10 September 2021, Ventura County
As our military dominance in the Middle East fades away, and China takes over Bagram Air Force Base in a quest to become THE dominant force in the region, I can’t help but ask myself.
Was the last 20 years worth it?
I’ll answer that question for me by reflecting on what I lost from being in the military. I gained knowledge. I gained experience. I was trained to fix things and build things that I incorporated into life after my military experience. I would have not been able to learn these fields in two lifetimes without the military. I learned the preciousness of life, and how quickly and easily life can end. I learned how quickly the loss of life can be forgotten. Sometimes in one news cycle.
Choosing to serve in the military is noble and honorable. A personal decision each citizen makes that can be for great reasons or selfish reasons. It’s the nature of an all volunteer military. Regardless, you become a member of a team, a group. You are expected to train and be ready to give your life in the execution of your training. A sense of mortality doesn’t arise for most in the military, or the loss of time while protecting our Nation, until danger is in your face.
I left the military before retirement. I felt the Grim Reaper’s presence more than I felt my purpose in the military was making a contribution that overwhelmed that feeling. Aside from PTSD, I have no lasting wounds from my experience in the military. I count that to be a very lucky fact.
What I lost was time. While everyday Americans are having children, buying houses, establishing businesses and attending college, military folks are keeping them safe to do all those things, and grasping for their American Dream as a hobby on the side. A pastime. Something far less important than the mission, or National Security. At least, at the time far less important. When I reflect now on all the days and years spent on deployment, flights all over the World for one reason or another, I think about all that I could have done that was lost because the time to do it escaped. It’s not only military members who share the burden of lost time. Spouses, children and friends follow you as best they can, but you aren’t there to help, you aren’t there to be physically supportive. It takes a special person to love and commit to a person who makes their work away from home. It takes a unique spouse who updates wills and checks input on Emergency Locator cards on a loved one who may not come home when they leave that next time. The clock is ticking for them as well.
If there was any advice I would give to a person standing in front of me about whether to sign up for military service, I would say to use the benefits offered, and keep on track with your promotions, should you decide to enlist. Don’t let time tick away at the years, without taking advantage of online correspondence college credits that can be earned wherever you are, and are a healthy distraction to whatever is your duty station. If you can’t be promoted in rank for any reason, seriously consider getting out of the service. Every year you spend in the military after you have been passed over for an increase in rank(and pay) is a year you are getting farther behind your peers in the private sector. There are plenty of ways to express your patriotism as a regular civilian without giving up your future.
You may think I’ve come to the conclusion the last 20 years weren’t worth it. But to be honest, I’m not sure yet. I can’t decide. I have this melancholy sense of dread that grows from an unknown future. I see a Taliban force that is stronger than they were 20 years ago, holding ceremonies to mold Afghanistan in the image of Sharia Law on September 11, 2021. A giant, intentional eraser of the past 20 years. When asked by the media if they will allow women to have a place of ownership in their society, the Taliban mocked the United States for claiming we have Freedom of Speech and Freedom to Assemble, and have no business acting superior to them.
Are they wrong?
So each American has to take stock of how they are doing, 20 years after the Towers came down, and take stock of how life is going for you. If all is well, and the future is filled with hope and opportunities, that’s great. Look around you, and make sure everyone else is also doing well. Find someone to help, not with your money but with your time. It is the most precious commodity we have, and one we can never get back. Making the effort to help others with your time and physical presence is the greatest gift you have to offer.
Chris Bailey is a reporter-at-large of citizensjournal.us, a business owner, military veteran and longtime resident of Camarillo