By "Joe the Devil Dog"
Best Defense guest correspondent
The recent mixup between Delta Airlines and an Army unit returning from Afghanistan over fees for a 4th bag got me thinking about the sense of entitlement felt by veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars. I know that when I got out of the Marines in 2005 I had a chip on my shoulder and felt like society owed me something for my service (as if the salary, experience, and GI Bill weren't enough). I worked as a bouncer on and off during school and had to escort soldiers out of the bar for being too drunk on more than one occasion. They often complained that they were being treated unfairly and should be allowed to stay because they were in the military or were veterans. My fellow bouncers, all civilians, felt extremely uncomfortable despite the fact that they had every right to ask the rowdy soldiers to leave. It was always fun to explain to a soldier that I was a prior Marine, that I knew how they felt, and that no, being a veteran doesn't give you license to be an asshole.
I think that there's a culture of entitlement being bred in new veterans. I suspect that this is a product of the AVF and the Vietnam era; no one wants to be accused of being anti-military so folks bend over backwards to extend various privileges and perks to vets. This is compounded by veterans organizations like the VFW and DAV which encourage service members at EAS briefings to fight for disability benefits which may or may not be legitimate (at least that was my experience). New veterans are leaving the military thinking that society owes them something besides a little appreciation and that they no longer have to bust their ass to get it. Sure, only a small portion of the American population has served in Iraq or Afghanistan but anyone who joined the military after 9/11 knew that there was a very real possibility that they would be deployed. We were all volunteers and should have joined to serve our country not for some perks or to achieve a special status.
When I saw the video by the two SSGs on the Delta flight, yesterday, I felt that it reeked of an entitlement attitude. Instead of sucking up the "injustice," the soldiers made a revenge video intended to hurt Delta. Maybe DoD is getting a better deal on baggage rates because of the video but I suspect that those Delta employees that were involved feel hurt and embarrassed. I believe that the vast majority of civilians appreciate the sacrifice that veterans have made but when vets complain and demand special treatment it makes all vets look bad and exacerbates the rift between civilians and their military.
Joe is a former enlisted Marine who soon will become a Marine officer.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.