The next few weeks mark an unusual period in my family’s history – three of its members are on simultaneous military deployments. I don’t think this has ever happened before. My brother-in-law just departed on patrol aboard a Coast Guard cutter – yes, that’s the military; they’re a uniformed service – one of my younger cousins recently arrived aboard his ship in the Arabian Gulf, and I am, of course, in Bahrain doing the staff thing. (Occasionally I even get to exercise control over my cousin’s ship. It’s a small world.)
Three of my grandmother’s four grandsons and grandsons-in-law are all out there, doing the nation’s business, at this very moment. Just as her husband once did, and one of her sons.
And this is not even counting the other cousin, from another branch on the family tree, who recently returned from a deployment aboard an aircraft carrier.
How did this happen?
That’s a rhetorical question, of course; everyone takes their own path to whatever career they land in, and I won’t presume to speak for anyone other than myself. But I do remember growing up with my cousins and basically still envision all of us as kids. Yet, here we are – this week I hit eleven years of service in the Active and Reserve Components, my brother-in-law reaches nine years in a few weeks, and my cousins four and one, respectively, this summer.
So I guess we’ve actually been doing this for a while.
And yet this is not so uncommon at all.
Military service is increasingly a family business, it would seem. The best recruiters are servicemembers sending their own relations in their footsteps. It is rare to find a Sailor who is the first in their family to join the military, unless, perhaps, you’re talking to a recent immigrant (a topic worthy of its own post). But that immigrant’s U.S.-born children will probably serve someday, just as an immigrant’s grandchild is writing this post. And so it goes – service is concentrated more and more on the same families across the generations.
You see this reflected in geographic representation of servicemembers. Of course, you see plenty of people from the biggest states, but proportionately the southern states and border states are well over-represented, and anecdotally, I would add the Big Ten colleges punch well above their weight as commissioning sources (a cohort of which I am proud to be a part). My native California provides a lot of members, hosts several large bases and is home to a lot of veterans, but they are overwhelmed in a sea of other people – its per capita rate of service is actually among the nation’s lowest.
Sadly underrepresented is the Northeast, home to what can be safely said is the nation’s elite. But signs of progress exist – Princeton recently reestablished ROTC on campus, and after a decades-long hiatus just commissioned its first ensigns and second lieutenants to have participated in the program throughout their four years of school. I do not expect legions of senators’ sons to be taking over the ranks anytime soon – but let us applaud anything that retards the further segmentation of society and spreads risks and burdens to its uppermost levels. Congratulations to Princeton and its newest graduates; may there be many more of them.