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Thanks of a Grateful Nation – Not so Much!!

June 4, 2013

I wrote this for a civilian site – so excuse any explanations that seem redundant to us, ok?

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This weekend, the military community social media was buzzing with the new articles written by columnists for the Washington Post, the latest in a disturbing trend of articles about the military and military community. The first one, discussing benefits that supplement the low pay of most service members, concentrated on the commissary  that is on most military installations, and that make a huge difference in some areas, less so on other bases.  For some reason, the columnist sees this as over the top, pandering to an elite – or some such nonsense.  Another article compared military and civilian pay/benefits, including retirement; this particular article has some of us scratching our heads and wondering which LES  the author was looking at.    Some see these articles as the latest and most visible evidence of the new feeling the country has about us.   A new catchphrase – “check on all that ketchup”  from the Washington Post reporter’s indignity at seeing what he calls 15 types of ketchup **– is being bandied about with a wry twist of our figurative lip; the general consensus is that we are on the downslope of the up and down relationship the military has always had with the civilian population.

In a time of shrinking budgets, sequestration and recession, the American public has turned to the very group they have been celebrating with parades and flags; praising with effusive speeches and sticky sentimentality; for whom they have placed flags and bumper stickers on their precious vehicles.  Or should I say  “turned on that community”.

The articles “facts” about military pay and training have been countered beautifully in the article written for SpouseBuzz, the Military.com blog that is written by and for military family members, by Amy Bushatz.    As she says, the numbers Rajiv Chandrasekaran  gave don’t exactly add up – especially the pay figures.  Amy also points out that even to join the military means that you have to have certain attributes, not just walk in, sign up and walk in step!  Her question of “ if it is so good, and so easy, what aren’t YOU joining up”, is a great one, and one that some of us have used when responding to allegations of over pay and enlistees unable to make it on the outside.  The response is usually a mumble and change of subject!

The facts that are being massaged and trumpeted in articles that are popping up in various media outlets can be refuted; but what most of us were confused or angry about – as Amy again points out – is the tones, the snark, the anger at our community.  Many of us have been uncomfortable about the past overly positive and effusive (some say nauseating)   essays and speeches made about our community; the mythical attributes ascribed to us, the saccharine simplification of our lives as shown in Hallmark Channel movies. This about face, this veiled anger at us – the “you are a drain on the taxpayers” attitude – is all the more hurtful when you look around our community.  Coming right after Memorial Day when we remembered those who died in the service of their country, the slap in the face from these articles really resonated.

As an older member of the military family, I have seen the civilian world either put us up on pedestals and fling ticker tape on us, or spit on the uniforms and call us babykillers and jackbooted thugs.  The current climate of nickel and dime-ing our benefits, chipping away at the benefits promised to the service member when they put their hands up and swore an oath to protect and defend this country – is nothing new. BUT, coming after over a decade of wars, it is hard to swallow.  The very real sacrifices our service members and our families have endured over the past decade, the families that didn’t go to the mall like the other 99% of the civilian population, are being disregarded by the public that once declared “nothing is too good for you “.  The families who have gone to memorial services for the fallen time after time, who have survived deployment communications blackouts and waited for the knock on the door, who live at hospital bedsides, or who wonder who this stranger is who has come home – that isn’t made better by getting a discount at a store, or having a commissary or post exchange.

The truth – that prices are usually better at a local discount store unless you live overseas where prices are staggering and most military families wouldn’t be able to survive on their pay – is not the important fact here.  Most commenters I have seen have said “if it’s a choice between bullets and the PX, take the damned PX away”.  The attitude of the public that we are all a bunch of spoiled, lazy good for nothings – that is a lot harder to take.

We know that, as Babette Maxwell at Military Spouse Magazine said , the civilian population just doesn’t understand, and frankly, we are sick and tired of trying to explain the differences in our way of life.  Very few civilians have gone through what we have (I will put a caveat here, police and fire fighter families live this tension as well ).  Trying to explain what a communications blackout after “an incident” involving fatalities and severe injuries is like to someone who has never sat with a phone in their hand willing it to ring and running into a bathroom crying when the UPS man rings the door bell , would equate to a woman attempting to explain labor pains to a man.    Before any commenter says something like “you knew what you were getting into”… or “he volunteered” – please don’t.  Just don’t say it – because we have heard it all before.

We are waiting – waiting to hear the next attack on us. Will it be in print again – another ridiculous set of “facts and figures” by a newspaper reporter?  Are these articles being written as a response to the prevalent feeling by the civilian community, or are these reporters and commentators trying to guide and influence the attitudes of the civilians?  Is this another “us vs. them” simplification of facts, and an easy way for the media to help their audience understand hard facts?    Will it be another radio announcer talking about the terrifying aspect of hiring a veteran who just might snap and take out his entire job site because of PTS?  Will it be another cut to retirement benefits and healthcare benefits coming out of a Congressional committee?  Or will we listen to another relative speak dismissively of our service member or our community’s service?   I don’t know.  But I’m not looking forward to it, this level of anger and hurt isn’t good for my blood pressure.

** a friend went to the commissary on Ft. Belvoir today – the condiment aisle has 3 brands of ketchup, with 3 different sizes.  I may be a mathematical moron; but that’s not 15.

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