Jack the Blogger, has a great post on Veterans Day that is well worth the read. Since 1973, you have to want to get into the military in order to serve. They would reject you if you were too old, or too young, too tall, too short, too fat or (at least in the 70s) too thin. You couldn't have a criminal record, which I found amusing (Sorry kid, your felony aggravated assault means we just don't want you).
Most of the time, you had to have at least a high school diploma to enlist and continuing education was always required. In order to get into the Sergeant Majors Academy, you had to have at least two years of college minimum, and most had a bachelors degree that they obtained while working full time. Officers had to have a bachelors degree to enter and were expected to get a Masters degree as a minimum with many getting Ph.Ds.
Once in, you had to keep on the promotion track by being competitive for higher rank. Officers especially could serve for 10-12 years and be told that their service was no longer needed. The old movie ideas that an enlisted man could hide out at a lower rank doing the absolute minimums are also out of date. Up or out is a vicious career management tool, but it does seem to work.
Once in, you quickly learn that there are very few jobs that employ a 40 hour week. In fact, the first job I had as an officer, we averaged 120 hours a week on the job. One week, I counted that I had worked for 148 hours, although, I did sleep for five of those hours (not all at once).
I have jumped out of planes in the middle of the night carrying 120 pounds of gear, and couldn't see the ground until I smacked into it. I have been hypothermic to the point of utter exhaustion and only wanted to lay down and sleep, even though I knew I would die. I have climbed rain slicked cliffs, rappelled out of helicopters, and stood at ground zero while Patriots intercepted Scuds coming my way.
But the greatest thing that I have done while in the military was to serve along the finest human beings that I have ever met. I don't know if the military is self selecting men and women who are selfless and generous, or it is the tradition that changes them into these wonderful human beings. But I do know that the civilian side has nowhere near the generosity, kindness and helpfulness that I had in the service. We took care of each other.
Jack asks all citizens of this great country to thank a vet. I have always felt awkward when someone who has never served thanks me for my service. But I have also felt great pride when a fellow veteran thanks me for my service, and I feel very good about thanking another vet for their service. I value their opinion much more than that of someone who wasn't there.
So to all of those who have served in whatever form or fashion, from one vet to another, Thanks.