I have very often mentioned my military readers over the years, including more recently those aboard ships at sea, thanks to their satellite mail connections. So I was a tad surprised to get this note in January, 2003:
Please, Sir, will you do a special issue for the men & women, my siblings, that are about to go to conventional war and those now serving in the war on terrorism? Many of them have ‘net access, even while deployed. I feel that something especially for them would be especially appreciated. I know from personal experience that every little bit of encouragement helps after you kiss the spouse good-bye and get ‘in country’. I’m sure that my wife (disabled Viet Nam era US Army veteran) and my Dad (WWII US Navy combat veteran) would agree. –Stan, Texas
I reminded Stan that I have often featured military units in the past, and “if I have any ‘reason’ to do so again (e.g., a letter from someone in the field), I’ll do so.” Sound good? Not to Stan it didn’t. He replied:
Perhaps when the jack-booted hordes invade your personal space you will understand that you owe a debt to those that interpose their personal being between you and those who think that the expression of free thought is a bad thing. I understand that you have the typical civilian’s appreciation for those that volunteer to protect your ungrateful buttocks. Had you a fiber of civility you would have responded appropriately. Good morrow to you. I shall not trouble your tiny mind further. It is my fervent desire that you rot in an hell appropriate to your lack of humane feelings.
I don’t consider Stan, who bragged that he was (take a deep breath) “TSgt, USAF (retired from active duty at 20 years and 13 days of service in the greatest Air Force in the world I am eligible for recall to active duty for the balance of 30 years service, until 1 March 2008. I don’t want any more campaign medals.)”, to be ANY way representative of our great military. Rather, he is one of those “bad apples” that spoil the image of our armed forces not only at home, but abroad. What a sad example he sets for our all-volunteer servicemen and -women. But rather than ragging at him, I decided to instead publish his letter, and let those many active and retired military readers respond. Respond they did!
I’m retired military — 22 years, 2 months and 22 days active duty in the US Army. I served in Vietnam, and came under enemy fire there. My dad served on the USS Alabama during WWII. My ex-spouse (who remains my best friend) is a Vietnam-era veteran. My daughter and my son-in-law, as well as my current partner (who has two Bronze Stars), served in the Gulf War a decade ago. We all of us consider Stan to be a first-class jerk, and in our collective and several opinions, does great discredit to the US Air Force. I’d use stronger language, but This is True is a family publication. –Michelle, Arizona
Uh…only a TSgt (technical sergeant) after 20 years and 13 days? Hmmm… not very impressive. In fact, downright unimpressive. I’m surprised he got to stay in for the whole 20 years. He should have retired at least a master sergeant, if not a senior master sergeant. Most career enlisted Air Force folks strive for chief master sergeant prior to retirement, which takes a bit of doing, but to retire not even a master sergeant is mighty odd. It takes real doing. But, judging from the way the fellow writes, I can see why. –Dave (Former Capt, USAF), Colorado
I retired the USAF as a Chief (E9) a few years ago. I’d like to let you know that Stan does not represent the past or present Air Force in any way. He’s a small minded man who had a small career. The reason he retired at 20 years and 13 days is because he couldn’t get promoted more than twice in about 16 years and reached his high year of tenure and had to retire. You make it to E4 (Sgt) in about 4 years if you just manage to keep breathing and stay out of trouble, it’s guaranteed. Stan made it all the way to TSgt (E6) in the next 16 years — two promotions. Most of us get to at least MSgt (E7) long before ever becoming eligible to retire. Undoubtly Stan will respond to this with a long litenany of reasons why he didn’t advance further — rotten bosses, low promotion opportunity, wasn’t an ass-kisser, etc. What he won’t do is look in the mirror and see who held him back. Please keep writing the column and know that the vast majority of your military readership supports you. –Paul, Arizona
