Reflections on Memorial Day

Memorial Day makes me uncomfortable. It is meant to be about those that died, but with them absent, people want to thank those that served. I never saw combat. Like many, I joined the military for personal reasons, not altruistic ones. (College money.) It was pre-9/11, and Bosnia was in the headlines. Defending freedom was a distant thought.

I enjoyed serving, and got every last benefit out of the deal. I suffered nothing. So to be thanked for my service...

Today I think of those who died. Not people like me...

Don't get me wrong, compared to my college bound friends maybe I suffered a little.  One definitely gives up some freedoms. Air Force "boot camp" was rough, all six weeks of it. (The Army does 10, and the Marines do 13.) I did learn some powerful lessons about dealing with physical pain. (Not necessarily a big deal if you haven't physically broken anything.) And I'm sure my wife has benefited from the lessons in cleaning and ironing.

I also caught the worst cold of my life during combat support operations. (sarcasm alert) It turned into walking pneumonia. We were in northern California directly supporting operations in Iraq. They had us in these not so mobile, mobile trailers full of computer equipment for analyzing intelligence. 105 outside. 45 inside. Not good for your health.

One of my friends from high school who was in the 101 Airborne pointed out that the more appropriate name for my service was the Chair Force. I couldn't disagree. The chair I was in, analyzing intelligence, purportedly retailed for $500. I did feel compelled to point out that we got paid roughly the same. While I returned to my one person air conditioned dorm room, he was often sharing a ten man tent, where temperatures could reach 100 degrees.

Did I mention that I earned a Bachelor's degree debt free? And that the military helped pay for parts of two graduate degrees?

Some have pointed out that this is a pretty good deal.  And it is, but consider the numbers.  An enlisted soldier or sailor with the rank of E2, one of the most common junior ranks, is paid a salary of $1716.90, plus a tax free housing and food allowance of $869.05, for a gross total of $2585.95 per month. At 50 hours a week, that is about $12.92 per hour, plus free healthcare and other incidental benefits, and the GI Bill.

That is a good deal for a kid fresh out of high school with no marketable skills.

On the other hand, is it sufficient for combat, worth risking life and limb over? (No. So you get an additional $225 per month combat pay.)

While plenty of poor kids do join for the money and the training absent other prospects, it seems like the fellas on Wall Street could spare a few more dollars--if in fact these soldiers give us the freedom to make as much money as the market will bear.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not really all that worked up about this, I am just sharing my perspective.  Ultimately, it is a day for those that died, not for people like me. I'm just saying I don't like standing at church to be recognized for example, and I think I'm not alone.

You have to want to join. I did and am grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded.   


Go in Peace

There is a tension in Christianity between on the one hand, living a holy life that abstains from sin, and on the other, participating in systems that seem necessary but give us pause. Being a part of our communities in ways that call into question the ideals of Christ. One's career is a common area this challenge surfaces.

On that topic, this passage caught my attention today.

In 2 Kings 5 the commander of the army of one of Israel's enemies, Namman, had a problem, leprosy--a disease that would surely kill him, and which alienated him from his community.

And yet, he hears about the power of God, from of all people, a young Israelite girl that had been carried away into slavery, likely by his army. Desperate, he dared to approach the people he abused, and asked for help.

The King of Israel was distraught, certain that his failure to heal Namman's disease would be a pretext for war. But then a lowly prophet stepped in.

Like all of us, Namman, an enemy of God, experienced the grace of God.

And then this is what caught my attention:

"But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”

“Go in peace,” Elisha said."