Roy and Betsy have been friends of ours for eight years. Roy has a professional position with a lot of responsibilities and I’d estimate they have a pretty good household income which allows Betsy to devote her time to her family and volunteer activities. They have a lovely home in Woodbury, and if I had to guess I’d say they probably vote solidly Republican.
In the time we’ve known them we’ve seen quite a bit of their son, who has just graduated from high school. He’s a sharp enough kid, but one who’s never been that interested in academics and, like many young people, his worldview and self-awareness didn’t appear to extend much beyond his dinner-table reach. Nevertheless at the end of his junior year he started systematically interviewing recruiters from the various branches of the service to find out about their programs. When he finally decided to enlist last summer his decision was influenced by one benefit in particular: he selected the Marine Reserve because it “looked like the toughest.”
Roy and Betsy weren’t especially thrilled with their son’s desire to enlist, but didn’t try to discourage it, either. “It’s an honorable profession,” Roys says, and in many ways it was an option that made sense for him. “He had put himself in a situation with his grades where he knew college wasn’t really an option,” says Betsy, but grades were only one example of something he recognized in himself. “He said, ‘I need some discipline. I know this will be good for me,'” Roy says.
Betsy acknowledges that it is an exciting and anxious time for a mother, but she’s proud that her son’s made his own decision, “Especially when a lot of his friends are saying, ‘I wouldn’t want to do that.'” Similar responses have come from adults. “We’ve had two types of reactions from other parents,” Roy says. “The first one is they are aghast, and say things like, ‘Can’t you talk him out of it?’ The second type has been very supportive.”
While their son received some benefits by committing to enlist a year ahead of high school graduation there weren’t any cash bonuses or extraordinary incentives involved. He’ll go into the service at a higher pay grade than a new recruit and was able to choose his speciality and entry date, and there are educational benefits later if he’s interested and that’s about it. There was also a little more flexibility for him by enlisting in the Reserve instead of for active duty, but he doesn’t have any illusions about avoiding action given his MOS: aircraft recovery (a speciality, his father points out, that doesn’t have much of a civilian application). While his decision may be as much pragmatic as patriotic, his family sees and respects the convictions he’s expressed through his choice of service branch and training.
Roy also sees this as an example of how “conventional thinking” can be wrong. “While it might be correct to say that service to our country isn’t a high priority for a lot of kids in Woodbury, the notion that the media and certain politicians have that the only people enlisting and fighting are the poor and minorities is a disservice to those who enlist, and is disrespectful to those who enlist who, though they may be poor or a minority, have many reasons for what they’re doing,” he says.
“People who think that have no real conception of what it’s like now or how careful the services are in recruiting and enlisting candidates,” Roy says. “Back when I was in high school the recruiter’s best friend was the judge who gave some of these characters the choice of six months in jail or enlisting. The requirements are a lot higher now.”
Roy and Betsy’s own perceptions have changed over the past year as well. “As his mother, I’ve chosen not pay a lot of attention to what goes on in the news,” Betsy says. “There’s a lot of heartache already involved in seeing your son go into something that can be dangerous without others exploiting the situation. At the same time, it’s much more personal and meaningful to me now when I see the ‘Support Our Troops’ signs and magnets on people’s cars.”
Roy takes the opposite approach in monitoring the news, but also sees things in a more personal way. “I wanted to punch Dick Durbin in the nose,” he says. “He deserves it.
“Look, I understand political speech and leveraging issues to make points, but leveraging issues on the backs of people risking their lives is morally wrong,” he says. “There are good points that can be made for and against the war, but to compare what we’re doing to the Soviet gulags, or to the Nazi concentration camps is insulting and ignorant. There are lines you just don’t cross. You have a right to shoot your mouth off, but when shooting your mouth off endangers people that’s just wrong.
“Likewise, setting a withdrawal date is suicide,” he says, “and it really makes you wonder who these politicians are trying to impress when they say things like that. I can accept a certain amount of these people bitching and moaning, but it would be nice if they’d offer some realistic solutions. They’re only trying to help themselves, not the troops.
“We’re proud of what our son is doing, but in my book the really brave ones are the Iraqis who keep signing up for their army and police forces knowing that they’re making themselves targets. As much as I may get upset about what Durbin and Kennedy and the others say, you have to wonder what these Iraqis think about it.”
Along similar lines, Captain Ed has an interesting post today at Captain’s Quarters about the military meeting its June recruiting quota, the strong re-enlistment numbers and a nice perspective on the role a stronger economy may play in recruiting. You can read it here.