It’s almost comical that we trust our troops with lethal weapons and send them out to protect us, a task that may include taking a life, but we feel it appropriate to restrict their access to tobacco. We entrust them with control of the world’s most powerful multi-million and even multi-billion-dollar combat systems, yet not with a cocktail. This attitude is overly paternal and duplicitous. It culminates in a growing sense of disrespect and micromanagement, often resulting in rebellion in the form of the very behavior that senior leaders find offensive.
I do not condone the behaviors discussed here, but neither do I condemn them. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I myself appreciate an occasional adult beverage and recently switched from tobacco to electronic cigarettes. I simply recognize that grownups will participate in adult behavior, and we should not try to artificially control them. We do so at the risk of predictably alienating large numbers of troops, while ignoring the important but more difficult issues affecting combat readiness.
Today’s military comprises the most highly trained force in our history. Typically, they are more responsible and mature than many among their contemporaries. Treating them like children is an inappropriate and unnecessary approach. Perhaps a future generation of combat ships should be named the Mayflower class, reinforcing an apparent desire for puritanical naval forces. Instead, we need warriors who are capable of carrying out the most dangerous and often gruesome tasks. Our leaders know this but rarely acknowledge it. They prefer to publicly portray a desire for strait-laced patriots, capable of killing one minute but displaying their definition of acceptable social behavior the next.
This sounds oxymoronic because it is. Young Americans willing to sacrifice and suffer are unlikely to shun all vices or live absolutely pure lives. They might relax with cigarettes and beer. They may even get tattoos or engage in sexual activity. But come morning, they will stand the watch, ready to answer the call. They are our nation’s best. Senior leaders would do well to treat them like the adults they are.