Snell: Show civilians respect, even when they blunder

Barry Snell

Weird, goofy, offbeat, twisted.

These are all words that might be used to describe life in the military. Any veteran can tell you it’s a different and unconventional world in the military, whether it be the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps. It doesn’t matter what branch you’re in; if you don’t have a thick skin and a high tolerance for bullshit, you ain’t gonna be happy.

One notable thing about life in the military is the inter-service rivalry. Army personnel love to harass Marines, Marines love to screw with Navy people (don’t remind a Marine he’s part of the Navy!), and everyone gives crap to the Air Force. Of course, you mess with the folks in your own branch most of all.

It’s a brotherly love sort of thing. Everyone knows they’re on the same team, but that doesn’t stop a serviceman from busting the proverbial balls of one another.

Dicking around is one way to put it. You’ll hear cuss words you’ve never heard, and old ones put together in new ways. Mamma jokes, fat jokes, sex jokes, you name it, you’ll hear it in the military. Pranks are routine and hazing of some sort is common. It might sound awful to the uninitiated, but it’s almost always in good humor and rarely malicious.

Approve or disapprove, it’s just life in the military. It’s a weird world, and you do unusual things, so the behavior is really just a way to deal with the weirdness. At the risk of sounding even sillier to the uninitiated, dare I say it’s a form of bonding that is critical for people putting their lives on the line and depending on each other?

On Monday, the Daily committed a faux pas when it entitled a letter to the editor “Show soldiers respect.” This inadvertently triggered a squabble over the term “soldiers” as a general reference for all members of all branches of the service. You see, soldier is an Army term. Marines are Marines, folks in the Navy are Sailors, and those in the Air Force are Airmen.

Sometimes people get hot when you call them the wrong one. I can understand that; being a Soldier, Marine, Sailor or Airman is a matter of pride. You signed your life over to the country, literally, and damn if that level of patriotism and sacrifice doesn’t deserve appropriate description.

At the same time though, everybody’s on the same team.

Yeah, it’s an old complaint that civilians just don’t get it. But let’s remember the just purpose of war is to ensure peace, and it is therefore the civilian way of life that the armed forces are intended to protect. American citizens have virtually always loved and supported our troops, and it wouldn’t hurt to cut them a little slack when they make a mistake.

Especially when it’s a well intentioned, though unintentional, mistake.

The Daily’s editors meant no disrespect to anyone when they labeled all our troops as soldiers. They just didn’t know better, and that’s okay. The respect conferred was still there, and that matters far more than words. And isn’t respect what the original letter to the editor was about?

So for you vets out there, the next time a civilian does something that rubs you wrong, just recall why you joined. Then, take a deep breath, put that thick skin you wore in the service back on, and remember what your platoon daddy once told you: “Man the f— up.”