all walks then through great expense and deliberate process, socialize them into our national military instrument of power. This process, this ideology, and our citizen soldier, has served us well throughout our history.
Yet as a nation, we take much less care and show much less concern for our citizen soldiers when they hang up their uniform. We expect them to return to the way they were. We expect them to somehow undo the processes and experiences that transformed them into our agents of military might. As our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen return to civilian life, in some cases abruptly and unexpectedly, they often find themselves no longer “fitting” with their civilian peer group counterparts. Their socialized view of the world and their experiences represent a markedly different perspective. In many cases these socialized service men and women find it difficult to even fit in with former peers groups in which they previously belonged. When we consider those that experienced combat or even more dramatic, those that have experience the lasting imprint of combat (i.e., service disabled either physically or psychologically), the problem is compounded immensely.
While the military works hard at transition assistance and the Veteran’s Administration has many worthwhile programs to help veterans find jobs and even retrain for new jobs, we as citizens need to do more to re-assimilate our soldiers back into our communities. As a society, we seem to assume that post-military transition is largely the realm and primary responsibility of the military and the Veterans Administration. I suggest it is our responsibility as citizens. We asked these men and women to transition into our warriors, now let’s go beyond placing a yellow magnetic ribbon on our vehicles and embrace their return to our communities through action. We as citizens must open wide the doors of our businesses, organizations, communities, and hearts. Welcome home Soldier, Sailor, Marine, and Airman and thanks for your service.