We consider ourselves winners rather than “losers” and “suckers.”2 Although I will admit that from the perspective of a man alleged to have inherited millions from his father, I might have looked like a loser in 1953. After one year at a Baptist college in Mississippi,3 I enlisted in the U. S. Army in May of 1953 as a Pvt E-1 during the hostilities of the Korean Conflict. Some months later (July 1953), while I was in Basic Training at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, military leaders signed a “cease-fire” order at Panmunjom. A few months later as the honor graduate of an Army Leadership School at Ft Lee, Virginia, I was given my choice of area of assignment. I chose the European Theater, where I served the rest of my initial three years of military obligation in Germany at Headquarters Southern Area Command (with five years reserve duty remaining to my enlistment). The rest of my class was assigned to the Far East Command (Korea). I returned from Europe in 1956 with the GI Bill in hand and a wife (now of 65 years), who was pregnant with our first child and we headed back to college. Supported by the GI Bill I completed college in 1958 (B. A.) and Theological Seminary in 1962 (B. D.) in California. While serving as pastor of First Baptist Church, Needles, California (1962-65), I applied for and received a direct commission from the President as a Reserve Commissioned Officer (Chaplain) on the 8th of September 1964. Why did I join the Army again? I wanted to serve my country—and besides I liked the professionalism and camaraderie of military life.
Volunteers who choose to continue their military service as soldiers in the active reserve force think of themselves as citizen-soldiers. They work in their civilian occupations or careers, but one weekend each month they put on the uniform and train in their MOS.4 At least two weeks every year they serve a tour of active duty working at the military job they trained to do. Citizen-soldiers are required to take additional time away from civilian jobs to go through military schools to qualify for promotion and retention in the service, which again takes them away from family and civilian jobs. In addition, they may also be called up to active duty for special tours anywhere in the world where the military needs their skills. They are paid commensurate with their rank and if they elect to continue this demanding schedule for at least 20 years, upon retirement they are paid a retirement stipend, receive medical coverage for life for them and their spouse, and all the other benefits that active duty soldiers receive. In the event of a national emergency, like the Roman farmer, Cincinnatus,5 they are subject to “activation” to serve wherever the military assigns them for the duration of the war or the duration of the emergency. I was activated for Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and served 7 months as a Colonel (Chaplain) in the Personnel Office of the Chief of Chaplains at the Pentagon (Washington), to which I was assigned as a Mobilization Designee in reserve status. This meant leaving my family and civilian occupation abruptly in the middle of the academic year. I was a tenured faculty member at Missouri State University, and the university had to cover my classes at the last moment. My salary and benefits at the university stopped and I and my family were completely dependent on the Army for salary and medical benefits. My service to the country came at the cost of a disruption to my academic career and to my family (I left behind a wife with a severely broken ankle). When hostilities began, I had no idea how long the war and separation from home would last.
Citizen-soldiers are members of the National Guard and the U. S. Military Reserve that serve as a ready reserve force for the U. S. Military in times of National emergency.6 To understand why they do it, Mr. Trump, one must first understand patriotism. I have found that career soldiers, both Regulars and Reserve, are motivated to choose a profession of arms out of a sense of patriotism; they continue patriotically serving their country from a sense of professionalism. Still don’t get it? Ask a soldier!
Chaplain (Colonel), USAR, retired
*This essay is one of those rare occasions where a current issue has motivated me to stray into politics. It has nothing to do with religion except that the author is a retired U. S. Army Chaplain with thirty years’ service.
2It has been confirmed by several different media outlets that President Trump referred to members of the military who are killed in the course of their service as “losers” and “suckers.” This is the article that started the flap: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/09/trump-americans-who-died-at-war-are-losers-and-suckers/615997/
3Since I had no financial resources to continue my education the next fall, I enlisted in the Army to secure the educational benefits of the GI Bill—an excellent choice for me.
4MOS, Military Occupational Specialty.
5Cincinnatus was a Roman patrician, statesman, and military leader of the early Roman Republic who was called from his plow to serve the Roman State. At the end of the crisis he returned to his plow.