Maybe it’s just me but it sure sounded like a sense of entitlement. I was in Dallas waiting to catch my connection to Louisville, KY which is only a stones throw from Fort Knox and home to a Combat Brigade of the Big Red One. By the looks of the Army Strong patches worn by these two hooahs who now surrounded me and the other gate lice waiting to board the plane they were obviously not assigned to the 1st Division. And by the look of the gold recruiting badge on the uniform of the slick right-sleeve master sergeant and the rotund belly of his LTC companion I had my suspicion of where they were assigned. Maybe I looked like a friendly soul because they chose to stand next to me as each picked an opposite side to stand. I admit it was nice to watch as strangers would walk up to each of them and thank them for their service or shake their hand. For many Americans they seldom see a military person and they took advantage to thank a soldier for serving.
After that trip I will have accumulated almost 50,000 airline miles this year alone in what is called “butt-in-seat” miles, meaning I earned it the hard way by flying and not by using a credit card to rack up points. Luckily this airlines gives its high-mileage flyers perks and my discount airfare occasionally gets upgraded to 1st class and I won the upgrade lotto on this flight. Since we were about to board my ticket was out and I guess my now-buddy, the LTC, leaned over to me and stuck his ticket inside my 18-inches. He pointed to his seat 18D ticket and said something to the affect of “if I was to exchange tickets with him he would be able to ride up front instead of the back.” I just looked over at him and chuckled. Just as they began to board it became apparent this flight didn’t fill all the first class seats and the counter agent walked up to the soldiers and invited them to sit in first class. It’s obvious that traveling in uniform has its perks and I heard the LTC exclaim to his traveling “Oh yeah, I am going to have steak tonight.” He seemed more than please with his lot in life.
These real events were a bit more raw to me because two days earlier I was with a fellow retired senior noncommissioned officer who is working diligently in his field of transition assistance and we ended up speaking on what to me is this very topic. I was mid-sentence about another feature I felt was missing for soldiers when he shared his first-hand experience with departing service-members of all ranks and grades and of multiple services and how he was getting jaded. He self-admitted that he had a growing frustration with attitudes of soldiers who exhibited a sense of entitlement, and he had multiple examples to share. I stopped what I was saying and was trying to back-track and I was just about to jump in with my usual defense that our soldiers “deserve everything that our nation and its citizen could offer.” I recall arguing vehemently in the pre-9/11 era that our poorly compensated soldiers were at least deserving of a quality of life equal to the citizens that they protected. So when I heard those words from him I immediately pulled out my soapbox and starting climbing aboard. And then it hit me.
I am often vocal these days that our youth have lost their way. Whether it is helicopter parents or mindsets like “everyone gets a trophy,” to beliefs like “there are no losers” and “my kid would never do that” mentality which I think has caused a shift in personal responsibility or any liability for wrongdoing that has fast become a cancer in our society. So at that moment it hit me that it makes sense that the “whats in it for me” (WIIFM) attitude has entered the Army, I mean the military is a mere reflection of the society in we come from. I recall the renewed pride of their military by Americans after Desert Storm and the national promise not to allow our soldier to again be treated like soldiers once were in the aftermath of Vietnam. The way some Americans treated those veterans, many unwilling draftees who were often blamed for the real or perceived failures of civilian and military leadership, was embarrassing. It seems to me that ever since then the upward spiral of well-deserved adulation of our military began, the war in Iraq cemented it.
Actually, the idea of catch-up for previous shortages is not a new dilemma. I recall in the mid-90s talking with a senior MWR representative in Europe when she explained to me that every time a new unit would rotate in to Camp Able Sentry in Macedonia that the senior battalion leadership would start beating them up for bigger and better gym equipment and services. The reason I was calling them in the first place was because I was the RearD 1SG and my deployed Battalion staff tasked me to get them newer and better gym equipment. You see, I also subscribe to the belief that our soldiers deserve the best our nation has to offer them.
I struggle to reconcile this persuasive attitude with my own actions, the times I deployed and even during long field exercises I felt (and often was expected) that it was my responsibility to improve services and access for my soldiers. Whether it was gym, phones, email, chow, you name it, I wanted to make it better. I recall from the days of the sergeant E-5 board that the top five ways to affect soldiers moral was food, mail, billets, military justice and supply, but according to Chuck Holmes on Part Time Commander there are other things important to sustain high morale. I am not sure that I and an entire generation of military leaders who went from ensuring that their troops had the basic fundamentals of shoot-move-communicate to a well compensated and difficult to sustain formations that have appeared to have left a spoiled force in its wake.
Whether it is the tuition assistance fight, the health care fight, the reduced pay raise fight or the fill-in-the-blank fight, military benefits that have been on incredible highs these past 10 years and the natural downward trend at the conclusion of major hostilities, I can’t help feel that it is been the same since the Revolution. I do not want nor expect our leaders or those who serve to roll over and take the loss of every hard-won benefit, but I surely hope we don’t appear as spoiled children to those to whom we serve. I think of pay and benefits from when I first enlisted in 1981 to what they are today and I am grateful to the public that allowed that increase and growth. But I am sensitive to a weary nation and the belief that in many sectors military service benefits across the board far exceeds the same for the people they serve. My biggest concern is that those who receive that privilege not only have come to expect it, but that too many soldiers do so with an overly pompous and excessive attitude.
CSM (Ret.) Dan Elder