Thursday, March 22, 2012

What Makes a Hero?

I was reading on another blog that I occasionally frequent, and there was a question that was posed in one of the posts, "does serving in the military make you a hero?"

Being a lawyer, my first answer was, of course, "it depends."

But then I thought about it. Timothy McVeigh was in the military. So was the defendant in the Fort Hood shootings. PFC England. Bradley Manning. Countless military members have been convicted and sentenced for crimes committed during service and after service. I had the duty of being a prisoner escort as one of my supplemental duties in the Air Force at my last duty station, and among the drug users and rapists that I escorted, I also had the chance to pick up an Airman who had been convicted of possession and distribution of child pornography while on a military base.

I have a hard time considering these individuals heroes.

But perhaps these are the exceptions that prove the rule? So I looked at the question a little more abstractly. By mere act of service, does that make one a hero? I mean, in reality, you become a military member by (1) Passing a physical, (2) signing a contract, and (3) making a promise (an oath of enlistment is little more than a formalized promise). Does satisfaction of those three elements in and of themselves qualify someone a a hero? Does it take something more, like successfully completing boot camp? Is there a lodestar service term that qualifies one as a hero, such as 6 months or 2 years, or 4 years?

I served 8 years in the Air Force, and by most accounts, without distinction. I struggled with my weight, however, I was promoted to Staff Sergeant in advance of the average. I complained, a lot, but I did my job, usually satisfactorily or better, depending on the day. I volunteered when I felt the urge, but I never consistently went above and beyond. Does the fact that I received an honorary discharge make me a hero? I sure don't feel like one, and I'd venture to say that the majority of men and women with whom I served felt or feel the same way, both about me and themselves.

I don't know what makes a hero. Perhaps it's all a matter of perspective. Interesting question to consider. Military members are people who volunteer to go into harm's way, sacrifice their Constitutional rights, and do so for pay that civilian counterparts would scoff at (I was offered a contract job when I separated that would have paid - to start - about 3-5k more per year than I made as an NCO, with full benefits). Is it possible that "the military" is heroic while the individual members need to be considered on a case-by-case basis?


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