A hero. I know all about heroes. I grew up among them. Today’s society has learned to call them heroes for more occasions than winning a medal or giving one’s life in combat. Today’s U.S. military are called heroes simply for volunteering to join. And I’m ok with that. I agree with it in the sense that, at the end of the day, a soldier is a soldier regardless of the rank. There are so many jobs and responsibilities in the military, and everyone is held accountable. When you’re needed, you’re expected to move quickly and to the best of your ability. Only fate knows whose actions will end up being a pivotal moment in history; and many heroic stories go left untold to the masses.
I grew up as a military BRAT. My parents’ choices to join the military is what led me to travel the world at a young age, explore different cultures, develop a sense of appreciation for the greater world around me, become a TCK. As a child on a military base, you are told that you are a representative of your country. Your actions reflect the country, and also the person who sponsors you. When a soldier is permitted to travel with their family, the soldier becomes a sponsor to the family members tagging along. In my case, I had to be on my best behavior for my parents’ sake. This kind of responsibility makes every member of the community feel like part of a team. Some days, I felt like a little soldier, and like drill sergeants, my parents made sure I marched within the boundaries of respectfulness and open-mindedness when we interacted with locals in each host country.
But, these days I’ve been conflicted. You see, I’ve come to regard this lifestyle as a series of contradictions. I regard the U.S. military not only with reverence, but with disappointment. It is with pride that I regard my country, but also with distrust.
In time I grew to see that not every soldier was indeed a hero. It was a difficult, pride-destroying lesson. The exemplifying traits my parents had modeled left me blinded to reality. The lessons they had taught me did not extend to every member on the military base. Some soldiers were not respectful of cultural differences. Some soldiers were shackled to dark emotional burdens and left destruction in their wake. No, I’m not talking about PTSD; rather, addictions. Some soldiers were not interested in doing good.
I don’t know why it took so long to hear these stories. Sometime during high school I learned about rapes and killings committed by U.S. soldiers in one of my favorite “hometowns”. Later, I overheard my mom and her friends reminiscing about old teammates and discovering that their choices had killed their military careers. When I finally moved abroad on my own, outside the sanctuary of the “military bubble,” I personally experienced the tension between U.S. soldiers and local people. Inside my heart, I felt lost.
I asked myself. What does it mean to be a soldier? Depending on the person, you’ll get different answers. My answer? During my time as an English teacher in South Korea, I would tell coworkers proudly that my mother was a soldier. They would gasp in awe, presumably because she was a woman who had had a long successful career in the military. However, I would try to change the topic after that. Reminded that every Friday, some young soldiers would leave the base and come into the city to get recklessly drunk, I decided not to talk about my fond memories of being a soldier’s child.
Perhaps, the heroes I cherish are becoming a private memory. By keeping it private, my love for the honorable soldier, I feel like I can maintain a level of respect. The magnificent soldiers that I grew up knowing, the ones that I am proud of, the ones that taught me how to build cultural bridges, need only be honored deep within my heart, or at least in private conversations. If you are a soldier, I will respectfully acknowledge you for your service. You deserve that much, because a soldier is a soldier in the end.