The Angry Staff Officer

“I Would’ve Served, But…”

If you’ve been in the military, you’ve had this conversation before:

“Oh, you’re in the Army? That’s cool, I almost joined up once, but…”

Random excuse follows.

(Caveat: unless it is a medical issue, because there are those who desperately want to serve in the military but can’t because of medical issues, and that can be really awful to have to live with).

Maybe it’s a friend, maybe it’s a stranger who sees you in uniform, maybe it’s a random person online. Regardless, it’s a comment that we hear a lot. It seems to be going around a bit more on social media these days for some reason. And it’s infuriating.

But not for the reasons most people think.

Yes, it does feel disrespectful, as if they are basically throwing your life choice into the wind of hypotheticals and invalidating your choice to serve. Yes, it is ridiculous, because if they could’ve served, but didn’t, well, that one’s on them. We all make life choices, and we all have to live with them

But really, the frustrating thing is their need to explain why they never served. We aren’t asking that question of them; it’s something that they force upon themselves. Although if someone is in the military service and is judging those who aren’t purely on that basis, cut it the hell out. Because look, most people haven’t served. Like, 97% of the population.

And that’s fine.

It’s more than fine, in fact, because you don’t want everyone serving in the military; that would be ridiculous.  Loads of people are not suited to the military and the military isn’t suited for them. In fact, society needs non-military service in the same way that it needs the security and safety that the military provides. What use is safety and security if we have a society that has nothing good in it, nothing of worth?

The military is just one small way that people can serve the country and their fellow people. Tons of people serve the nation in different ways other than by being in the military. Nurses, firefighters, aid workers, EMTs, teachers, social workers, cops, the list goes on and on. Not to mention all the silent heroes; like the child who takes care of their elderly parent for decades, foregoing much of life. Or the people who dedicate their lives to the aid of others. Service is not the monopoly of the military.

Recognizing that profound service can be found everywhere in life is hard for some people since we in the United States place a premium on military service, making it paramount to all other kinds. And some people take it a step further – mainly males – and equate military service with some kind of masculine rite of passage. Because apparently violence and aggression are the sole property of males – a ridiculous concept if ever one was aired. This kind of equation flies in the face of the decades of service from women in uniform, who fight against this stereotype nearly daily in addition to doing their jobs.

So, what is the underlying issue here? Is it the over-valuation of military service in the United States to the exclusion of others? Personally, I would argue that it is. And as a military member it harms us more than it helps us. Placing the military above all other types of service places us on a pedestal and sets unrealistic expectations of the military institution. It automatically assumes that those who served in the military are somehow superior to those who did not.

The reality is much more complex: the military is a microcosm of society at large. We have good people, bad people, hard workers, slackers, liars, thieves, paragons of integrity, douchebags, winners, losers, leaders, followers, shirkers, malcontents, liberals, conservatives, socialists, hedonists, religious zealots, atheists, and – a few – heroes. The heroes aren’t the ones who tell you they’re heroes, by the way. In short, the military is human and its members perform a necessary service. But it should not be elevated above all else; hero worship helps neither the worshiped nor the worshipers.

So when someone says, “I would’ve served, but…” they do a disservice to themselves and to those who are in the military- and really to society at large. Valuable and meaningful service can be found everywhere in life.

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About the Author: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.