I am deployed in support of the war on terrorism. A better idea [than asking for special issues] would be for Stan to encourage people to get involved in one of the many support programs that are out there. The ones that send us CARE packages and letters and the like. But let’s say for the sake of argument that you had told him that you didn’t want to dedicate an issue to the military because you don’t agree with what we are doing (and believe me, there are people out there who feel that way). Is that not one of the freedoms that we are at this moment fighting to protect? Did Stan not, in his time in the Air Force, fight to protect the freedoms we have in America? The same freedoms we have been fighting to keep since our wonderful country was born? I myself am exercising the same freedom when I tell Stan in Texas that he should know better than to chastise someone for doing their job, supporting us in the fight and, possibly most importantly, giving us and our loved ones back home some reason to get our minds off of what is going on in the world. Keep up the good work! –Melissa, location classified
You summed it up well when you mentioned Stan was simply a bad apple. I’ve been in the Air National Guard for 12 years now, after 4 years of active duty. From what I read (before the career description of the person), I expected one of two types: 1. Young kid. 2. Old idiot. The military makes some people self-righteous, just like religion. Unlike regular jobs, the military doesn’t have periodic layoffs to force lower-performing people out. Unless you screw up pretty bad, you’re allowed to reenlist and you just continue on, albeit your test scores keep you at a low rank and you get bitter and self-righteous. I’ll bet Ungrateful Stan was not the sharpest stick. He stayed in 20 years not out of true patriotism or loyalty, but because he couldn’t get a job half as good on the outside. And despite being jealous and hating it for 20 years, now that he’s out he tells lots of war stories about how great he was and the good old days. Been there, seen the type. –Wayne (Capt. USAF), Texas
Which is sad, since you don’t have to be in the military to make terrific contributions to society. If indeed all he does is sit around and feel bitter, more’s the waste.
I don’t know if you remember awhile ago, I was the Navigator on the USS Essex — the other forward deployed aircraft carrier in Sasebo, Japan. In case you forgot, you had a tag line something to the effect of “Delivered to xx countries and the USS Kitty Hawk, the nation’s only forward deployed aircraft carrier in Yokosuka, Japan”. I wrote in to you and explained there was another aircraft carrier, even though they were mostly helicopters and we would like equal representation. (Essex is an Amphibious Assault Carrier which had about 50 air assault helos and 8 Harriers for close air support. And 2500 Marines ready to go ashore and carry out the will of the country.) Anyway, we emailed back and forth a few times and in the next issue were some very nice comments about the ship. I have always found you level headed and willing to give the guys a fair shake. I am amazed at the lengths some people will go to while moaning about how unfair you are. –Andy (LCDR, USN), Rhode Island
I not only remember our correspondence, it was you that I was thinking of when I mentioned True had readers on Navy ships at sea. Thanks again for sending me the photo of the ship, signed by some of the guys. Glad to see you’re still there, and still reading True!
I was active duty Air Force for several years, serving in Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Provide Comfort. I have been on call and even had orders to duty since 9/11/01 (they cancelled the orders 30 days prior to leaving the country). Many of the reservists I serve with now were ordered to active duty and sent to “the desert” during the Gulf War. One of those people retired just yesterday. The theme of his farewell speech was that serving in the Air Force has been his privilege, not his god-given right. He was grateful for having been “allowed” the privilege to serve. I wholeheartedly agree. The flip side of that is that I am extremely disappointed that Stan was “allowed” to serve at all. Apparently, he learned nothing about respect, self-discipline, and professionalism. Please know that Stan is not representative of the US Air Force (I know you know, but still). I know the plan for my life didn’t include a career on active duty, but I am a well-trained volunteer who is ready to go at a moment’s notice. Sure, I would prefer not to have another campaign medal, not to have another 30 days to 3 years away from my civilian job and family, not to die for my country. But, if I have to, I will. And, never, never, never will you hear me complain. I have contempt for the people who have contempt for the military, but I understand I fight for their right to disagree with what I do. Currently, we are in an environment of a healthy attitude towards the military. I fear that some wish to change that environment and people like Stan don’t help our cause. Thanks for mentioning the military at all. We love the recognition. –Brian (MSgt, USAFR), Colorado
