When I was in middle school, we lived on the Navy base at Dahlgren, Virginia. My father was career Navy. The base was a kind of magical place sitting on the Potomac River about 50 miles southeast of Washington, D.C. The base was divided into two parts. There was the community area and the main office buildings. There was also the “Restricted Area.”
Of course, the Restricted Area was a place of great fascination for a boy of my age. There were Naval cannons, large and small, all over the place - even a railroad gun from World War I. It had a little used airfield, complete with multiple airplanes which had landed there years before and for some reason never left. The long blast tunnel was a pure fascination to my young mind.
Excursions into that magical expanse were largely restricted to the occasional foray with my dad.
The second Saturday in May was “Armed Forces Appreciation Day.” On that day – and only on that day – the Restricted Area was open. Anyone could explore it freely. I would set off on my bicycle and do so. What great fun that was!
We now designate an entire month to show appreciation to our military.
I don’t intend this to sound mean, but most people don’t really appreciate the challenges and sacrifices of those who serve. What these men and women do is hard, very hard. Even in peace time, it’s not easy. We also must remember that we have been in active armed conflicts now for over 30 years, sometimes referred to as our “forever wars.”
A huge swath of our population has little, if any, connection to those who serve. That’s especially true in my world of lawyers and other professionals. Perhaps a grandfather served in World War II, but that’s ancient history.
This disconnection is a troubling one.
Our service members protect us. The world is not a safe place. Just ask the Ukrainians.
Too many of us see the military sort of like I viewed the Restricted Area when I was a boy. There’s some cool stuff, to be sure. Yet, we don’t fully grasp the dedication of those involved. We have little sense of the difficulties of military life – and that includes the families of service members.
May is military appreciation month. That’s a good thing, but appreciation year-round is better.