Veterans Column: Military Brings Cultures Together Like No Other Organization
By Andy Ostroth, 30-year Navy veteran and GCVF volunteer
It’s disturbing to see the military grappling with issues of extremism and white supremacy within its ranks and the veteran population, but good to see light shined on this problem.
While this issue is rightfully addressed, it’s important to keep some things in perspective: The vast majority of our active duty and veterans are good people. They don’t hate anyone because of their race or gender or sexual orientation or beliefs, they just learn to work together to get the job done.
Our veterans are our grandparents. So are our active-duty service members, along with our moms and dads, our sons and daughters, our grandchildren and our nieces and nephews. They are our families.
They are thrown together into the random melting pot of cultures and personalities, and asked to tackle some of the most difficult and stressful jobs imaginable. They learn mutual respect for each other based on a bond of trust that is forged in a crucible of complex assignments, colossal workloads, misery, boredom and at times, sheer terror.
I can think of no other organization that tends to bring cultures together better than military service. It forces people to know others who don’t look or think exactly the same.
Military training enlightened my perspective on respect for other cultures. I was influenced in a positive way early on, as many others in the military are. A young trainee on an aircraft carrier flight deck, I didn’t have the first clue how to stay safe.
Two experienced petty officers showed me how to do my job without being run over by an airplane or cut in half by an arresting cable. I learned the ropes and chains under their stern leadership. I came to respect and admire them, and realized they cared about me and about their duty to train me.
Growing up in a predominantly white middle-class neighborhood, I had almost zero experience with black people. They were senior, both Black Americans. I’ll never forget what they did for me. They set the example for me and others about how leaders treat subordinates, and I tried to be like them with my subordinates thereafter.
Imagine how many other stories there are out there about the bonds formed during challenging times in the military, and as veterans? I’d go out on a limb and say the deepest bonds and the hardest times have little to do with race, gender or sexual orientation.
The military is a big organization, and it has flaws. Any organization of that size and budget is going to have some problems. Sometimes there is a disconnect between the military, the veterans, and the public’s perception of them.
The same is true with the Veterans Administration, a gigantic bureaucracy with holes that human beings tend to fall through. Veterans need help navigating the sea of paperwork involved in getting their needs met. Don’t forget, veterans have been through active duty and all its trials and tribulations.
Does racism/extremism exist in the armed forces? Yes, as it exists elsewhere in the U.S.
But for every example of racist/extremist behavior in the military, I could give examples of how military and veterans have formed some of the tightest bonds and deepest respect and understanding of the cultural barriers between people, how to breech them for friendship, when to respect their boundaries and when to work together for the larger goal.
We need to believe in and support both our active-duty service members and our veterans as people worthy of respect and admiration.
Andy Ostroth is a volunteer with Gold Coast Veterans Foundation. A veteran himself, he served for 30 years in the Navy and retired as a command master chief in 2010.
Source: VC Star article from May 3, 2021