By Sgt. Joseph Gunderson
Recently, I have found myself having long conversations with civilians about the military. I am a full time student at a private university in Kansas and much of the faculty and student body has never even thought about joining the military. It isn’t anything strange; this is to be expected at such a small school and the fact that the military makes up less than 1% of the population of the country.
What is interesting is that many of them have only the movies to go off of when forming their view of what everyone does in the military. Sadly, making movies about productive supply sergeants and personnel clerks doesn’t really make people line up outside of the theaters. Many civilians, in my experience, have this idea in their head that every single member of the military is out on the battlefield, kicking in doors and getting shot at or blown up. Those of us who have spent any amount of time in the military knows that this is far from the reality of the military. Perhaps this is where recruiting takes the biggest hit.
I spoke to a professor of mine who is going through a point in her life where she is trying to make a transition from her current position to a new one. As she was looking through openings at different universities across the country to put in a packet for the position, I made a joke about how she should just go and commission in the Air Force or something.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved being in the Army, but I also know the kind of people that would be able to be successful in the Army and she is far more suited for the Air Force. She actually took the comment seriously. The money as an officer is more than she is making now. The opportunity for advancement is obviously there. The only real concern that she had was that she didn’t want to find herself in Iraq or Afghanistan in a year, getting shot at and blown up. I couldn’t help but to laugh.
I began to explain how the military is made up of many occupations that have almost nothing to do with direct combat. This was new information for her. As I began to name off occupations like public affairs, logistics, intelligence, and clerical her eyes went wide. I tried to break it down in the easiest way that I could by telling her that you can think of the military as a microcosm for the country.
We know that the military makes up less than 1 percent of the population in the United States and in almost an exact, similar fashion, those who work as combat arms occupations (such as infantry, tankers, and cavalry) make up about 1% of the military.
I went on to break down the military into the three categories that we all know and love: combat, combat-support, and support. I finished up by explaining that, if she chose a certain occupation, the chances of her being involved in direct combat were slim to none. I will follow that statement up by saying that I did tell her that there is always the possibility and that there are still non-combat service members that are injured or killed in combat.
This entire conversation made me wonder if this woman’s view of the military, where everyone is running around with fully automatic rifles, night vision goggles, going in under the cover of night and wrecking shop, is really what the rest of the country thinks is all that is done. They don’t know what goes on behind the scenes; they don’t know what goes into conducting a single mission long before the first HMMWV rolls out of the FOB. After this thought, I began to wonder if this is why many people don’t give military service a single thought.
Next, I wondered if this same idea is why we have so many guys, or gals, who leave the military honorably after serving in a support role and decide to go out and say that they were Delta Force Seal Special Ranger Snipers or whatever the kids are saying these days. Are all of the recent military movies that glorify only that small percentage to blame for these issues? When we really begin to think about it, if combat arms is such a small population within our military, just how small is the population that works as a member of these special groups? It is tiny.
I do not know what the remedy for this issue is. I do not think that there should be a ban on military movies glorifying heroism and bravery under fire, even if I do find that many of the movies are awful. What is there that can be done though? Is there any way that we can properly educate citizens on what makes up the military? How can we also get it through the minds of our people that get out after serving that there is no need to act like something that you were not?
The military takes all kinds. It is a giant machine that requires numerous moving parts. If one part fails, every cog in the machine grinds to a halt or, at a minimum, does not function nearly as well as it needs to.