As a veteran, and certainly not a hero of any kind, I am increasingly frustrated by the complete lack of understanding of military life by people who never served but who profess to honor it. Apart from the obvious (if you think so highly of it, why don’t you join?), there is the near deification of soldiers, regardless of what they have or haven’t done. Heroism is, by definition, a rare thing; to me, calling everyone a hero erodes the accomplishments of the true heroes, of which there are but few. “Beyond the call of duty” means just that. You don’t get to be a hero by doing your duty, however dangerous and however rare such a thing has become these days, when few even acknowledge that it exists. Never mind that the military has the same percentage of scoundrels and backstabbers as the rest of the population.
But enough preaching. Here’s a little story about the military which I think hints at the real nature of soldiers everywhere.
Years ago, when Fort Benjamin Harrison was still a functioning military post, I happened to be passing through Indianapolis and stayed at a motel on the Eastern outskirts of the town. It was one of those places that offered a free “continental” breakfast: cheap, sugary puffers the like of which the continent has never seen. But there was a small group of National Guard soldiers staying there, on their way to weekend training, and soldiers never pass up free food. They filled the breakfast area while I was swilling down bad coffee the next morning.
At one point, a young woman stood up and introduced herself as Sergeant Johnson, their guide to Fort Harrison, since apparently most of them had never been there. In a typical crisp military vernacular, she proceeded to delineate a long and complex series of instructions on how to get there, complete with road intersections, traffic lights, and, in one case, UTM coordinates. As she finished and sat down, a young lieutenant near me turned to his companion, an old, grizzled sergeant.
“You get that?” he asked, in his best command voice.
Yes sir,” the sergeant replied, “Follow Sergeant Johnson.”