A Different Kind of Navy
Today I received an e-mail forwarded by a retired Navy Chief and actually a dear friend of my family. However the e-mail was so insulting to the present generation of sailors that I sent a very blunt response back to him and everyone in else by replying to all recipients.
As readers of this site know I constantly go out of my way to make sure that the sacrifices of the previous generations of military personnel are recognized, honored and not forgotten. In fact I am not alone in this, many like me have been touched by these veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Desert Shield and Storm and the Balkans and honor their service in thought word and deed. In fact I and thousands like me are deeply appreciative of the service and sacrifice of those who have gone before us. However with the exception of the Vietnam vets I don’t think that this honor and appreciation is shown much to the current generation.
We have been at war coming up on 9 years. This is nearly three times as long as the US involvement in World War II and will certainly go well beyond that. Unlike that war where the whole nation was mobilized and millions of men and women served in all components of the armed forces all over the world in the current war only a tiny minority of the population has served. In fact if you look around the country we are a nation that doesn’t even act like we are at war unless it benefits someone’s political agenda. While various individuals and organizations, especially professional sports take time to publicly acknowledge the service of the current generation for most people the war is something abstract that really doesn’t affect them or change how they live in any appreciable manner.
What is even more insulting is getting e-mail and hearing some of the older generation demean those who serve now, while saying “Support our Troops” they then spread horse manure like this:
Then – If you smoked, you had an ashtray on your desk.
Now – If you smoke, you get sent outside and treated like a leper, if you’re lucky.
Then – Mail took weeks to come to the ship.
Now – Every time you get near land, there’s a mob topside to see if their cell phones work.
Then – If you left the ship it was in Blues or Whites, even in home port.
Now – The only time you wear Blues or Whites is for ceremonies..
Then – You wore bell-bottoms everywhere on the ship.
Now – Bell-bottoms are gone and 14 year-old girls wear them everywhere.
Then – You wore a Dixie cup all day, with every uniform.
Now – It’s not required and you have a choice of different hats..
Then – If you said “damn,” people knew you were annoyed and avoided you.
Now – If you say “damn” you’d better be talking about a hydroelectric plant.
Then -The Ships Office Yeoman had a typewriter on his desk for doing daily reports.
Now – Everyone has a computer with Internet access and they wonder why no work is getting done.
Then – We painted pictures of pretty girls on airplanes to remind us of home.
Now – We put the real thing in the cockpit.
Then – Your girlfriend was at home, praying you would return alive.
Now – She is on the same ship, praying your condom worked.
Then – If you got drunk off duty, your buddies would take you back to the ship so you could sleep it off.
Now – If you get drunk off duty, they slap you in rehab and ruin your career.
Then – Canteens were made out of steel and you could heat coffee or hot chocolate in them.
Now – Canteens are made of plastic, you can’t heat them because they’ll melt, and anything inside always tastes like plastic.
Then – Our top officers were professional sailors first. They commanded respect.
Now – Our top officers are politicians first. They beg not to be given a wedgie.
Then – They collected enemy intelligence and analyzed it.
Now – They collect our pee and analyze it.
Then – If you didn’t act right, they’d put you on extra duty until you straightened up.
Now – If you don’t act right, they start a paper trail that follows you forever.
Then – Medals were awarded to heroes who saved lives at the risk of their own.
Now – Medals are awarded to people who show up for work most of the time.
Then – You slept in a barracks, like a soldier.
Now – You sleep in a dormitory, like a college kid.
Then – You ate in a Mess Hall or Galley. It was free and you could have all the food you wanted.
Now – You eat in a Dining Facility. Every slice of bread or pat of butter costs, and you can only have one.
Then – If you wanted to relax, you went to the Rec Center, played pool, smoked and drank beer.
Now – You go to the Community Center and can still play pool, maybe.
Then – If you wanted a quarter beer and conversation, you could go to the Chief’s or Officers’ Club.
Now – The beer will cost you three dollars and someone is watching to see how much you drink.
Then – The Exchange had bargains for sailors who didn’t make much money.
Now – You can get better merchandise and cheaper at Wal-Mart.
Then – If an Admiral wanted to make a presentation, he scribbled down some notes and a YN3 spent an hour preparing a bunch of charts.
Now – The Admiral has his entire staff spending days preparing a PowerPoint presentation.
Then – We called the enemy things like “Commie Bastards” and “Reds” because we didn’t like them.
Now – We call the enemy things like “Opposing Forces” and “Aggressors” or “Insurgents” so we won’t offend them.
Then – We declared victory when the enemy was dead and all his things were broken.
Now – We declare victory when the enemy says he is sorry and won’t do it again.
Then – A commander would put his butt on the line to protect his people.
Now – A commander will put his people on the line to protect his butt.
“IN GOD WE TRUST”
Now there are some elements of truth in the e-mail there is also a lot of fiction and patent falsehoods which are cobbled together to insult and put down those who serve now. Maybe this is done because a lot of the “greatest generation” never got into combat, maybe they resent the changes in society and culture, and maybe the only paradigm of war that they know is World War Two and the Cold War. In fact if you look at history the Vietnam vets didn’t get the support or respect of the World War II generation.
I don’t want to sound like an ass or ungrateful but my generation has honored and respected those that have gone before us as “the greatest generation” while some who served in that war and during the 1950s and early 1960s run us down. In fact I imagine that this was written by someone who did little but sit on their ass and complain when they were in the Navy and pretty sure that they didn’t serve in World War II, or see anything more than a hostile coast when they served.
