Among the blessing that is about biggest in my inventory of them – aside from finishing out my final military tour in Texas, which I didn’t much like at the time, since it was third on my list of choices. Dammit, the personnel who dictated broadcaster assignments were supposed to turn themselves inside out, giving retiring broadcasting personnel their first choice of a final assignment location since they could then do things like buy a house and work up local connections to facilitate the post-retirement second career which the customary long stretches of overseas/remote duty tours usually didn’t allow an opportunity to do. It turned out for the best, although I certainly didn’t see it so at the time. The main thing is that not only am I now glad that I am retired and long past being recalled to active duty (like they couldn’t get enough military broadcaster talent that they have to recall a slightly overweight lady of certain age) but I am glad that Blondie is also long past recall. And that she didn’t sign up for Reserve duty, either.
There, I said it. I am glad both of us are no longer on active duty; and I am also glad that the handful of friends that I kept in touch with post-retirement are retired. The hints and portents which have emerged from the military machine over the last year or so do not give cause for assurance; a portion of the tippy-top echelons in the service being forced by convenient circumstance to retire at the top of their game is, I think the most obvious harbinger. God knows how many other of lesser rank, or long-experienced NCOs are also seeing the writing on the wall and walking away. Certainly note won’t be made in individual cases of the lower ranks. Military operations in Afghanistan appear to be going about as well as every other historical foreign military operation ever did – and I should like to point out here and now that I never really expected much else, even back in 2003. Keep the money flowing, and a couple of units of Special Forces to thump the obvious Talibunnies when they got too obstreperous, secure Kabul and some of the other population centers, and generally administer to the theater with a very light hand. Let the indigenes sort out their own salvation and keep them from damaging anyone else. Of course, our current administration, not known for any other political and international savvy than it needs to keep the Chicago political machine functioning, thought otherwise. Now there is a steady trickle of metal coffins coming back, to practically no notice in the news media than that in the hometowns of the deceased. (Anyone know if the current president has a private meeting with every family/next of kin to those killed in combat? The usual search engines are … unproductive of answers in this regard.)
Then of course, there is the one-two punch of allowing openly gay personnel to serve also openly and with every prospect of the same benefits and courtesies as the heterosexual, and the ever-green question of permitting women in direct, full-frontal infantry-style combat specialties. Both of these moves by the current administration were immensely popular among that portion of the civilian population which didn’t actually have to deal with realities on the ground as experienced by serving military. Believe me when I tell you this – it’s a great deal more complicated than it appears when discussed in the faculty lounge. Really-oh, truly-oh.
Allow a slightly overweight and defiantly non-combat-specialty retired career AF NCO to provide enlightenment. Firstly, at the grunt-level, my own service and specialty didn’t give a rip about what you did with your significant other in bed, as long as you weren’t doing it in the road, or on the base commander’s front lawn. No, really – we didn’t care all that much. Just – don’t demand rapturous approval of your life-style, which from my own personal observation and the best figures available, only involves about 2-3% of the general population. No, really – a dismayingly large proportion of the public thinks that a quarter to a third of the population are gay, but that’s because they are only so LOUD about it. I don’t know which percentage of that 2-3% are confrontational to the point of hysteria about demanding that the rest of us line up and clap like a gaggle of performing seals – but I suspect there are actually not many, and very few in the active and serving military.
No – some deep dark secret-revealing here; I am about 96% certain that the true reason that the military didn’t go out and embrace the rainbow agenda is that administratively, they barely had a lock on heterosexual harassment; mostly of males doing it to females, but now and again the other way around. It was about as much as they could do to keep the heteros from jumping each other and using upper rank to exploit the lower. The last thing that anyone in authority wanted to see was even more sexual harassment cases on their personal docket – or because the military is still a preponderantly male preserve – to see it turn into something like a state prison, only with snappy uniforms for all, not just the prison guards. A lot of military life is lived in confined quarters, and with a severely authoritarian structure in place. The scope for abuse of the lower-ranking is incredibly wide. Again – turning a large structure inside out and upside down for the benefit of a microscopically small but vocally outsized minority – only a community activist and former college lecturer could think it a good idea, or that there wouldn’t be problems down the line – including morale problems. More about the morale problems later.
As for women-in-combat; back in my day the Air Force was pretty ecumenical about it all. Because it was … the Air Force. Technical and brainy and all that stuff; no very great degree of upper body strength required for most of the AF specialties. After the Vietnam War (say from about the early 1980s), the only Air Force specialty confined to strictly XY Americans in good health and medical fitness for military service was that of para-rescue specialists, and if memory serves, of advance AC controllers and spotters. One required a great deal of upper body strength and a tolerance for dealing with dead bodies in variable states of decay, and the other with Special Forces-degree skills at humping a heavy pack through the brush while avoiding or dealing with hostiles who didn’t have your best interests at heart. Other wise, most of the Air Force military specialties could be performed as easily by women as men. Not so your basic grunt rifleman, although there have been women – especially Marine women who had the basic fitness, were taught the skills and could very well cope with incidental combat when it came their way. But full-time, all the time and round the clock for indefinite periods of time … er – no. This is not to downplay the courage and skills of women who have served as such in the most recent round of wars, especially those who performed heroically when the hot lead was flying; but they are a small percentage and self-selected. In the long run, about all that we can count on is that training standards will be loosened to accommodate women, the guys will resent the hell out of them, and very likely women will die … to prove a point upheld by academics and politicians who will never in a blue moon come anywhere closer to the military than a base open house.
I am also hearing rumblings regarding balancing the rights of atheists with regard to Christians in the military, and frankly I am a little perplexed at that. Looking backwards at my own career, it didn’t seem to me as if believing and practicing Christians of whatever denomination were a big enough percentage of the force to give anyone who wasn’t any kind of heartburn, even overseas. Anecdote is not data – but those of us in the habit of attending weekly services, or going as far as regular Bible study were pretty much in a minority, considered against the non-observant. Making a habit of proselytizing your peers was considered bad form – and frowned on, for one of higher rank to proselytizing those in lower ranks. I did know a couple of atheists or people who claimed to be, and there was one young man whom it was whispered, belonged to a Wiccan coven – which was no sweat off mine, since it meant that he had a social life after all. I suspect that it is the attitude of believing Christians with regard to gays that is driving the sudden upsurge of hostility to the openly devout.
These four things – the purge of the upper ranks, dropping of don’t ask-don’t tell, women in combat specialties, Afghanistan – are all affecting morale in the services, to one degree or another. Morale, in an individual or in a unit of any size, is a delicate thing; hard to build and easily destroyed. I’ve been in units which had good morale and a sense of mission, a leadership cadre whom we trusted and in turn trusted us. I’ve also been in units which didn’t have good morale, where we scraped by from day to day just hoping to escape being made a scapegoat for a leadership-created disaster. At those units, I counted the days until I rotated out. I expect there are a fair number of serving NCOs and officers now doing the same.