Americana

Uncle Sam Wants You—Sort Of

Military employment isn't what it used to be.

By From the April 2014 issue

Official U.S. Navy Imagery (Flickr Creative Commons)
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One of my duties in the Navy was as yeoman (clerk-typist) for the career counselor on the destroyer USS Conyngham (pronounced Cunningham). The counselor’s job was to impress young sailors whose hitches were about up of the charms and benefits of a naval career. Not an easy sell. In fact, mine couldn’t even bag his own yeoman.

Back then—I won’t say exactly when I was in, but Studebaker hadn’t gone broke yet, and I believe God was still a lieutenant commander—most first-hitch sailors were, like me, draft dodgers who would rather cruise the Mediterranean and North Atlantic in an open-necked uniform than wear starched Army khaki with a tie and while away two years at Fort Dog Butt, Arkansas (this was a bit before Vietnam heated up).  

My shipmates and I were patriotic and not averse to taking our turns on watch. Dissing the country and refusing to serve it had not yet become fashionable. But being a “lifer” was something else altogether. The career counselor, a congenial, forty-something chief radarman who really did love the Navy and who volunteered for this thankless collateral duty, never understood why most of the young sailors he tried to convince were not charmed by the notion of a haze-gray career. Some, of course, did re-up. But most looked forward to the day when they could request of the officer-of-the-deck for the final time, “Permission to go ashore, sir.”             

After two years on active duty, having achieved the dizzy height of E-4 (third class petty officer), I was bringing in $164 a month, with all the creamed chipped beef on toast I could eat. I got to visit a lot of interesting European cities. But I had to wear a little white hat and be back to the ship by midnight (it’s called Cinderella liberty—and you’d better not be home late from the ball). 

Folks in our military services are doing better in inflation-adjusted dollars now than my shipmates did then. But some things, then and now, blight the lives of Navy career counselors and those they hope to baptize. There are still eighteen-hour days at sea, long and un-family-friendly deployments. And to young men and women, the twenty-year minimum for the lifetime retirement check seems like forever. To the typical twenty year old, there is hardly any meaningful distinction to be made between twenty years and two hundred. They’re both incomprehensible and unendurable. 

It’s impossible to compare civilian with military employment. Acme Bolts and Screws, Inc. does not require its employees to put their lives on the line for the company. You won’t have to charge a machine-gun nest for Google. No one has to risk death or dismemberment from an IED while working for Old Blue. And certainly the eight-to-five paper pushers at the Bureau of Indian Affairs don’t face anything like eighteen-hour days on a heaving carrier deck (though paper cuts are always a hazard). No unexpected deployments to the butt end of the world when practicing law at the firm of Nasty, Brutish, and Short. 

This is why the men, and now women, who guard us while we sleep have been given what some would consider a generous retirement plan—50 percent of base pay after twenty years, 75 percent after thirty—and other benefits. This, along with the added spurs of patriotism and the desire for adventure, have allowed America to fill the ranks of its military services for decades after the draft ended, which was before Tricky Dick went back to San Clemency.

Comes now Barack Obama, a president who has no understanding of and—regardless of what he says to the contrary—little respect for our military services and the Americans who serve in them. (Obama continued his disgraceful charade in his State of the Union sermon, pouring soul and hambone over Army Ranger Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, who was horribly injured in a war Obama doesn’t believe in.) He certainly has little stomach for American military power and its uses. For the first time, young Americans who might consider serving in the military for a single hitch, or for a career, have reason to wonder exactly how much Uncle Sam wants them.

So how has Obama back-handed the military that he praises out of one side of his mouth? Let us count just some of the ways.

First, with the connivance of Congress, this administration is cutting deeply into the defense budget in order to ramp up spending on social programs. (The administration seems to have an unspoken goal of getting one half of the nation on unemployment and food stamps and the other half in college, leaving no one to create the wealth he wishes to redistribute.) Money that would have gone to military flying time or naval steaming time is now going to hire Obamacare “navigators.” Trillion dollar deficits or no, we are shorting what is required to discourage our enemies and keep the sea lanes open. What nasty surprises there will be when we are no longer the biggest and most vigilant dog under the porch. 