Maybe I should re-write this in this manner, of course just like what was in the e-mail above it is filled with half-truths, it makes the point of what it feels like to have your service made light of by another generation. Please know that I write this not to put down those who served before us but to show that such ad hominem attacks can go both directions, so let’s try it:
Then: Physical fitness meant if you got to fat you purchased a new uniform to waddle down a passage way.
Now: Physical Fitness standards are such that if you don’t stay in good physical condition and stay within weight standards that your career will be over.
Then: Physical abuse of sailors and hazing was acceptable and even encouraged.
Now: We don’t tolerate assault and battery.
Then: If you didn’t smoke you were forced to inhale the smoke of others in cramped and poorly ventilated spaces ensuring that you had an equal opportunity at sharing in the joys of lung cancer.
Now: If you don’t smoke you can breathe in peace and if you do smoke you still can just not whenever and wherever you want.
Then: Senior leaders both officer and enlisted who did criminal things were quietly removed and allowed to continue in service or retire as if nothing happened.
Now: Senior leaders, especially Commanding Officers and Command Master Chiefs are held to a higher standard and when relieved for cause it is public and the offense is not swept under the rug.
Then: Only a minority of sailors were married.
Now: The majority are married.
Then: Intelligence collection was pretty straight forward; you monitored Soviet communications and movements.
Now: The bad guys use a multitude of means to communicate that were undreamed of in years past.
Then: Drug abuse was not a big problem in society at large and there was little need to test for them.
Now: The proliferation of drugs throughout society presents risks to our sailors, our security and mission that it is necessary to test for them.
Then: Women had little opportunity in the service and were regulated to support jobs.
Now: Women serve honorably in almost every Navy community at sea, in the air or ashore.
Then: Racial prejudice was pervasive and individual and institutional racism tolerated.
Now: For the most part racism is a thing of the past and sailors of all races have the opportunity not only to serve but to rise to the highest ranks.
Then: Being drunk on duty was okay if your Chief or Divo liked you and your buddies covered it up.
Now: Being drunk on duty is recognized for what it is, endangerment of your shipmates and the mission.
Then: Going on deployment meant being on a ship with regular deployment schedules and plenty for port calls and being on shore duty meant just that.
Now: Sailors can be deployed at a moment’s notice from shore assignments and rotate from deployment to deployment to deployment with little time in between and up serving with boots on the ground where people are trying to kill you.
Then: Pay was low but since you weren’t married and lived on ship or the barracks you had plenty of disposable income.
Now: Pay is better but since you are married you have to support them and subject them to the uncertain life of being a sailor at war.
Then: Pay and benefits were so low that many in the civilian world believed that “only losers joined the military.”
Now: Pay and benefits are better so we get so of the best professionals in their fields.
Then: Medical care for life was a given and you never paid out of pocket for it for you or your family.
Now: Even with the most affordable health coverage sailors pay something out of pocket for their family’s medical care and sometimes their own.
Then: Navy housing was usually old, dilapidated and substandard and Navy families frequently lived in worse conditions than civilians lived in.
Now: Navy housing is being built to comparable standards of homes and apartments in the civilian community.
Then: There was no “Wal-Mart” or any other discount stores so the Exchange was your best option.
Now: Competition in the civilian world often makes the Exchange less attractive an option.
Then: The Navy was stingy with awards figuring that your paycheck was your award.
Now: Hard work deployed and non-deployed is better recognized and no sailors don’t get personal awards for showing up to work on time.
Then: War was different, we fought actual countries and professional militaries who played by the rules.
Now: War is fought against shadowy groups that use terrorism and other asymmetric means to fight and have no government to end the war and do not follow the rules of conventional warfare.
Then: Education was not encouraged.
Now: Education both military and civilian is encouraged to make better sailors.
Then: A sailor’s only interactions with Soldiers, Airmen or Marines were at bar fights.
Now: Now we serve alongside Soldiers, Marines and Airmen on small isolated outposts in dangerous combat zones.
Need I go on?
Now I am not saying any of this to demean or put down those who served before this generation. However I put it out here to show just how insulting the referenced e-mail was. My gut reaction is that people who put out stuff like this didn’t do much in their own career and maybe were embarrassed by others of their generation who did. Perhaps the only way they can value their service is to put down others. If so they are a pitiful and bitter bunch. Now as I said up front there are plenty of veterans from past wars who honor us who serve today, however the vocal minority who put out crap like this need to be called on it. If you see such e-mails please register your objection to them by replying to all and maybe, just maybe this will stop. If you want past my “then and now” into your e-mail to throw it back at them.
Finally as always I thank all who served before us, men and women, especially the Korea and Vietnam vets who had their service ignored or put down by fellow vets as well as society in general. I do not want their service to be forgotten or dishonored and if anyone interprets this essay in that manner they have missed my point entirely. But moreover I want to thank the new “greatest generation” who though small in number volunteer to serve knowing that they will see action likely in a ground combat zone serving alongside Soldiers, Marines and Airmen in places that would have been impossible for previous generations to imagine serving. It is us, we few, we happy few who fight together that hold the line, not the pundits, not the politicians and not those who sit back under the protection that we provide demean our service and criticize how we do that job. Such people can kiss my ass, otherwise they can sign up, pick up a weapon, put on a pack or shut the hell up.