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Tim Myers: A sacrifice that defies the numbers

Myers’ Musings

Posted: April 10, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 10, 2011 1:55 a.m.

I engage in the following practice since the first Gulf War of 1991. Whenever I see a man or woman in uniform, I will walk up, shake their hand, look them in the eye and say, “Thank you for your service.”

I find airports a particularly fertile ground for practicing this with warriors returning home from overseas deployments, but I even make the effort to weave through hordes of family members and close friends to provide this minor act, which cannot even begin to provide the gratitude for what these young men and women and their families have already — and could in the future — sacrifice.

That need for gratitude came home to the Santa Clarita Valley recently with the death of Spc. Rudy A. Acosta, an Army medic serving in Afghanistan. It points out again the great unfairness of the burden of military service; a debt that the vast majority of the citizens of the United States cannot possibly repay.

According to the most recent figures, just 0.8 percent of the population of the United States serves in the armed forces, including the reserves.

Extrapolate this number to assume that each service member possesses nine to 10 very close relatives. This means that about 8 percent of the population bears a direct burden of the wars in which the nation engages, riding the roller coaster between deployments, and concerned, not only about death, but also the critical physical or spiritual wounding of their loved ones who place themselves voluntarily in harm’s way for the sake of the nation.

How to share this burden more equitably? The only answer would require the institution of some period of conscripted military service of all men and women. However, many problems exist with respect to a conscripted military that the volunteer-recruited military resolves. 

First, the conscription must, due to the nature of warfare and military service, fall primarily on the very young. Physical abilities required of service quickly negate the ability of many over 30 to feasibly participate.

Second, there is the crass economics of the issue of patriotism. No less a libertarian than Milton Friedman described the draft in 1966 in terms of a tax of 55 percent on young men, since they could easily earn $100 per week in the private sector against the $45 the military paid. This loss of income of those drafted ripples through the entire economy, not to mention the cost in productivity of education and other job-training delayed.

In a famous confrontation between professor Friedman and Gen. William Westmoreland, the general testified against a volunteer military by stating that he did not want to command an army of mercenaries. The professor responded, asking the question would he rather command an army of slaves.

One finds this sentiment now stated in the belief of most senior military leaders: The last thing they want is an Army (or Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps) of unmotivated draftees who would rather be anywhere else than in the armed forces.

Measure this against a shocking fact that even during the darkest days of the Vietnam era, the armed forces only conscripted 25 percent of the total force serving against 66 percent in World War II, that most patriotic of endeavors.

What do I personally gain from the sacrifice of Acosta and the potential sacrifice of the other 0.8 percent?

While Acosta gave his life, our oldest son completed the requirements for a bachelor’s degree, and on the very day of Acosta’s interment at Eternal Valley, a Signal sports photographer snapped a picture of our youngest son joyous in a tennis victory at Valencia High School.

 Because of the sacrifice of Acosta, our two sons (and their family) bear zero concern about that personal sacrifice, worrying instead about the comparatively trivial matters of what happens after graduation, the next tennis match and homework assignments.

Most people believe the perhaps overused phrase of “Freedom is not free” references the freedoms of speech, religion and assembly; the very cornerstones of the civil society of America. With the sacrifice of Acosta, I realized that the 0.8 percent not only defend these freedoms, but also provide the freedom for the 92 percent who do not serve or do not send loved ones off to war to pursue their lives without interruption.

Can thanking them for their service even come close to an adequate repayment? These young men and women stand beyond thanks, because no greater love can they have than to willingly lay down their lives for their fellows — even those whom can only offer a feeble thanks.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident.


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