Readers Respond to Milloy on the Military
In his latest column, Courtland Milloy shared feedback he received from readers on the question of how to handle a child's question about whether to join the military. (The feedback came in response to his March 11 column, "A Worried Dad Ponders a Tempting Offer and the Ultimate Sacrifice."
In this post, we share more of the reader feedback Milloy received.
My husband could have written your column today. It was last August, a week before our only child was to return to Lane College, when we found a well-typed letter in our bedroom informing us of his decision to join the Marine Corps. Unlike your son, who is only 19, ours is 27 years old. He feels quite justified, as a young adult, to spring stuff on us at a moment's notice... like his life-altering decision of joining the Marines.
He must have known that we could handle this news much better in a letter. He said all the right things, and his commitment to join seemed clear: "With our nation at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, I am fully aware of the tremendous risk and seriousness that accompany my decision. I will use the next several months to prepare myself mentally and physically and I will pray that God will equip me with the mettle which is required of a United States Marine."
Well, this led us to have that chat that you are preparing to have with your son. Julian respectfully listened to us as we pointed out mostly the cons of his decision, and he reciprocated with all the pros. He had done his homework, and the Marine recruiters had obviously done theirs. As parents, we were even willing to compromise: "Why not finish college first, then go into the Marines as an officer?" We swallowed hard after this discussion with our son, realizing that his mind was made up. He had tried college -- two, in fact, since graduating high school, and neither clicked. We know now he was doing this to appease his parents (both of whom graduated in four years -- why can't he????) and not because he was convinced that college was the right choice for him. He sees the benefits of an education, but believes there is more than one way to attain it.
So, come April 10th, after 12 weeks of rigorous boot camp in Parris Island, SC, we are bound for another kind of graduation -- one where we'll see our son in a uniform instead of a black cap and gown. He will commit four years of his life to the military. I still get a lump in my throat when I think about it, and here come the tears! (Excuse me while I get a tissue.) But it is from pride that I cry and the belief that he will become all that he was meant to be. He will accomplish this on his own terms, not ours, and all that we ask is that he continue to trust God to get him there.
Before closing, I want to share one more thing with you. Like many young men his age, Julian opted to get a tattoo a few years back, unbeknownst to us. While we have braced ourselves for the likelihood of his bearing arms in Afghanistan, it gives us some consolation to recall the tattoo he chose to forever embrace on his upper arm: Philippians 4:13.
Linda Kemp, Reston
Before you sit down to have this discussion with your son, please take some time to visit the wounded at Walter Reed and Naval Medical. This will prepare you for the very real possibility that your son may one day find himself there. I speak as one who has spent considerable time visiting the wounded, including time helping one superb young Marine who lost both legs in Iraq.
Many years ago, I had this same conversation with my two sons when they graduated from college, but from a slightly different perspective. Having served as a naval officer in Vietnam, I felt that both of our sons owed their country a debt. We discussed it, but both chose not to go into the service. Many years later, with our entry into the ill-fated effort in Iraq, and the ever increasing wounded and dead from that war, I was so glad neither of our sons had taken my advice. I honor those who chose to serve in the military of our country.
I am proud of my own service. However, I would not want either of my sons serving in the present conflict in Iraq. If your son is adamant that he wants to serve, suggest that he finish college first and then go in as an officer who will look out for the men and women under his command. We will be out of Iraq by then and hopefully Afghanistan will have cooled down. In any event, good luck with your discussion. And if your son elects to join the military now, please thank him for serving our country at this difficult time.
Nick Glakas, Bethesda
As a child of a lower-middle class, second generation Italian/Irish immigrants, there were a lot of similarities between my father's situation and yours. We were poor and could really use the financial assistance. My Dad disliked that poorer people bared the brunt of defending and dying for our country. And lastly, he had three brothers that between them received four Purple Hearts for the Vietnam War.
My Dad tried to talk me out of joining the Navy. I did anyway. A few years before he died at the young age of 61, he told me that was the only "bad advice" he had ever given me (and then laughed). He told me had he known the positive effects of my decision, he would have encouraged me to join the Navy from the start.
Kevin Collins, Alexandria
As a former Navy wife of many years, I sent a husband off to war (Vietnam) and a son off to war (Desert Storm). When you talk about your son going into the service, all you talked about were the material things. There is so much more than that. The service teaches teamwork, makes you get along with others, introduces you to people from all over the US and all different walks of life. It teaches them independence, pride of one’s self and makes them stand tall. It makes them grow up.
