There’s an interchange on I-185, right outside of Fort Benning. It’s a big, glorious waste of taxpayer money, featuring statues of eagles and Old Bill and Iron Mike, embodiments of Armor/Cavalry and the Infantry, respectively. Big fountains that must be hell to maintain in the soul-sucking Georgia summers. And twenty American flags; ten on each side of the highway. I pass this interchange every day on my way to work. After the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the flags were lowered to half-mast, the traditional symbol for national mourning. After a few days of driving into work, when the flags were raised to the top of the poles again, it suddenly struck me: I am so damn tired of seeing those flags fly at half-mast because kids were killed at their school because of our weak gun laws and unwillingness to take real steps to prevent another massacre from happening again.
Like many others, I took to social media to vent my frustrations. I spoke about how tired I am of seeing thoughts and prayers thrown around as the only response to another senseless killing. How the reason I volunteered to serve this country, by joining the Army, was my desire to defend and protect its citizens. And who among us deserves protection to live in freedom more than our children? Why put on this uniform, why go to work every day, preparing for the possibility of being sent overseas to fight the enemies of this nation, if no matter what I do, kids will keep being gunned down in their classrooms? I vented my frustrations because I needed to express the thoughts that had been boiling up inside of me, needed to do something other than watch – numb – as pundits and politicians bickered over the bodies of fourteen children and three staff members. There has been an outpouring on social media, significantly amongst veterans, in support of gun reform in the wake of the most recent shooting. The hashtag #VetsForGunReform has steadily gained steam. But social media is merely an outlet for expression. To achieve real change, we must engage in the democratic process.
The American military tradition of remaining subservient to lawfully-elected civilian leadership is a cornerstone of the continued success of the United States in remaining a democratic Republic. There is a definite reason why there has been no significant attempt at a coup or putsch by the American military against the government. However, service members can remain true to that ideal while also taking part in the democratic process. If you seek change in the world, contact your Representative or Senator. Express your thoughts as a citizen. Services like Resist.bot provide easy methods of contacting your members of Congress. It is an election year, if you disagree with the policy platform of your Representative or Senator, then vote for their opponent come November. Fvap.gov makes it incredibly easy to apply for an absentee ballot as a service member. Regardless of your feelings, if you agree or disagree with me regarding gun reform in America, or any other topic, I encourage you: take part in the political process. As long as your actions are in line with DoD Policy, specifically DoD Directive 1344.10, your service and career need not come at the expense of your rights as a citizen.
The time has come for greater political involvement among all members of society, not just the military. Our status as veterans and service members does not increase the validity or worth of our political views. But being a veteran or service member does not detract from our rights to free expression (within certain boundaries) as private citizens. Social media is a place to vent our feelings, but hashtags are not enough. To see change in the world, we must take our place at the table of Democracy and exercise our rights as citizens, first and foremost. There is nothing more American than engaging in the democratic process we swore to protect and uphold. It is our right and privilege. It is our duty.
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About the Author: Tom is an Active Duty Armor officer with a passion for politics and military history. He can be found on Twitter at @TheGospelOfTom. The contents of this post reflect the opinions of the author and do not reflect or represent the opinions of the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense
About the Editor: 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.
Cover Photo: U.S. Army Photo