Armed Forces Day


Early last year, Anthony Swofford, the author of Jarhead, gave a reading at Powell’s on Hawthorne. In the standing-room-only audience waiting for the reading to begin, I found myself next to an attractive, nicely dressed, fiftyish woman and we struck up a conversation. No doubt mistaking me for a fellow member of the anti-war crowd (I do tend to look like a hippie), she offered her observations on how “those people see everything in black and white”. Those people? “The right-wingers, the Bush crowd.” It was good to know who “those people” were; but what of the fighting men? “Well, you know, when you take some 19-year-old kid from Nebraska who doesn’t have any choices, and tell him ‘This is what it means to be a man’, I guess it must sound pretty appealing.”

I spent ten years in the enlisted ranks of America’s armed forces: six years in the Air Force, mostly as a communications specialist and later four years in the Marine Corps as a missileman in an armored infantry unit. My liberal parents did not, I am quite sure, ever picture me in the Marines, but they were quite supportive when I enlisted at age 26 ... at least, once they got over the initial shock.

The Air Force hitch came right after high school: I had really good test scores, and I went in on a contract enlistment to become a translator (a “208” in Air Force jargon). I finished the rigorous Korean Basic program at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, but wasn’t quite equal to the advanced training at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas, which involved long, tedious hours of listening to ... well, never mind, you’re not missing anything. The Government had already spent tons of money getting me a secuirty clearance, so I was reassigned to a job in telecommunications – and that was what I did for the rest of my six years in the USAF.

After hanging up my blue shirt I moved to San Francisco, where I made a living – barely – as an office clerk. I struggled to make ends meet, living in a ten-foot hotel room with a bathroom in the hall, roaches on the floor, and crackheads roaming the halls. The cost of living in San Francisco kept going up, and my paycheck didn’t, so in 1989 I found myself in the recruiter’s office once again, and this time – sort of on a dare to myself – I enlisted in the Marines.

I’ve written elsewhere about my experiences in Desert Storm. Here I’ll just say that I’m proud of my role in liberating Kuwait, and sorry only that we did not finish the job and liberate Iraq then. But my four years in the Marines were among the most rewarding of my life, and I regret none of it.

What I wish is that our well-dressed, well-educated liberals would make the effort to get rid of their stereotypes about who joins the military and why. By dismissing me as “some kid from Nebraska” or whatever part of the country you consider to be where the hicks and rednecks live, you only betray your own ignorance and prejudice. After all, "those people" don't really believe in working for the greater good, do they?

This is for you, the lady who holds me and my fellow veterans in contempt: How dare you? How dare you imagine that your university degree and your liberal credentials give you the right to think for me?