Best Defense

When we have children, will we support a decision by one of them to enlist?

A joint statement by the Best Defense Council of the Former Enlisted.

Cpl. Jude Exantus, right smiles with Isabelle Tyson on top of an Assault Amphibious Vehicle April 4 during a United Service Organization Easter celebration on Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan. Okinawa children and service members’ children came together to participate in Easter activities, such as egg dyeing, making rabbit masks and an egg hunt. The Camp Schwab USO plans to organize this Easter celebration annually. Exantus is a native of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and AAV crew chief with Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force. Tyson, 4, is a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Cpl. Jude Exantus, right smiles with Isabelle Tyson on top of an Assault Amphibious Vehicle April 4 during a United Service Organization Easter celebration on Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan. Okinawa children and service members’ children came together to participate in Easter activities, such as egg dyeing, making rabbit masks and an egg hunt. The Camp Schwab USO plans to organize this Easter celebration annually. Exantus is a native of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and AAV crew chief with Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force. Tyson, 4, is a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Best Defense is in summer reruns. This item originally appeared on June 8, 2015.

A joint statement by the Best Defense Council of the Former Enlisted 

Every member of the Best Defense Council of the Former Enlisted has served in the armed forces in an enlisted capacity, and now returned to the civilian world. Tom has asked us to address this question: Given our experiences, would we recommend or support that our children enlist, as we did, 20 years from now?

Anyone who has worn the uniform knows the pride felt as we first emerged from basic training, freshly pressed creases from head to boot. Servicemen and women, active or veteran, can vividly recall the lifetime friendships forged in the fields, skies, and seas as we honed our respective craft. With a hint of nostalgia and awe, we remember defining moments – the rush of fast-roping from our first helicopter, the roar of fighters above, or the sense of unyielding power standing on the deck of a bustling ship. Consequently, military service is routinely painted in broad and glossy words like duty, honor, sacrifice, and glory.

Yet, these words only scratch the surface of an emotional reservoir lurking below. Every serviceman and woman sacrificed in one form or another – long deployments, headstones of precious comrades, or scars of combat, both physical and mental. We recall the pain of missed holidays, the moral ambiguity of war, and the sense of confusion when we finally hung up our uniforms. So, the sobering reality of military service is more than honor and service, but also blood, sweat, and tears. The truth is that military service is both rewarding and cruel. It is the fraternity of realism.

So, what if our own children want to enlist in the military? What will our answer be?

A parent never wants their child running headfirst into danger. Yet, we all remember how service shaped us, for the better and for the worse. How could we deny the same choice to our own children? We took different routes into the military. Some of us lacked family support for our decisions, while others felt the pressures of tradition on our shoulders. Perhaps the biggest benefit to being a veteran when your child ponders a similar path is the clarity that experience can provide. If and when that day comes, we will be ready to answer those questions as best we can, trying to explain our experiences without allowing emotion to censor our words. We would convey our pride and joy of service, but also our doubts and demons in pursuit of that service.

Our conclusion: Ultimately, we would support their move, enlisted, officer, branch, term, or task, but we would emphasize that it would be their decision — do it only if you want to.

As parents, we would hope to shelter them from some of the hard facts that lurk under the glistening image of service. We would hope them spared the perils of our fallen brothers and sisters. We would hope a lot of things. In the end, we may take solace in knowing that we had supported a decision that they had made on their own — and that we had raised children who had the courage to do so.

Signed:

Timothy Morrell
Sebastian Bae
Christopher Evanson
Alex Horton
Thomas Gibbons-Neff
Peter Lucier
Brandon Willitts
Elizabeth O’Herrin

U.S. Department of Defense

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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