Military Service Deserves Respect in the Black Community
by Kevin Martin (bio)
The number of blacks joining the military has significantly decreased since 2001. According to a recent report by the Associated Press, the number of black recruits for active duty and the reserves fell 38 percent between 2001 and 2006.
The report implies that the declining number of blacks in the military may reflect family members' disapproval of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are allegedly warning younger relatives against military service. For instance, Washington, D.C. resident Sean Glover said, "Joining the Army, the military, comes at a very high price."
This boils my blood. As a seven-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and the third generation of my family to serve our nation's armed forces, I hate to say that many black Americans no longer appreciate the military and what opportunities it offers. Instead, more and more young blacks are looking to the streets for the futures - an ill-advised choice.
It's a shame there seems to be more respect for a "soldier" in a street gang than for someone wearing a uniform. Our culture, however, has romanticized the former and objected to the latter.
Blacks who enlist in the armed forces or receive an officer's commission are often targets of derisive taunts such as "sell-out" or "Uncle Tom." They are told they are putting themselves at risk to fight the wars of the white man. This is nothing new. It was said before 2001 as well as after.
Too many black Americans subscribe to leftist rhetoric about the military being a racist institution or a form of indentured servitude. There is another significant segment that. I think. hates seeing others succeed. These people thrive on victimization, and the thought of someone getting an education or a stable and well-paying career becomes a source of anger and anxiety.
I fought against trend of embracing victim status and joined the Navy after a short stint in college. It was not until that cold day in February of 1993, when I walked into the Recruit Training Command at Naval Station Great Lakes, that I received the encouragement I needed. I was told that I could make more of myself. When I succeeded there, and throughout by military career, I was pushed to go even farther. I learned skills I never dreamed I could learn. I also saw the world.
Whenever I visited home while on leave, however, I was criticized for being in the military. I was told the military was racist and that I was being forced to kill my own people.
Where I live, thugs are often seen as heroes. People who seem to command respect are those who rack up multiple jail sentences, out-of-wedlock children or are scamming the government for extra welfare benefits. Wealth is worshipped, but everyone is basically living a hand-to-mouth existence.
I almost have to laugh at this stupidity. As far as the threat to my safety, I think I have a better chance of surviving as a target of terrorists in Baghdad that I do now walking around in Washington, D.C. Due to my military service, I also have marketable skills that have served me well in the job market. My critics do not.
Blacks who choose to serve their country often get no thanks from their community - and often not even from their own family. The only respect we get is from our fellow veterans.
If my service brands me with a "scarlet letter," know that I wear it proudly because I want to be more in life than a victim.
# # #
Kevin Martin is a member of the National Advisory Council the Project 21 black leadership network. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints
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