THULE AIR BASE, Greenland — Capt. Thomas Hammill was a Green Beret who served in Vietnam and Cambodia. I knew him as an uncle and hero; however, society had a different perception of him and the rest of the men and women who fought in Vietnam.
Vietnam veterans returned to America and found protests, hate and labels such as “baby killer.” Thankfully, those days are over, but could we return to those perceptions in similar form or fashion today?
Today’s military is able to enjoy a society that supports the troops. While that is fantastic, my hope is that we don’t take that for granted. My desire is that we do what is needed, on and off duty, to prove ourselves worthy of the support and adoration we receive from our nation. Today, applause fills airports when service members return from overseas.
Today, someone may just pick up your check if they see you grabbing lunch in uniform. Today, you get care packages and letters from school children while you are deployed. Today, professional sports teams and large corporations have military appreciation events. No, none of those things are why we serve. They are the result of a society that trusts us with its freedom and protection.
So how do we preserve the trust that is at the core of the relationship between the military and American people? How do we ensure that our service and sacrifice will be met with appreciation instead of distaste? Well, I believe that falls squarely on our shoulders. Every single one of us has a part to play in building and maintaining this trust.
The dreaded acts of a few can stain the reputation of the entire military and erode the trust that has been built over decades. This is especially true in our present information age with social media and smart phones. Bad news spreads like a wild fire. The vast majority of military men and women live their lives in a manner that does nothing but reinforce the reasons why the American people place their trust in the military; however, there is a major issue that we need to attack: sexual assault. We can’t just stand on the sidelines for this one. We all have to be fully engaged.
Sexual assault must be stomped out of the Air Force and Department of Defense. Political leaders have taken a tough stance on the military’s handling and prevention of sexual assaults. It is up to every one of us to fight this disease that has been among our ranks for much too long. It will take more than the occasional Sexual Assault Prevention and Response day. It will take outstanding wingmen. It will take work places that promote mutual respect and dignity. It will take personal courage. It will take compassion and support. It will take committed action to prevent sexual assaults and support the victims. Only then will the perception change.
No doubt, this issue will be played out in the media. What story will be told? Will it be a story of vulgarity and indifference or will it be a story of a committed and trustworthy military that takes care of its own? We must prove to the American people that their sons and daughters will be safe within our ranks. We must prove to our government officials that we are serious. One is definitely too many.
Millions of Americans chose to put on the uniform and defend the United States of America. A great number paid the ultimate price. Let’s honor their service and sacrifice by taking care of our brothers and sisters in arms. Let’s preserve the opportunity for our troops to hear “thank you” instead of disparaging remarks from a society who lost trust.