Sunday, June 12, 2011

Service and Self

troopsThere’s a piece posted on, originally broadcast on the Fox News Channel the other day, about a military father who’s facing foreclosure on his home (“Hero Faces Foreclosure”). The story begins with the words, “All he wants to do is welcome his son home from a tour of duty in Iraq.”

To be clear, there is nothing about his military son’s service, his experiences in Iraq, his financial contribution to his father’s domicile – nothing – that links his service to his father’s financial position. The story was clearly an attempt to leverage for sympathy the military tour of duty of the son of a guy who’s enduring a foreclosure experience he shares with thousands of other Americans.

The father has been fighting with his bank over his attempt to take advantage of the government’s home mortgage modification plan. Somehow, his son’s military service – which has no bearing on the issue – has become woven into the story.

For the benefit of those who might read this and not know, let me make a disclosure, lest they think I’m being cold-hearted about what I’m going to write here.

I retired from the Marine Corps after 24 years and served combat tours in four different conflicts. Both of my sons are Marines. The oldest has deployed overseas twice and his brother deploys in the fall. I understand what I’m going to write about as both, a service member and a father of service members.

With that out of the way, let me say that there is absolutely nothing about being the father of a deployed military person that should suggest your responsibility to meet your debt obligations are different from everyone else’s.

Let me take it a step further. Unless a military person’s deployment causes him or her to fail to meet an obligation, he or she shouldn’t expect to be excused from it. The military hierarchy itself expects its members to be financially responsible. When there are extenuating circumstances that arise beyond the service members’ control due to their service, the military hierarchy does a pretty good job of advocating for them, but it otherwise expects members to stand on their own feet and meet their obligations.

There are also a number of excellent laws in place to protect vulnerable military members such as the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act. While not perfect and complete, the government does a pretty good job of keeping deployed military people from being exploited.

I don’t care much for well-intended efforts in the media and among politicians to take up for military members when it wasn’t the military person’s service itself that caused the hardship. Doing so makes our military people seem whiny and inept, and the vast majority of them are not. It also has the potential to diminish the public’s perception of the military person’s ability to balance military duties with everyday civilian issues and challenges when the vast majority are more than capable of handling them.

I would advise military members and parents of military members who complain too much about not being appreciated at home that their complaints are really off target today. Today’s military members are not fighting the “Forgotten War” that our Korean War veterans fought, and they’re not being mistreated when they return home like many of our Vietnam veterans were. Americans have come a long way in that regard.

Especially considering today’s climate at home, I would also counsel military members and their parents that too many complaints about not being appreciated is unbecoming of a person who truly understands the nobility of service and sacrifice. Fussing too much about one’s service (and giving) tends to diminish the sense of good in what’s been done. Parents should also understand that complaining about their service member’s circumstances – whatever they are – detracts from the virtue of what their children have done.

Service is what it is, and it is valuable in and of itself whether it’s appreciated or not. The only things that can diminish the good in service are actions that make it cease to be selfless.