The next one isn’t in the military — or even an American. But the perspective is terrific:
Well, okay, this is TiT, not HS, but I’d like to call a big bunch of our (international) military personnel heroes. Not Stan and his type, but rather those that serve on, knowing and accepting that they serve and fight for people back home to have the freedom to hate them. Fighting for people that hate you is bad enough, but fighting so that they CAN hate you, well, that’s really something! As Brian said “I fight for their right to disagree with what I do”. –Debbie, New Zealand
Dear Sir: Yes, Sgt, that is meant as an insult. I feel sorry for your wife. She and I have something in common — I also am a disabled Vietnam Era veteran, a former field medic. It appears that since you retired and no longer had 1 and 2 stripers to prove yourself with, you’ve taken to thinking less, talking more, and being downright stupid to the max. Lucky for you that you no longer have a chain of command making certain you perform in a civilized, thoughtful, and efficient manner; unlucky for those exposed to your petty pedantery and misplaced anger. You owe Randy an apology. You owe those on active and reserve duty in the armed forces an apology. And you probably owe your wife more than one — for turning into a prick once you fell outside the safe cradle-to-grave world of active military duty. If you really want to have those serving overseas getting greetings and things to make them think or smile or laugh, you do something about it. If kids in 4th grade classes can figure out how to make cards and send them to units deployed to hotspots, certainly you should be able to. You’re no longer the senior NCO present, regardless of what you think; learn to do the scut work you passed off to underlings for too many years. –L.D., Ohio
I wholeheartedly agree with the opinion of the military respondents [above]. The thing which touched me the most was someone’s hint that we could do something ourselves. I went out and searched the net and found Operation Enduring Response. While perusing their site I did notice that Missouri isn’t on their list of participants. I’ll have to see if I can get something started here. I realize that getting a letter from me won’t have nearly the impact that one from a elementary age school children will but that isn’t to say I can’t get off my butt and assemble a CARE package to ship out there. Thanks for getting me off my tailbone! –Jim (Maj, USAR), Missouri
Operation Enduring Response was (its web site is now gone) a letter writing campaign sponsored by the Red Cross to bring a little bit of home to our deployed servicemen and -women.
After he read his own letter (and the others) above, I got one quick follow-up from one of the military people who responded to Stan:
A lot of people bashed 20 year E-6s. I would like to stand up for some of them. While there are career E-6s who don’t realize they’ve reached the limits of their ability and spend time bitter and blaming everyone else, there are many others who realize who fortunate they are to have a good, secure job and they work twice as hard as some of the rank-senior, political, back-stabbing, game-playing, chair-setting E-7s and up. (Same goes for officers.) Higher rank (and ability to quickly figure out complex problems) does not mean better person, or a person you’d want to depend on in the field. I know you can’t spend your time apologizing for everything, but consider a good word that not all 20-year E-6s are small minded, bitter incompetents. –Wayne (Capt. USAF), Texas
Last, a letter that makes it clear why it’s worthwhile to me to be on the receiving end of irrational yelling — and then to collect, format and post the responses from readers. After reading this page, I got this:
Thanks so much for the milbrat web page. It was a great enlightenment for me to read the comments by an entire class of people who I’ve never had the opportunity to interact with in my life. As a draft-eligible 17-year-old in 1973, I was terrified of both Vietnam and the military establishment, which I only saw as the instrument of my imminent death. Because of that, I abhorred the entire concept of the military in any form. It’s taken decades for me to come to realize the incredible dedication and sacrifice that so many young have given and still give for our country. You have provided some of them a voice that they might not have otherwise had. And that is also a small part of what they are committed to protect. It was just so much fun to read their letters to you! Yours is a voice of freedom and clarity of thoughtfulness which is sorely lacking in our country today. –Lew, Massachusetts
Note: This page is closed to comments — comments are compiled on another page in my blog.