I speak from a place of bias, a place of personal experience, when I say that I believe the United States Armed Forces is one of the toughest military organizations in the world. We have some of the best tools, technologies, minds, and with a membership that is comprised entirely of volunteers, our commitment to service and freedom was, and still is, unwavering. There is no insurmountable challenge and the demonstrations of physical and mental toughness take place daily. There is no room for the weak. There is no room for the soft. It is an environment that requires honor, courage, and a dedication that most people who have never served could ever fully understand. That does not mean that empathy and compassion don’t have their place.
Empathy and compassion are essential to military operations. I look around all the time and overhear people expressing beliefs insinuating the thought that members of the armed forces are cold, heartless, village razing, baby killing monsters. Whether they outright say the words or imply that the military engages in unethical or immoral behavior as a way of life, it is a sentiment that seems to be picking up a lot of steam in society. The military faces a lot of generalizations based on the actions of a few bad apples, yet other groups will protest or riot if similar general assertions are made about their group, again, based on a few bad apples. It is unreasonable to formulate these assumptions since circumstances are constantly changing, and no one can possibly understand an environment they are not a part of.
Believe it or not, service members are people too. They have lives that, while committed to the armed forces, do possess aspects of their lives that exist beyond the military. We have friends and families, interests and hobbies, likes and dislikes, and the list continues. We go through intensive training to handle high stress situations but that training, and our experiences do not completely dull all the physical or mental characteristics that make us people too. We experience pain, sadness, disappointment, loss, grief, and there is no amount of training that could ever completely rid us of these experiences. Just because we wear a uniform and are trained to operate in environments of war and combat doesn’t mean we all chose to divorce ourselves from the things that make us human.
It wasn’t a part of the training program, but I learned one of the most important lessons of my life during basic military training. Everyone cries at some point. Even the hardest, toughest, and most emotionally distant individual has something that could bring a tear to their eyes under the right circumstances. Before enlisting, I never thought that would be the case. I thought we were going to be turned into weapons of war. I thought all emotion, discomfort, and fear would be trained out of us by the end of basic training and anyone still having these traits would be put through the training again, until it was all gone. I learned that was never the point. We were trained to follow orders, always conduct ourselves in a professional manner reflecting honor towards our name and service, and to keep calm in the face of adversity. Most importantly, we were taught to care and to never give up, no matter what.