My son was Navy, but was doing an exchange tour with the Marines when Desert Storm blew up. We had to cancel a major wedding and he was in the first group of Marines to go there. They walked through the mine fields and were the first US troops into Kuwait City. The biggest thing that my son talked about was how sad it was that the Iraqi Army was a bunch of kids who were starving. He mentioned that Kuwait City obviously had been a beautiful city prior to the needless destruction by the Iraqi’s. He talked about things that were destroyed that there was no need for. The hospitals and the equipment, the lamp poles in the streets etc.
What he spoke of were the people and he spoke of the whole thing with sympathy and sadness. I think that the Military also teaches you to be more empathetic, for you see all kinds of things that are not always very nice.
Jacqueline O. Mixson, Springfield
When my son was 16/17 he had a "pull" towards the military. Maybe it was due to all the Playstation shoot 'em up games. When the movie "Searching for Private Ryan" came out the two us sat down and watched the opening scene on the beaches of Normandy. When that scene was over I paused the movie and I said "that's what you could be getting into". He looked at me and said he was no longer interested in being in the military. Whew.
The net of all of this is one must understand what they need and want, understand the talents they have, know what they value, define what sort of man they want to be, and see life as a long term journey with various stops and experiences along the way.
For my children we started focusing on developing goals across all aspects of their lives -- personal, spiritual, financial, wants. Family, community, academic, social. By writing things down for some strange reason you get clearer and achieve things. It also keeps one focused and allows for better choice.
Thus, I strongly suggest you have your son read "The Three Boxes of Life" by Richard Bolles. He's the author of "What Color is your Parachute" and this was his first book.
Then I would go online and find out where you can get your son to take the Highland's Ability Battery test, which provides great insight into what sort of abilities are hard wired into the individual. Thus, it provides ideas for career that one may be suited for. With these tools and a notebook your son can start planning his life and put things into black and white and develop pros and cons. In a way it's like Milloy Inc and the strategic plan.
Terrance Moran, Fairfax Station
My heart is with you in helping your son through this decision. My son starts boot camp next month, after getting his bachelor's in history in December. Neither my husband or I had any military experience, and our son didn't confide his plans to us until it was nearly a done deal.
My sentiment is that it is a great plan for him, with the experience he will gain, and the opportunity to get further education at government expense, except for that tricky issue of fighting in two wars.
Best of luck to both of you.
Elizabeth Martin, Falls Church
I read your column today with particular interest since I have been there myself and my son, at 24, now plans to join the Army in the fall. You may remember some years back, you wrote a column about a young man from D.C. who flunked out of UDC and now was returning with a Masters from Harvard to teach at UDC. Buried in your article was a small paragraph which said he gave credit to his Army experience for turning his life around. It gave him focus and showed him how a results focused organization where "everyone was Green" could show him self discipline, planning, organization, etc.
Now -- I went in with a Masters and had been reasonably disciplined up to then -- married, Eagle Scout, always done well in school and on jobs, etc. But even at 26, I learned a lot about myself, teamwork, ethical behavior, and the satisfaction of being part of an organization that stood for something -- the protection of the nation. I suspect your son would have all these benefits, apart from any tuition and the like that he might get.
For the most part, despite some Abu Ghraib-type incidents, the vast majority of the U.S. military is focused on doing what is right and those who try hard are mentored, supported, encouraged and allowed to succeed. You can certainly see this with the likes of Colin Powell, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. and Jr., Chappie James and others. For every outstanding General Officer, there are hundreds of other officers and senior NCOs who work together for the common good.
Ken Davis, Alexandria (Colonel, U.S. Army, Ret.)
My son decided to take the ROTC route while a student at Duke University. He graduated in 2005 (with degrees in Biomedical Engineering and Chemistry) and chose the Marine option. He deployed for 6 months with a Marine Expeditionary Unit in 2007 aboard the USS Bataan, and then spent 7 months in Iraq last year. Other friends of his from Duke, Naval Academy, etc. have served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. My son is now stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC and is a 1st Lt, serving as a Company Commander, with 230 young charges.
Where else can you get that kind of responsibility so early in life?! I have been very impressed with the USMC’s leadership training, which incorporates required reading assignments, ensuring that young Marines know Marine history, American history and the history of war, and also grapple with ethical dilemmas before they are faced with them for real. My son’s USMC commitment will be completed in November. He plans to take the MCATs in Sept. and intends to apply to medical school. He may take the military option to avoid going into debt, and will then owe them sometime when he is finished with his schooling.
Military life is not perfect (we have heard our share of stories), but it certainly holds the possibility of great career and life training, while serving one’s country. It would be a great opportunity for your son to broaden his horizons. So, please don’t stand in his way; stand behind him. When you meet his comrades, you will be surprised that the stereotypes you may have about military members may not hold up.
