Deciding that you want to join any branch of the armed forces is a big decision. People do it for a host of different reasons. Raising your right hand and swearing the oath are only the first step. Words are valuable, but it is our actions that determine that value. It doesn’t take any courage to raise your right hand and swear the oath. It takes courage to live by the oath and follow through. As a former member of the enlisted ranks, I encountered people with various philosophies, values, and reasons for joining. There are many noticeable differences between the way officers and enlisted members conducted themselves.
Respect is a currency. Not just in the military, but life. Things like honor, discipline, integrity, compassion, loyalty, service, and excellence all mean something, no matter your background. These are traits that we either practice, or not. There is no real middle ground. If you choose to practice these principles inconsistently, it only serves to make it clear to others, and yourself, whether you see it or not, that you are unreliable. The principles in which you choose to place value matter. This is how you live your life. It is also how others view you and determine where you fit within their world.
There is a value in earning things. A value that has no equal. It is important to treat others with respect, but that doesn’t mean they deserve it. When you enlist, you make a promise. You are pledging everything to a cause. Your reason for being there doesn’t matter as much as you might think until later. Basic training may not filter out everyone that doesn’t belong, but it usually can get some of the more extreme cases. Despite what people may think, most recruiters don’t typically lie. There might be some omissions or some sugar coating of the details, but anyone who reads enough of the paperwork you are signing has a basic understanding of what they are getting themselves into. Signing up is brave but following through is where the respect comes.
Respect doesn’t start when you graduate. It doesn’t actually have a standard starting point. It comes as people see who you really are and what you are made of. Do you have what it takes to do the right things at the right times? Are you capable of doing your job without endangering yourself or those around you? When it matters, are you the person people can count on during critical moments? These are the kinds of questions that words alone cannot answer. I served with people who embodied the heroes you see movies glorify and I have served with people I would consider the scum of the Earth. The dregs of society that do all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, this gets complex when dealing with officers.
Enlisted members hold little to no power when it comes to decision making. Members that are not as respected can be shrugged off, reassigned, transferred, or put on a duty or detail that keeps them busy and away from everyone else. The same cannot be said about officers. Different rules apply. I am not saying that all officers do not deserve respect. There are plenty of good apples in the officer corps. All I am saying is that respect is a much more complicated issue when dealing with them. Their rank and military regulations dictate that they get certain customs and courtesies that, on a personal level, have not been earned.
There are those who take advantage of this bureaucracy and put no effort into earning the respect because they feel their rank entitles them to it. Then there are some those that go above and beyond because they understand the difference between mandatory respect and earned respect. Believe it or not, there is a difference. It is noticeable in the units everyday functioning and efficiency. Service members that work for officers that earn respect will always outperform the units belonging to officers that rely on entitled respect. While these kinds of people are more specific to the military world, the civilian world is not exempt. Entitlement surrounds us. It is up to you as to when and how people earn your respect. It is also up to you as to how you issue yours. Distribute it wisely.