During the 2004 presidential election, John Kerry offended dozens of military families, both the enlisted men and their relatives, with a gaffe he said was directed at President George Bush. The candidate for president claimed that most American soldiers joined the military because they had no better options, that the economy made them do it. While that may be the case for some soldiers, the reality is that a great many soldiers join the military for more than just the help with school or the paycheck.
Especially after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the Pentagon and New York City, patriotism was a primary reason for joining the military as was the desire to see the world and serve their fellow man. Even for the soldiers that join the military for economic reasons, the service is more than just a paycheck and deserving of far better than the malicious words of an also-ran like Kerry. Jonson Mahathath is a United States Marine stationed at the Marine Recruiting Station in Louisville, KY.
Mahathath, 21, will be the first to admit his primary reason for joining the Marine Corps was the opportunity. “I grew up in the middle of Missouri where the economy is bad, really bad. I knew that if I wanted to get out of there and have a life of my own, the Corps was a way out,” he said (personal interview, May 12, 2008). But that is only half the story. Mahathath said that since joining the Corps he has developed a newfound respect for servicemen and himself. When you choose to be a Marine, you know that you are committing to being part of one of the finest fighting forces in the world.
You know the strength of character required to make it through boot and you know that a fellow Marine will never leave you behind. Try finding that kind of friendship and loyalty anywhere else,” he said. Indeed, after serving his first tour, Mahathath will likely reenlist, not because of the economy, but because of his dedication to the Corps. “This is a closer family than the one I was born into,” Mahathath said.
Some people join the military to pay for their education and then discover other reasons for their military service. Rebekkah Henderson Thomas is one of those people. Thomas joined the Army Reserves to pay for her college education, but when the soldiers around her were deployed for war duty, Henderson felt the call to action. “I felt like I was cheating, like I wasn’t a real soldier. Here were all these people I trained with, going off to war and I was still here. I needed to be deployed, to fulfill my commitment,” Thomas said (Gunnin 2008, p. 1).
Thomas could have served her entire commitment to the military without ever seeing combat, but her dedication to keeping her oath of service made her long for more. At the time she was deployed, Thomas left behind a two-year-old son and an ex-husband. Being away from her son will be difficult, but she gave her word and intends to keep it, she said (Gunnin 2008, p. 5). Airman Richard Burnell wrote in an Air Force Press Release that he joined the military for selfish reasons. “To be quite frank, my initial reason for joining the military was selfish.
I enlisted Aug. 15, 1985, because I was unsure what I wanted to do with my life. I believed the military would provide me a healthy environment in which to decide. ” (Burnell 2003). But the decision to join the military is not what made him a soldier, or in this case, an airman. “I became an airman because my squadron commander gave me responsibility that exceeded my confidence. He believed I was capable of things that I did not believe I could do. My desire to not let him down motivated me to accept the challenges he proposed. ” (Burnell 2003).
Essentially, he wrote, he joined the military to help him find a direction in life and the military not only provided it, it exceeded his wildest dreams. The reasons then why a person joins the military can be as wide and varied as the branches of the service, but to claim as Kerry did that people do it out of economic desperation is to underestimate the appeal and worth of the American military. Yes, it can be just a job to some people, but the old ad cliche is true as well, it’s more than just a job; it’s an adventure. It’s a family and a way of life.