Marie Ernst, Alexandria
My son has made a similar decision; he is in basic training in Georgia and is set to graduate on May 1 2009. The support of family has helped him in basic, he informs us in his all-too-infrequent letters. We are looking forward to his graduation. I know you respect generational wisdom so I will close with the advice on child rearing that my grandfather shared with me: “Love ‘em, feed ‘em, point ‘em, let ‘emgo.”
Patrick J. Cullen, Washington, D.C.
I was a reluctant warrior in Vietnam, but the decision was mine, and I am glad for the experience. Whatever your son decides, support his decision and be proud of what he does. The money you described may be a factor, but I’m certain that other motivations are more compelling in his decision-making process.
John McEvilly, McLean
I gather from your article that as your son considers joining the military you have thought of three factors to discuss with him: dollars, danger, and your opposition to certain conflicts.
I understand your concern about danger. Danger is real, but thank God there are people who serve society as soldiers, marines, seamen, airmen, coast guardsmen, policemen, firefighers, rescue helicopter pilots, water rescue experts, and demolitions experts. I salute them. I suggest you widen the scope of your discussion with your son.
Edward Wyse, Springfield
While I understand the mixed feelings you expressed about your son joining the military and your attitude towards the war in Iraq, I am surprised that you do not see the value of our troops being in Afghanistan.
In that country, there ARE people directly associated with 9/11 who ARE very focused on destroying our way of life and killing as many of us as possible. You may want to reevaluate you feelings about that particular conflict, because it is critically important to the well-being of our nation.
Keith Gamboa, Rockville
Don't know if you know this, but nowhere else in U.S. society are whites more likely to have an African-American boss than in the military. It's really striking to spend time on a military base and note the number of African-American officers and non-coms, and the degree of day-to-day, ordinary life integration that exists. It's truly something you don't see in the civilian world.
My work has taken me to bases, where I have met many, many solid, healthy, happy African American families. You might want to spend a day at Fort Belvoir or Andrews, and see the caliber of people in uniform today. They are self-disciplined, courteous, goal- and education-oriented, and motivated by a call to duty.
Lisa Hoffman, Washington, D.C.
Today my Developing Literacy class read your article from yesterday's paper regarding your son and your upcoming discussion with him on joining the military.This class is a group of primarily minority freshman students who require additional support and instruction in their reading and writing skills. I think many of them could relate to the ideas you shared in your column, especially the realities of African American youths as statistics.
I am writing to share that thanks to your article we had a lively discussion regarding military recruitment of teenagers, how parents are torn if their child(ren) wish to join the military and what the financial incentives mean in today's economy. The questions we started with included:
1) If you were a parent, what would you think about your child saying he or she wanted to join the military?
2) Think about the article and think about what the author is saying. What advice would you give the author about his conversation with his son this weekend?
Some of the comments captured from students included:
Thomas: "Stop worrying."
Ronald: "I'd say 'You're a grown man, I can't stop you.' Really listen to your son."
Telisa: "Don't let him go. Think about how you'll be worried about him every day of your life. Money is not that important, life is."
Shontay: "If I had a son I would not want him to join the military. However, I would think about what he wants for his future. At 19 I can't tell tell him what to do, because he's a grown man and he has to make his own choices. He should know what is best for him."
Javier: "Ask him if he really wants to go. Make sure it's what he wants and he's not doing it for peer pressure reasons."
Mariama: "I wouldn't want my child to go because there's a chance that he might not return."
Javier: "With the discipline instilled by the military, it will make him a man who makes better decisions. In the future he won't be affected by the things going on in D.C. and Price George's County that you describe."
Thomas: "The military is a stable job for 20 years, but a lot of job change and relocation."
Princess: "Is he ready to risk his life for other people?"
I guess I'm simply writing to say thank you for sharing your personal thoughts in your column which allowed me to actively engage my students. Often unwilling to share their thoughts, they not only wrote individual responses in their journals, but were also willing to share in the discussion. They had definite opinions on the topic. My students would like you to know they enjoyed the column.
Good luck with your talk this weekend with your son. As a parent of boys myself, I feel for you in this situation.
Carol Floto, South County Secondary School, Lorton
Last week I had a customer, about 30 years old, who identified himself as a sergeant in the Army. He has been on active duty for 6 years, and is pursuing a career in the military. He was back in the states for training, and then off to Europe. His feet hurt so bad he visited us to spend about $400 for a pair of orthotics, which would not be reimbursed by his employer. Probably a month's pay. Just imagine. I just feel good that i didn't charge full cost-I'm soft that way.
In any event, this young man told me that the issues he's most concerned about in the army were the increased crime and drug use among his contemporaries and the lowered standards for acceptance. My son is 29, and I'm not sure what my reaction would be if he decided to join. In any event, your son should be congratulated for even considering the military. Try not to lose too much sleep. His decision will be the correct one.
