First Person : Nothing in her military career prepared her for this conversation

By Shyamali Roy Hauth:

The author as a staff sergeant in the Air Force in 1990

How does an 18-year old immigrant woman whose parents are both college professors and steeped in a tradition of non-violence end up in the armed forces?

I was working three part-time jobs and struggling to pay rent and college costs. A friend mentioned that as a reservist, the Army paid part of her tuition. So I went to see the Air Force recruiter. I liked what he said, not just about the tuition assistance, but about what I would be doing. So I enlisted, thinking I would serve my four years and get out.

Little did I know the four would stretch to 10 years on active duty (enlisted and officer) and another 22 as an Air Force spouse. I got those college degrees — a BA and an MS – gave birth to four children, and served with a group of people from all over, of all races, working together because, like me, they loved their country.

I encountered a lot as a woman in the service, but nothing prepared me for the conversation I had with someone with whom I thought I had a lot in common.  A fellow progressive, she had served abroad like me, in her case with the Peace Corps. She is kind, compassionate and patriotic.

But she was truly upset that in the United States today we put military members and veterans on a pedestal. She did not believe in giving honors to people who sign up because, in her words, “they enjoy killing people”.

I was dumbstruck. She was talking about me. About my loving husband. About my father-in-law (an OB/GYN doctor in the US Air Force ), my two best friends and their husbands and countless others.

How could she be so wrong? None of these people could ever enjoy taking a life.

I was hurt and tongue-tied, but anyone who knows me knows that I did not stay quiet for long. I told her that the vast majority of military members would rather combat be the method of last resort.

But like firefighters running into a burning building, we are the ones called on to defend the very freedoms that allow us to express our views openly. Our freedoms are not free. Some of my fellow veterans have paid the ultimate price.

I am proud to have served in the Air Force, and to defend her rights, and the rights of all Americans, to say what they feel freely.

Some facts about the armed forces:

  • 0.4 % of the US population is currently active duty (This compares to 2% during Vietnam and 9% during WWII)
  • 15% of active duty personnel are women
  • 31% of the military are racial and ethnic minorities
  • 5% of all active duty military are naturalized citizens
  • 92% of enlisted have a high school diploma and some college
  • 84% of officers have a bachelor’s and/or graduate degree

Shyamali Roy Hauth is chair of the Veterans and Military Families Committee of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee and Vice Chair of Outreach for Hunter Mills District Democratic Committee

4 thoughts on “First Person : Nothing in her military career prepared her for this conversation

  1. If the conversation referred to was with me, it does not tell the whole story. I believe that all those, both civilian and military, who serve their country abroad, as well as first responders and police, should receive recognition and be regarded with honor.

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