Back from a Memorial Day holiday, I was going to make a different post about the military, but then I realized I hadn’t made this one, which is a bit more foundational.
One of my aims with this blog is to discuss military life, mostly because as has been observed the military really only makes up about 1% of the United States population (a percentage that increases when you include family members, but still isn’t that great) and because until three and a half years ago I was part of the 99%. My great-grandfather was a West Point graduate who served in the Army Air Corps until he was medically discharged, and his son, my closest experience of the military, was drafted during the Korean War and ended up serving on the front lines as part of a mechanized artillery unit in the 3rd Infantry Division. (My grandpa on the other side was also in the Army for three years, but he spent it Stateside as an instructor.) Granddaddy’s relationship with the military is thus, I think, understandably complex, and mine was mostly nonexistent.
This was a bit ironic, given that my hometown has an Army base and large percentage of her population is employed in the “defense” industry. My senior year of high school I went for a scholarship interview down at Spring Hill college, the first question of which was “How do you reconcile Catholic teaching on war and defense with the industry in your hometown?”
I was completely thrown and stammered out something about how I disagreed with many of our nation’s tactics, but at the same time, these were my friends’ dads and they were good people providing for their family? My answer was about the same a couple of years later when a friend of mine asked how I dealt with the fact that my own dad works for one such company in the industry (with the added fact that my dad works very, very hard to stay on non-aggressive, anti-missile-not-people contracts). Little did I know it (and didn’t realize it until starting this post), but that answer is the underdeveloped version of my approach to being a military wife.
And so, here is how I understand the military. I’m not claiming to speak for everyone, and certainly not to speak in any kind of official capacity (heaven forbid), but given how much rhetoric is spent talking about “our troops” I think this is a useful, shall we say, critical apparatus for understanding just what, exactly, “our troops” are. Probably such a thing already exists, but lacking access to a university library, I’ve made do with my own terms.
The Macro Army is what people are usually talking about when they discuss “our troops.” This is the military arm of our government, beholden to its orders, off serving wherever they’re told to go. This is the group that’s “defending our freedom,” some sort of noble, self-sacrificing entity which the rest of us discuss with varying levels of understanding. This is also the group that’s engaged in wars many have decried as unjust, the group that’s supporting and performing operations like Guantanamo Bay and the drone strikes in Yemen (well, that’s the Air Force, but you get the idea). Patriots love it, pacifists can’t stand it, and politicians and other groups like to use it as currency. The macro Army is the feeling you have when someone on Facebook posts a picture of soldiers standing guard over a flag-draped coffin. It may be complicated, but it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with what the rest of the Army is doing.
The Micro Army is the term I use to describe the day-to-day Army, its individuals and workings. These are the officers and the enlisted, doing paperwork and cleaning their vehicles, fighting gate traffic at six in the morning or smugly tootling across post at six-twenty on their way to PT. This is where political babble about reducing sexual assault in the military is reduced to SHARP training, where a record of how many DUIs have been reported each week is displayed at the main gate, where eighteen-year-olds learn something akin to discipline or hang around for another nine years until sequestration hits and the radar notices they haven’t done anything with their careers. This is where battle buddies are developed, FRG drama goes down, and earnest lieutenants give safety briefs advising their soldiers to think not only of legal consequences, but their own ability to look at themselves in the mirror the next morning. It’s got its good points and its bad points, but it is people, not ideals or rhetoric; and most of these people exist somewhere between service and simply doing a job like any other.
“Okay, Jo,” you say, “that’s great, but what the heck is SHARP or FRG or the difference between enlisted and officers and what’s a ‘post’ I’ve always called them ‘bases’?”
Never fear, young Padawan, for I was once just like you, and over the course of our time together I promise I will explain all these things. My interest is more in explicating my experience of the Micro Army than in debating the Macro Army (as doing the latter will only get me in trouble). So stick around; there’s plenty more where this came from.