Frank Katz, Foot Solutions of Lake Norman, Cornelius, N.C.
Even if your son returns from war alive and with his limbs intact, he will never be the same again. Marine survival training is not just Boy Scouts for adults. They will train your son to become a killer. If your son stays home in Prince George's County, he will not be required to kill anyone as part of his job. If he is restless for adventure, he can serve in the Peace Corps. How much money is his soul worth?
Lisa Caprioglio, Takoma Park
I'm a mother of a Marine currently stationed in Iraq.
My son wasn't blessed with a desire to excel in school or go to college. He always dreamed of joining the military. He got the same song and dance from recruiters from both the Army and Marine Corps. Don't believe what they say about education. Your son won’t have time to educate himself while in the service because he will constantly be training and or waiting to go somewhere for more training.
Honestly if your son is choosing the service for financial reasons he shouldn't join. I'm sure there are great men and women out there serving for financial reasons but in my opinion the greatest are serving for the right reasons, to be a part of something meaningful in their heart.
I consider every day I can lay my head down at night without a knock on the door a blessing and I burst with pride at my son’s service.
Diane Murphy, Mesquite, Texas
Today my husband and I read your article "A Worried Dad....."
Surprised you don't know why our young men and women are in Iraq and Afghanistan. My husband was in the Pentagon on 9/11 and I was a Navy Nurse at the National Naval Medical Center. We know why we are there. There has not been another attack on our great nation since and we still enjoy more freedom than most people, thanks to our military and especially our veterans. Nobody wants war, but we still face an evil enemy who wants to murder us all just because we are Americans. We salute your son. Hopefully it's not all about the money and service to country is in there somewhere.
Paula Conroy, Alexandria
Permit me to give you my views. I am of the same generation as you are, but I am not of the anti-war generation. I wish we didn't have wars and I hate the idea of war and going to war.
I believe in the necessity to serve your country. I didn't "choose" to accept the laws I agreed with, nor evaded the laws and intent of the government, but served. I went into Kuwait the day we cleared the airport (Army Reservist), arriving and staying in the hell of oil well fires (for several months), folks pointing guns at me, mines and unexploded ordnance everywhere, etc. Later was deployed ot Germany and Sarajevo.
We, yes you too, live in the most wonderful country we could possibly be in. We have made more progress toward civil rights for both minorities by race and by gender than any other country has done. We have set the standard for the world.
Our generation has to continue to serve our nation and keep on making it better. We must impart that sacrifice to our children. They will be far better for it. They will have served and they will understand what it is to serve. They will understand what it is to be respected for what you do, not who you are. They will learn life's lessons quickly, mature, become self-reliant and productive.
Chuck Sadek, Fredericksburg
Today's column struck close to our home. My son is a junior in high school and has his sights set on attending West Point. He first expressed an interest at the age of 13.
When I told him we should wait and see what shape the world is in when he becomes 17, he replied, " You don't go in when everything is calm a peaceful, you go in when you're needed." I was stunned, proud, and terrified. At first I thought his interest in the military came from the glory of the video games he played. I was so wrong.
He put his heart and soul into his school work, attaining a 4.0 GPA while participating in two sports and taking multiple AP courses. He became captain of his JV wrestling team and this year, as a junior, was named co-captain of his varsity football team. Just the level of academics and leadership it takes to get into West Point. He was selected to participate in West Point's Summer Leadership Seminar at the academy, a highly selective competition.
His mother and I are again, proud and terrified. If he gets in, the education will be top-notch and the strain on our bank account lightened (we have another son finishing his junior year of college). We are from the anti-war generation also. We have heard from friends who have expressed some dissatisfaction with his decision and from others who are proud of him.
We don't know if he will achieve his goal, but we know that a country must have a military. And we believe it should be manned by the best and the brightest.
God bless our son.
Rick Giammaria, Lorton
I'm a retired officer of the U.S. Military myself, and my nephew asked me the same questions your son may very well ask you. Here's what I told him.
Serving your country as a member of the Armed Forces might be the most personally rewarding and life changing experience you will ever have. Those who have never served can never understand the life lessons you learn in an environment unlike any other you can find in the U.S.
In no other place can you learn leadership that really means something. The Army has plenty of managers, just like General Electric or Microsoft, but the Army has leaders aplenty so rare in other organizations because it has to. The lives of soldiers depend on them. Some are good, some are great, and some are so awful it pains me. An intelligent man learns the difference and becomes a wise man.
On the other hand, if the reason your son wants to serve is for the money, I beg you to talk him out of it. A soldier in it for the money is a mercenary. These soldiers are the ones who shirk, duck, and get people killed in combat. It's true that many who join for the money become great soldiers and even great leaders, but sadly many do not.
Marc Blanchard, Amissville, Va.
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