Hear me out.
Not so long ago I would have argued that joining the military is in no way a privilege. Not when they prey on the underprivileged to entice them into service, and not when most of our wars are fought not by those who decide we should fight them, but by the people already existing on the fringes. Love him or hate him, Michael Moore’s documentary showing recruiting in Flint, MI was pretty close to the mark. You literally sign your life and figuratively your soul away for anywhere from 2-6 years with one signature. You are no longer the captain of your fate. You, and in many cases your family, pack up and move where you are told, with minimal, if any, choice in the matter.
But recently on Facebook I engaged in a discussion that became very heated over Health Care Reform, where a friend of mine insisted that she was not privileged because she made choices in her life that led to her having a stable job and insurance, and that she doesn’t believe that we should just hand out health care when she has had to work for hers. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that just how much privilege is involved in being able to sign that contract in blood.
It should have occurred to me sooner, having had my career ended abruptly by my body’s sudden yet (seemingly) inevitable betrayal. There is great privilege in being able to serve in the US Military. For starters, you must be completely able-bodied, or TAB in the very least. Your physical condition is put under great scrutiny prior to signing it away. The privilege doesn’t stop there, because if for any reason whatsoever that condition changes and you become differently abled you are no longer qualified to serve. And as you can see by reading around my archives, you can not depend on the Military to take care of you should this happen. They say that if you are disabled during your service they will, but in fact it almost never happens. The Medical Board in DC will admit (where is that link?) that they are pressured to deny disability ratings to Active Duty members, and are asked to refer them to the VA for such care. This involves another full evaluation, from square one, as if the first one didn’t exist, another team of doctors poking, prodding, and otherwise scrutinizing your claims of poor health and/or pain. The is embarrassing, dehumanizing, and emotionally as well as physically painful. If you are lucky you will get what is called TA-180 benefits, which means you get 180 days of benefits that you had while Active Duty to help you adjust to non-military life. You have that long to find another means of coverage, but good luck, because you now have a pre-existing condition, and even though your Certificate of Credible Coverage shows you were covered, you are not going to be guaranteed full coverage, even if you are lucky enough to find gainful employment that will allow you to afford it.
Also, there is the matter of age privilege. The younger you are the better. The Military is not a good mid-life career change. In order to enlist you must, at the very oldest (which is the Army standard) be no older than 42, or 62 after 20 years of service. There are some exceptions to be made if you get a medical clearance for the other branches, but that is a good marker. I don’t personally know anyone who has tried to enlist at that age, but I had a friend who enlisted in the Navy at 33, and she was considered old by Navy standards, and was only allowed to enlist at her age because she had served prior Army.
In most recent years education is an important dividing factor in your eligibility to serve. It used to be that you could enlist if you didn’t have a High School Diploma. My Papa, who is around 77, does not have one, and he is a Korean War Veteran and a Purple Heart Recipient. You can no long enlist in most branches without one. If memory serves you can still join the Army but you have to do the program that helps you complete your GED. The Navy will not accept a GED unless you have already earned some college credit, although the number you need is not on the top of my head. It is getting to the point that a person can no longer afford to drop out of High School, and that put limits on many people, including girls who might get pregnant as teenagers, or any teenager who finds hirself having to quit school to get a job and help support the family. If you do enlist and serve the new GI Bill looks amazing for continuing education, but if you become disabled while in your ability to use it is tied up in your VA claim.
I will not pretend that the Military is an easy life for anyone, just as I will not pretend that it doesn’t give me and my family incredible opportunities that most people will never have. I, and many of the families I talk to, believe that it gives you a special set of life skills, including adaptability and flexibility. It is hard work, for Active Duty persons and their families alike, and there are incredible benefits to serving, not the least of all TriCare, which for all its faults is pretty good insurance.
Oh, yeah, and before I forget, I would not have any of the benefits I do if I were not het and able to marry whomever I choose.
So, yeah. Military service is a pretty big privilege, no matter how hard it is.