Monday, November 11, 2013

What Service Means

Today's Veteran's Day, a holiday meant to celebrate those who have served their country in the military. As a veteran of the U.S. Navy, I wanted to share what serving meant to me back when I joined the military and what it means to me still. 

First and foremost, it was a chance to do something worthwhile, a chance to give back, not out of a lofty sense of patriotism, though I had plenty of that, but out of a sense of gratitude. I grew up dirt poor, my family surviving only because people who cared donated time, food, and clothing, and because of government programs such as Welfare, Food Stamps, and WIC. I never went hungry, but I knew that I could go hungry if any of those things were lost. So, as highschool graduation neared, I decided to give back in one of the few ways I knew how, military service.

Second, and I'll be honest here, there were very few prospects for me. I'd made excellent grades in highschool, assuming that some college out there would clamor to offer me a scholarship. But I discovered good grades aren't enough. In the end, I was accepted by both schools I wanted to attend, but I could afford neither one. As for finding a job, there were very few options, and I had little luck landing one. 

Third, I wanted to see the world. Yes, a bit cliche, but it's true. I figured I wouldn't get a chance otherwise. I wanted to visit different countries, see landmarks, meet interesting people and experience what the world had to offer. I figured the Navy would be most likely to satisfy my wanderlust. Turns out the only port I ever got to visit was Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, but hey, it was pretty nice down there.

Finally, I wanted to get out on my own and be my own person, make my own decisions, but I needed support to do so. What better way than to join the military. They take care of you financially, medically, and spiritually. They teach you how to manage your finances, to buy houses and cars, to do a trade. They provide opportunities for college and give you experience to back that education. They become a surrogate family. Cammaraderie and shared purpose link those who serve in a way that is difficult to describe. It's one of the things I miss most.

Overall, I am grateful for the opportunities that arose from my decision to serve in the military and for the knowledge that I did something important. I contributed to society in a way that many will never fully understand, though I'm still surprised with a thank you every once in a while when someone finds out. I earned two college degrees. I met and married my wonderful husband, and because of that my son was born. I landed an excellent job post-military, mostly because of the experience and education I received while serving. And, I am able to share my memories and experiences of that time in my writing. 

Of course, service wasn't always easy, and in many ways it was one of the most challenging times in my life. But I choose to remember and celebrate the positive outcomes and the things that made it worthwhile to me.

So, have a happy Veteran's Day. I encourage everyone to celebrate and support the veterans in your life, not just today, but every day. Each of us joined for different reasons; each of us experienced different things; and some of us sacrificed more than others. But we all made the decision to serve our country, and that is worth celebrating.