By Maj. Daniel Sukman,
Best Defense mid-life
correspondent on life reflections
turn 36 today -- somewhere near halfway through a normal life nowadays.
what made this year different has been my time to reflect on being a part of
the Army profession. This reflection comes after another year of our nation
being at war and my losing a couple more friends and colleagues in the fight. One
was killed overseas in Afghanistan, and another took his own life early in the
year, but I count both as casualties of the "GWOT."
time has caused me to think about the civilian-military divide that so many
have written about on this site, on others, and in various publications such as
those produced by the War College. I have listened to some senior Army leaders
speak about how to bridge this divide, and I have come to the conclusion that
the civilian-military divide lies in proximity
means as a 36-year-old, death has been a part of life over the past 12 years,
something few Americans my age have experienced. When I think about it, all my
peers (by peer I mean people about my age, +/- 7 years or so) I know who have
passed away have all done so in uniform. When you think about it, most people
at 36 may know someone lost in a car accident, an early unfortunate battle with
cancer, or some other horrible disease, but they have not had the experience of
attending a memorial ceremony once a week for a year, or a funeral for someone
their own age on multiple occasions. How many have had to walk up to a door as
a notification officer to inform a family about the death of a husband, son, father,
daughter, or mother, or work for a week as a casualty assistance officer? Not
many. It is a different version of the one percent.
have heard senior leaders discuss and read bloggers' comments on how the
civilian-military divide can be solved by having servicemembers do their
shopping at Walmart, or moving out of the barracks into towns adjoining a base.
I don't buy it. Moving off Fort Campbell into Clarksville or off Fort Bragg
into Fayetteville won't challenge the divide. You can live on post, in New York
City, or Narnia, and it won't influence what separates civilians from the
military in America. Shopping at Target and having your credit card information
stolen, living off base, or buying a car at normal interest rates will not
remove the demand for deployments and the proximity to death that servicemembers
face in their chosen profession.
closeness to death has caused other points of reflection over the past year. The
most resident in my mind is life's priorities. I am very blessed to have a
terrific family, a loving wife and two young children, and closeness to death
moves family to the top of priorities. I think that realization comes early for
those who have served in uniform (albeit not for everyone), due to proximity to
is not a PTSD that I am describing. Rather a life experience that most young
Americans do not have in their background. This is the divide, and I don't see
it as inherently good or bad, or as a Ginger/Mary Ann or Rolling Stones/Beatles
type of dichotomy. I just as see it as something that is there.
mid-thirties are when many people become focused on career, as that is for many
the prime time of their chosen profession. After a few years in combat, leaving
work a little early to help my wife feed the kids at night, or leaving the
house a little later in the morning to feed my kids breakfast seems to be the
rational choice. I know my daughter will eventually be potty trained, but I
still want to be at the house to help out with the potty training. I work with
some great individuals, but probably none of them will be visiting me in the
nursing home in 50 years.
These reflections do not mean that professional
responsibilities are overlooked, but the closeness of death opens up a new
perspective on life, a perspective gained at an earlier time in life that I think
is for the most part unique to those in uniform. In that respect, it is a view
of life that I am proud to have.
Major Daniel Sukman,
U.S. Army, is a strategist at the Army Capabilities Integration Center, U.S.
Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Eustis, Virginia. He holds a B.A.
from Norwich University and an M.A. from Webster University. During his career,
Maj. Sukman has been part of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and
United States European Command. He served three combat tours in Iraq. This article represents his personal views,
which are not necessarily those of the U.S. Army or Department of Defense.