Second, American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, along with national guardsmen, are subject to long and repeated deployments, even, as former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has taught us, to lethal engagements the commander in chief scorns. There isn’t much about using American force, or the threat thereof, to protect America’s security interests that our current president does believe in. His national security stance and his foreign policy are about as tough as a box of puppies. Our enemies don’t fear us. Our allies don’t respect or trust us. No reason they should.   

Third, thanks to the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (which followed the long-standing policy of no homosexuals in the military—period), everyone in the military is obliged to share showers, sleeping quarters, and all the other intimate spaces of military life with people who consider them sex objects. Before this Great Experiment, the surrender of all privacy on entering military service was at least lightened by the fact that the forced intimacy would not include sexual tension. No more.

Fourth, speaking of sexual tension, it’s all over the place in today’s military. And severe penalties await those who don’t deal with it in the approved, politically correct way. The wisdom of the centuries has been that warriors are men, and women who serve in the military services do so properly in such auxiliary positions as in medical and administrative jobs. No longer. Hormone-besotted young people of both sexes in all military services are now shoved into each other’s laps and then told not to react in the way young people have always reacted to these, ahem, opportunities. A way, in fact, that has made possible the continuation of the human race. Time previously spent on military training in the sensible old days is now devoted to sensitivity training. Extreme political pressure from feminist zealots is now being put on the military to deal with accusations of sexual assault in a way that would result in innocents being punished along with the guilty.

Fifth, lingering over sex for a while, only a dedicated social engineer would consider putting women in combat roles. But we already have women under fire—air, sea, and land—and the final frontiers of infantry and special operations will soon be open to women, even though 98 percent of women are as equipped to be ground-pounding infantry grunts as I am to be Miss America. Courtiers with stars on their shoulder boards will natter on about how women in combat arms will be held to the same physical standards as men, and how combat readiness will not be degraded. They’re lying. 

Sixth, if our men and women in uniform look to their faith to help them through the hard times—and there will be hard times—they should be able to look for help, as they traditionally have been able to, from military chaplains. But the radical secularists in the military’s civilian leadership have put enormous pressure on chaplains to cleanse their work of all real religious content. 

Seventh, now, after contemplating dangerous deployments that top military leadership doesn’t believe in, and going into harm’s way without the training and equipment necessary to promote safety and ensure success, our warriors can spend such off-duty hours as they have reading about the various plans being considered to trim back on their retirement benefits. The Department of Defense is also considering cutting costs by closing commissaries where service members for decades have been able to shop for groceries and other items at a savings without leaving base. Hooah! 

Many more charges than these could be leveled against an administration that has an absolute lust for national weakness. But these give a feel for what our fine service members have to fight now along with any foreign foe they might be required to engage. Their service and dedication under such circumstances is truly inspiring. But we’re entitled to wonder what will happen if the American economy ever overcomes the shackles put on it by leftist policies and returns to life. Will the young people we need to guard us while we sleep continue to sign up when there are good opportunities (there’s that word again) in the private sector? Will we reach a day when military career counselors are no longer necessary because no one is getting past the recruiter? I wouldn’t bet my DD214 either way.

The USS Conyngham has long since been decommissioned and made into razor blades. I hope he isn’t yet, but I fear Chief Standring may now be buying rounds in that big chiefs’ club in the sky. I hope he enjoyed his retirement. He was/is a thoroughly decent guy who loved the Navy and couldn’t understand why so few of his younger shipmates were eager to earn a uniform arm full of hash marks. What he would have thought of today’s co-ed, politically correct Navy, and of this commander in chief, is anybody’s guess. Mine is that it would be, uh, colorful. 

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.