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Why Risk the Ultimate Sacrifice?

The main story in our first Scuttlebutt episode centers around: Who Serves? To answer that question, we narrow our focus through two lenses: geographically and demographically. I highly recommend listening to our findings or you can watching the episode on YouTube.

This week we are taking a closer look at the people who serve and asking the question: why would a civilian risk making the ultimate sacrifice by joining the military? As a non-veteran, I admit that the military was never a part of the conversation as I researched possible careers. I received calls from recruiters but my knowledge of the modern military was limited by the historical facts presented in my American History class and I never gave it a serious thought. It’s one of the reasons I am so enamored with the answers I get when asking a veteran why they chose to serve. 

Depending on the era in which a veteran served, you can get a range of insightful answers. From veterans who served before 1973, you may hear that they were drafted or conscripted into the military. I can’t imagine a more nerve wracking letter to receive. My government is ordering me to put my life on hold and risk life and limb by going to war. The lives of those brave enough to answer the call were never the same and amazingly enough, many of those draftees look back favorably on their service and the skills they acquired. 

Once the draft ended though, the decision to enlist fell to our brave young men and women. My thoughts on the current debate over our all-volunteer force aside, (one that I will come back to in a future blog post) I’ve noticed that this decision is an incredibly personal one and is life-altering to say the least. 

Some look at the military as a chance for adventure. A means to escape their hometowns and see the world. There are some who have a warrior mentality. They wanted to go to war and experience the battlefield. Family military history plays a huge role in one’s decision to enlist: an uncle who served in Korea, a grandfather who fought bravely in WWII. Some idolize the hero’s journey. Seeing themselves in the role of commander from a war film they experienced in their youth. Some have something to prove to themselves. Enlisting to tackle the ultimate physical, emotional, and mental challenge. Still others seek the specialized training of the military as a means to advance their careers and gain invaluable skills for a life in the civilian workforce. Many will “stay in” and make a career out of the military, gaining in rank and ability until they have the opportunity to retire. I am reminded of one amazing reason I heard from a Vietnam vet – The other guys from his neighborhood were joining and he was no better than them so he felt a responsibility to enlist. Astounding! Whatever the reason, our veterans have sworn to protect our rights and freedoms and their patriotism is inspiring! 

Do yourself a favor, the next time you speak with a veteran (or a member of our active duty force), ask them why they chose to serve and simply listen. It’s one of the most important things we can do.

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