KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Our society often has a preoccupation of raising up people to mythical levels. We equate various groups of people with elevated morals, increased intelligence and a naïve belief that those people are infallible from bad decisions.
Look no further than the public condemnation of your favorite actor or athlete when a personal struggle or a criminal offense is made public. Over the last generation, Americans have put our service members into that category. They are labeled as the “best of America,” millions of people have some form of “support our troops” paraphernalia and we are treated to television shows and movies dedicated to military virtues.
Our society has tried to turn every man or woman who joins a branch of the Armed Forces as superheroes who magically only make the perfect, and perfectly courageous, decisions required of them.
Our society has arguments about whether the actions of some honor or offend our troops, often without stopping to ask our troops what they think. They have become a monolith to be used to further a cause, whether political, charitable or business.
The American people have turned well over a million men and women into a faceless group that is exploited for their service.
What those people are missing is the phenomenal nature of our individual service members. They are not faceless, nor a monolith nor a bloc of people who believe one thing. They are men and women, they are every ethnicity and creed who live in America, they are Republicans and Democrats, only out of uniform, of course, they are Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists and so much more.
They are single and they are married. Some have babies, some have “fur babies” and others have neither. Our service members, the men and women of every military branch, represent our entire country in all its glory.
It’s easy to forget the United States is rare among the world as there is no ethnic group of “Americans.” We have gained our strength through our diversity. It’s not a mistake that America has grown stronger the more inclusive we have become.
I have been given the opportunity to serve in a deployed environment. I serve with Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen. I serve with Special Forces members and conventional forces members. Together, we are working hard to enable the fight against terrorists and extremists where they are, rather than at home.
Working here has really made clear what eight years as an Air Force civilian already taught me: our men and women in uniform are regular people. Some joined for honor and a patriotic duty. Some joined for education. Others joined because they had no other prospects and the military offered three meals and a paycheck. Some even joined because a judge gave them the option of prison or service, but they all serve. They are not free from errors in judgement or terrible decisions. Those on Okinawa have seen that all too well. They are inherently fallible because they are merely human.
That, however, is their strength. The military is a collection of “regular people” who pull together to form something greater. They work toward a common purpose with a shared bond born of service, sacrifice and a decision to join something bigger than themselves.
Whether they are Special Forces on the front lines, transportation specialists, maintainers, pilots or submariners, they are working to create a world better than they found it. Some will see combat their entire careers and others will never be within hundreds of miles of enemy soldiers, but they all build a military that is the most powerful and effective fighting force in the history of the world.
Our service members are not faceless. They are not clones or carbon copies to fill a billet. Though their uniforms suggest blending into one, their stories and the backgrounds have created unique individuals who put on those uniforms.
This holiday season, when people say they are thankful for our troops, please take the extra minute to recognize the men and women behind those uniforms.
They are the reason we live in the land of the free.