You know, that’s a very good question. I think very few people join the military because they are willing to give up their lives for their country. Eighteen year olds are famously less than able to contemplate their own mortality.
I certainly didn’t. Not really even after that episode I wrote about. The U.S. wasn’t at war with anyone at the time, and I didn’t expect we would be.
I joined the military to pay for college and to “prove” I was a “man.” I succeeded in the first instance and waited many years before realizing the second. After college, I became an intelligence officer in the Air Force, where my most life-threatening function was caring for the office coffee bar. I wore a navy blue suit and tie to work; it just happened to have military insignia on it.
I’ve never actually met anyone in the military (and I maintain friendships with some of my old colleagues) who think they are making a sacrifice. Everybody has goals. Everybody has personal reasons, often very practical. And pretty much everybody can opt out once every four years to join the private sector.
Once you’ve been in the military a few years, it’s a pretty good life — if adventure and lots of travel are things you crave, and if you’re psychologically suited to being a cog in a very large organization. Plus, higher ranking enlisted people and officers make pretty good money once you figure in all the benefits.
Advanced education is highly encouraged and practically free, right up through a PhD if you’re so inclined. If you’re making a career of it, at least a master’s degree is often a necessity. Not bad when Uncle Sam is paying all your tuition and fees, and maybe even room and board if you’re studying on campus somewhere.
Career military people often separate with generous retirement benefits while they are still in their early 40s and very attractive on the job market.
I guess all I mean by this rambling is that many of us former military people feel sufficiently rewarded. We made career choices we thought were right for us.
So … thanks for serving? Yes, that’s a nice sentiment and appreciated so long as it’s not overplayed.
Now, for military people in the combat arms — especially young folks on their first enlistments — more thanks might be called for. Their jobs are dangerous, and most of them probably didn’t realize how dangerous until it was too late to change their minds.
For them and for wounded veterans struggling to cope, I reserve all the heartfelt thanks I can muster.
I hope some of this made sense.