The following is a personal commentary
shared with the author for publication.
BOISE, Idaho - A few years back, I read a story about a woman who
spat in the face of a soldier at the airport. I don't know the
reason why. Maybe she hated war and saw all soldiers as a symbol of
When I travel in uniform, I wonder what I
might have done in that situation. Would I forget for a moment that
this woman was once a little girl, and hit her out of anger? Would I
wipe the spit off my face, turn my cheek and say, “Here. This one
too?" Or would I leave it there, shake the woman's hand and say,
“You're welcome,” with irony in my throat, the same way our flag
sings “You're welcome” any time a citizen decides to burn it?
Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence nowadays. So rare,
in fact, that it was reported in the first place. As they
say: Nobody writes a story about airplanes landing safely.
It's actually way more common for me to shake a stranger's
hand, thanking me for my service. It happens so often, I
don't even know how to respond without sounding repetitive
in my head.
But I don't serve because of thank yous.
They're nice and rewarding, but that's not what straps my
boots in the morning before work.
At 17, I wrote a
check to the U.S. government. The value? Somewhere between
unlimited hours of my time and the cost of my life. The MEPS
station called it a contract, and it was.
In return, I received the American dream. I've paid off my
college loans because of the Army. I've bought two houses thanks to
the VA. When I take either of my two boys to the emergency room, I
don't lose sleep at night wondering how we might pay for the medical
I knew these benefits lay ahead when I signed. But
that's not why I choose to serve today.
I serve because every
time I see a military member reunited with his family, my eyes well
up with tears. I serve because our military's strength is the only
reason wars haven't been fought on our soil in a century and a half.
I serve because others should never be forced to. Because it's a
choice nobody else should make again on our behalf.
very few jobs out there in which employees agree to giving their
life as a potential cost of doing business. Police and firefighters
are the first that come to mind. But I would place news reporters
and photojournalists covering global conflicts high on that list,
When an employer says, “In order to give you
this job, can we take your life?” it takes a certain kind of human
to say, “Yeah, sure. When can we start?”
Few make this
choice. A cost we are willing to pay. It doesn't matter whether
you're a military grunt or a field cook.
I've heard a story of a
Marine saxophone player who deployed, but the musical instrument
they gave him was a .50-cal on a turret, instead. And there came a
moment when he had to play it against a child who intended to kill
him and all his brothers in arms. The brass he blared played a
different song than the ones he learned in school. When that moment
came, there was little choice. The choice he had made when he signed
the original check was to play music for his country, but now he had
to take a life, or give his own.
I've actually heard (very
few) people say that because military members chose to serve, that
there's nothing special about what they do. There should be no
sympathy for the life they chose to live. As if all choices were
“Nobody forced them to sign. It's not like
they were drafted!”
No. My generation of Soldiers was not
drafted. But neither were you. And that's the point. One percent
wears the uniform so that 99 doesn't have to. We assume 100 percent
of the burden for whatever political decisions the rest of the
country decides to make. We're not fighting our own wars. We're
fighting yours for you.
But we serve so you can make America better: Through arts,
teaching, science, engineering, discovery, business, transportation,
social services - All of those matter. Every job we do matters. But
only some require life as a deposit that may or may not be
refundable to you at the end of your career.
I serve so that
you, too, can have your own American dream.
We chose so that
you might have a choice. We chose, so that you may continue to
choose. For the rest of your life. Even if our lives should expire
long before yours.
By U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret
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