As a soldier who occasionally is in uniform in public in the Bay Area as part of my Army Reserve duties I am overwhelmed by the volume of “Thank You for Your Service” comments I receive.
We’ve come to a remarkably mature place as a society where you can detest the war, but not the warrior. For any service member who has received these appreciative acknowledgements in public you can physically feel the humbled gratitude in your soul while also oddly squeamish with your internal recognition that there are perhaps others who sacrificed far more and that maybe you aren’t deserving of that praise.
These feelings rush through you, all while you awkwardly offer your own words of appreciation for their appreciation.
So this Memorial Day I would offer something different. I would propose that you not spend time in over-adulation and recognition of those who serve or have served. Rather, this Memorial Day (and generally every day after) you can honor their memory, service and sacrifices by living the best possible life you can… that you create, you inspire, you love, you care and you celebrate. This call to thrive (and your right to do so) is ultimately what soldiers seek to protect and defend.
I have the privilege in my professional life to serve two organizations: Monday through Friday I serve as a director at a technology company headquartered in San Francisco, and then on Saturday and Sunday I serve as the Commander of the 1-363rd “San Francisco’s Own” Army Reserve Battalion headquartered in Dublin, Calif.
Interestingly, the desired end states of both of these communities — technology and the military — is remarkably the same, though achieved through different means: The desire to make lives better.
The innovations and the solutions that flourish in the technology community in their highest realization seek to connect the worlds of experience and idea, seek to develop cheaper cleaner energy, seek to feed the masses, seek to eradicate disease, seek to liberate thoughts, words and actions.
Soldiers fight and occasionally die for the ideals of freedom, liberty and justice, but practically also to protect and defend those systems of government and society that support these technological engines of progress that seek to make all people lives simpler, more productive and, hopefully, more pleasant.
Why I or any soldier, sailor, airmen or Marine serves their community is so that others may not know the horrors of oppression; that others may thrive without threat. I was at a Stanford Military Appreciation Dinner the other night when an older gentlemen suggested that the nation would be better off with a mandatory military service obligation for its young men and women.
He followed by also saying that no one anymore really knows anyone in the military or their burdens and that mandatory service would help change that. I, along with the other officers sitting at the table (Navy and Air Force), emphatically disagreed.
We said it’s remarkable that we live in a nation where we are free to choose our path that often doesn’t include military service. Organizationally as well; we only want team members in the military that desire to serve on our teams not because they’re obligated to.
We also offered the gentlemen that thankfully we don’t live in a country where everyone necessarily needs to feel the burden of military service. The fact that we as a nation are not overly preoccupied with our military or military service is a good thing. Ultimately soldiers serve to protect and defend our way of life; our way of life that doesn’t spend its days in fear or disproportionate recognition of its military prowess.
As I was finishing this article this weekend I was notified that one of my junior commanding officers in the “San Francisco’s Own” Battalion I lead was killed on his road bike on his way to work. CPT Nathan Miller (and his wife CPT Jessica Miller) are both recently transitioned active duty army officers just off deployments to Afghanistan. They chose to move to the Bay Area to begin their private sector jobs while raising their young daughter and still choosing to serve in the Reserves, though they have no obligation to do so.
When asked on our first meeting why they would continue to serve in the Reserves they simply replied with “it is who we are, what we’ve known and we want to help to protect/shape this world our daughter will inherit.” Nathan was an avid endurance athlete. In speaking with Jessica on how we could best honor Nathan’s service she simply said to do what Nathan would do. “Go outside and hike/walk/bike in this beautiful place and end the day with good friends and a cold beer to celebrate.” So this Memorial Day, I’m just going to celebrate.