Serving to Keep the Peace

A few years back, I remember hearing the following phrase shouted at my back: ¬†“You stupid, peace-loving hippie! You would think different if you had actually worn a uniform for even a year!” I happened to be at a protest on an overpass above interstate 35 in Denton, Texas. The protest was against the potential for military action being taken in Syria.

For the dude hollering at my back, I am sure I was an easy target. Slightly over-weight, long hair with the fading hairline, glasses _ I seem to be an aging hippie. Perhaps a back part of the hippie generation, but definitely of that ilk. I am not sure how he felt after he said it, and honestly I do not care one bit. For me, the words stung. It was like being slapped in the face, except instead of doing something wrong – I had done something right. That kind of stinging pain.

My JacketSince I didn’t want to get my denim jacket wet, I had taken it off and stowed it under some of the other folk’s gear that was there on the bridge. I pulled it on, and walked right past the guy who had just hollered at me.¬†“I did serve. What about you?” I muttered in his direction as I walked past.

My denim jacket is a testimony to my years in military service with the United States Air Force. My highest rank that I achieved, E-4 Sergeant (before the Air Force neutered the rank to that of Senior Airman) is on one sleeve. Scattered all over the jacket are the units I served in or with, including a few Major Command patches. I served, not necessarily with distinction and honor. At least not the “honor” that higher command deemed to be appropriate. But honor enough to have been loyal to the people I worked daily with.

Most people who wear or have worn a military uniform, understand the severity of their vow. We promise to protect the Constitution, while agreeing to be subject to punishment from a different statute¬†– the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In other words, to protect the Constitution, we swear to be bound by a different set of principles, and to hand over some of the freedoms and rights that our civilian counter-parts may enjoy. But its more than that, much more….

Military people don’t join to be able to go to battle. There are very few people who are itching to wage war against others that are in the military. When I worked in cryptography for B52s, my duty section Non-Commissioned Officer once told me: “We serve by being ready to fight. And by being ready to fight, we insure that we don’t fight. Our job is to keep the peace, not wage war. That belongs to the politicians.”

I didn’t wear the uniform to be patriotic. In fact, you would have a lot of trouble seeing “patriotism” in who I am. I don’t have an American flag in my yard. I have very few items that even have an American flag on them – and most of those items I inherited from my father, who was very deep into patriotism and flag-waving. My patriotism is a little different.

The patriotism I see today is something much closer to nationalism, which I could care less about. I care about this entire planet. Every corner of it. Regardless of who lives there or what national border declares it to be a part of. The Earth is where my patriotism sits.

Growing up, the biggest fear I had drilled into my brain was that of nuclear war. Everywhere you turned, there were movies about it – the rock songs were about it – the news stories discussed the possibility. All because two governments had to struggle against one another for political dominance in the world. And with that backdrop, I served. I served in a Command and Control Communications Center. The message traffic that I received and sent provided the orders that sent the giant war machine forward – or pulled it back from the brink. It was always on my mind whether I could actually release the message traffic that authorized a missile launch or a nuclear strike…but I always remembered. We are there to keep the peace, not make war. Perspective, young man.

I trained in battle scenarios. I carried an automatic assault rifle that I could probably still break down, and put back together in a pitch black room. I am not so sure that I am the steady shot that I used to be. But I can definitely use the weapon to my advantage if I had to. And yet, I own no rifle or handgun. I have a sword and two staves in my house for protection.

Thinking back to that cold, rainy day…as I walked past my “friend” on the bridge, I wish I had stopped and said it straight to his face. I really wish I could have seen the look on his face. But it was cold, and wet — I was tired and hungry — and I just wanted to go home. Besides what would a confrontation have served? To become a “my dick is bigger than your dick” argument? So that it could have turned into a pushing and shoving match where both of us visited the Denton City jail with matching assault charges? Naw, I was there to continue my watch, to stand up against a military action that I considered to be against the better good of United States foreign policy. I was there to be a patriot, and to remember my oath. To serve and protect the Constitution of the United States, against all aggressors – foreign and domestic.

That’s right. I was there to maintain the peace by raising my voice, rather than advocating for violent reaction against policy. Keeping the peace. Sayin’….

