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Lessons from the USS Nimitz #4: What “appreciating our troops” really means

(This is part of a series of posts about my trip to the USS Nimitz with a group of bloggers. Guy Kawasaki tells the story best. Click the photos for close-ups.)

I consider myself a patriot, but I’ve never had any real contact with the armed services. I read about it in the paper while I sit on my sofa.

It only took a single day and night on an aircraft carrier to open my eyes. What I learned:

  • This is a really hard, nasty, grueling job. 18-hour shifts, deafening noise, noxious fumes, no privacy, no real time off, rough living conditions, and days without sunlight.
  • You are risking your life. This is not just about getting wounded in battle. Every day is dangerous. Five died in a helicopter crash a few days before we got there; someone fell overboard (and was fortunately rescued) while we were there. The ship-board hospital was full, even in peacetime. Bottom line: There is no safe way to stand 5 feet from an F-18’s engine or to spend your day building bombs. But they do it every day.
  • Family sacrifices are immense. I will never again complain about being away from my kids for a few days on a business trip. These folks are gone for 6-8 months at a time. I met so many people who missed the birth of their children. To me, this is the hardest thing I can imagine. You can be a tough-as-nails fighter pilot, but no one can really handle missing their kids’ life moments.

They are doing it for us.

This isn’t about war. This is about peace. The world is full of nasty people with bombs and guns. They want to hurt us, and they want to hurt everyone. Our service to the world is that we have this massive Navy that we donate to keep the peace, for everyone.

The world is safer because when a bad person starts playing with nuclear rockets or killing innocents, we can park this incredibly dangerous war machine in their front yard and remind them to calm the fuck down.

This is about raising the quality of life for everyone. Our economy depends on seaborne commerce.  When you walk into any store, remember that 80% of what you see came there by ship. The current problems with piracy are nothing compared to what would happen if the world’s navies weren’t out there to keep the peace. Are you really ready to only eat and wear what is made within driving distance?

We owe them.

I could never do this job. I would never want to do this job. I doubt you would either, for 50 cents more than minimum wage. Actually, it comes out to about $2/hour when you realize that they are working 24/7.

But I’m deeply grateful and respectful of those who do. We need them, and we owe them. You wouldn’t live the life you do if our friends in the military weren’t making these sacrifices for you.

For anyone who serves their country for us, who risks death for us, they should be taken care of. Health care, money, education — whatever they need, for the rest of their lives.

In the words of Stephen Colbert, broadcasting from Iraq:

I am rarely at a loss for words, but when I think of all you’ve sacrificed for your country, it really seems insufficient to say “Thank You” and really inappropriate to say “Holy Shit” — so I’ll just say what I hope you can all say soon, “Honey, I’m coming home.”

Thank you.

P.S. You really should watch this documentary.

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