For those who are wearing, have worn, or are thinking of putting on a military uniform — here in the United States or whatever military defense force you are considering….I offer this piece of advice from Mark Knopfler….

But it’s written in the starlight
And every line in your palm
We are fools to make war
On our brothers in arms

The Fifth of July

So the Fourth of July has come and gone. I, for one, am glad to see it move along into the rear-view mirror. I hear a lot about how I lack for “patriotism” for my country. For the World Cup, I am rooting for Germany, and had been rooting New Zealand along. I barely paid attention to the US Men’s team. I do not fly an American flag in my yard, and I do not have a bumper sticker with an American flag on my car. Yet, I strapped on a United States Air Force uniform for eight years. I figure that counts for a lot more than waving a flag, sitting in a crowd near the lake while watching fireworks, or finding the nearest veteran to mouth the useless phrase “thank you for your service.” Yeah, I do hear about my “lack of patriotism” quite a bit – especially where in the ultra-conservative part of Texas.

Honestly, such criticism does not really bother me. Its nothing more than words – sometimes hateful and biting. I am an American citizen, and I do love the country I live in. Otherwise I would have moved elsewhere a long, long time ago. The fact that I do not adorn myself with the emblems and symbols of this country, nor partake in some of the gluttonous traditions that the majority of its citizenry do – well, that makes me no less an American than anyone else. I do not get into the rah-rah mode of cheering on this country in its endeavors. Considering the two “wars” that were fought in Iraq, and the veiled reasoning behind those wars…there are things that my country does that I do not agree with. Thankfully, I live in a country that allows me the freedom to dissension of such actions. But that’s merely politics, not the laws and freedoms that make this country great, in my eyes.

The world national flagsI am reminded, however, that its not the borders that make up a country that count nor the precise geographical location that I happen to be at, that matters. There are many, many other people on this planet that share in the larger ecosystem that I am a part of. Politically, geographically – I live in the United States, in the state of Texas, in Denton county, within the city limits of Corinth. But that does not make me greater than the street-sweeper that lives in a small village in a minor province in the western part of China. We both inhabit this ecosystem together. We are both citizens of this planet.

We are both governed by very different economic, social, and political systems. I am quite sure that his immediate ecosystem is far different from my own. Different vegetation, different animals, perhaps even very different soil and rocks – all native to where we both are – and yet as different as the two of us may be on a genetic scale. And yet, still all the same. All of us going through our daily rituals, varied as they may be, making our way through this world for survival.

Who knows? Perhaps, he and I are having very similar thoughts at the moment – about the manner in which we each connect to the immediate world around us; how our daily lives are small reflections of how we connect with the Gods (or don’t connect as the case may be). Or perhaps more likely, our thoughts are completely different. I am contemplating aspects of my own Personal Spirituality – he may be thinking something completely different. And yet we are the same. Each managing our separate lives through our varied daily routines. As Carl Sagan once noted – each made of the same “star stuff”.

I have blood relatives who take issue with the way I approach my “patriotism”. In many ways, I am an outcast in the family. I do not adhere to the hardcore, angry Christian values that most of my blood relatives hold to. Once, I was called a “disgrace to my uniform and service” by one particular cousin. He never served in the military in his career. My father, and two of his brothers did serve in the US military. In the next generation, only two of us have served. Myself, and my cousin’s sister. Its quite interesting that through this entire generation of the blood relatives, with the hardcore push of patriotism mixed deeply with angry Christian values – its the Pagan, and the Lesbian who bothered to put part of their lives on hold and serve in the military. I guarantee that there are no words of “thank you for your service” emanating from any part of the family for either of us. And yet, both of us are called out constantly concerning our “lack of patriotism”. Go figure.

No, I did not spend any part of the Fourth of July “celebrating” this country. Instead, I quietly continued on with my life, content in the knowledge that the freedoms that are a huge part of this country’s values, allows me to be the Pagan that I am – openly. And somewhat concerned that those same freedoms have allowed the citizenry of this country to fracture along political divides – calling one another names, speaking openly of how the current President is this or that, hurling insults and veiled threats across the wide, empty, binary expanse of the Internet. But honestly, you have to take the good with the bad…