Civilians: Military service isn’t all about American flag wraps and explosions. Credit: American Grit
The military is a job that pretty much takes over your life. Usually when you join, you work, eat, and sleep on post, so naturally most of your friends are there too. It makes sense that this could create a chasm between you and your civilian buddies; they don’t quite understand your life, and you can’t relate to theirs anymore.
As a civilian, I learned about military life through my dad, who served 20 years in the Navy. I also learned it through friends and mentors, many of whom are military spouses and service members. But for civilians who have had zero exposure to those in uniform, the military can turn into this abstract lifestyle that doesn’t make a lot of sense. I mean, why would someone sign up to go march around in a desert all day? (Seriously, that’s how civilians think).
On that note, here are the 9 biggest myths about the military — usually started by civilians, who actually know nothing about the military.
1. You can’t have a family in the military
Logically, civilians know that military families exist: they just think they’re extremely hard to maintain. After all, many high-powered civilian careers are filled by single people who can travel and work as many hours as they want. But what civilians don’t realize is that military life has been tailored to family life, as well.
Yes, there’s a lot of travel. Yes, sometimes it’s dangerous. But the military always backs its service members’ spouses; they can live on post, or off post with a housing allowance. There are programs and counseling on every base that are designed specifically to support spouses. The military community in general is like a special club — they’ve got each others’ 6’s, always.
For context: 52 percent of enlisted service members are married, and about 70 percent of officers are, as compared to 48 percent of civilians. Military members are fully capable of having fulfilling family lives, while still serving their country honorably.
2. Everyone is getting shot at all the time
Civilians tend to assume that military = combat. That as soon as you sign your name on the dotted line, they slap an M4 in your hand and ship you off to a warzone. The truth is: Most service members don’t fight in combat.
The 1959 military sci-fi novel Starship Troopers contains this quote: “In the mass wars of the twentieth century it sometimes took 70,000 men (fact!) to enable 10,000 to fight.” While this isn’t a real statistic, it’s indicative of how our military works.
Fact: Every service member needs to be combat-ready. However, anyone not in an infantry, artillery, tanker, special forces, or similar role is usually left out of immediate danger. So while it’s always possible to be deployed into combat, there are a lot of military jobs that are likely to avoid it.
3. People join the military because they can’t get into college
This is one of the more offensive myths about the military. Non-military individuals can adopt the naive view that soldiers are too dumb for higher education. In a similar vein, they may also view service members (and their spouses) as just generally uneducated.
The reality is that the GI Bill is what drives a ton of people to join the military — so essentially, they’re joining to get an education. Plus, the GI Bill can extend to spouses and children, and there are a lot of scholarships and resources that military families can use to help pay for school. While there are people who join and don’t go to college, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t get in; it just means they didn’t want to.
4. Everyone’s a Republican
Myths about the military usually come from unfair stereotyping. This is just… not true. Even if there’s a majority political party, the military community is still incredibly diverse; it’s full of people from all different walks of life, who have a host of different opinions and beliefs.
5. Everyone’s a Christian
6. Military spouses are just housewives
I don’t even know where to start with this one. I guess first I should address the fact that not all military spouses are wives. A 2014 statistic claims that almost 15% of milspos are men, a number that most certainly has risen since then. MANspouses exist, and are just as proud of their service members as military wives.
More than that, many military spouses are just as dedicated to their careers as their service members. And they have to put in extra effort to even be able to work; many employers won’t consider hiring them due to the threat of a PCS, and that’s the same thing that makes attending college hard. They need to get creative when it comes to work, and as a result they are some of the hardest workers out there.
Finally: Stop sh*tting on housewives. Raising a family usually takes way more than 40 hours a week… and it doesn’t come with a paycheck. In fact, you actually pay to do it. Strong military housewives (and husbands) are the glue that holds their families together.
7. Military marriages are full of cheating
Of all the myths about the military, this might just be the most stupid. Civilians probably assume this because of Hollywood, or because they can’t possibly imagine a life in which they’re separate from their spouse… GASP! How terrible! While moves and separations are a common part of military life, it doesn’t mean that their relationships are just instantly doomed. For many, it gives them a reason to be even more committed to their partner — especially as they’ve sacrificed so much to make it work.
8. All veterans have PTSD, or are scared of fireworks, or something
When vets transition back to civilian life, they find that some people will tip-toe around them, treating them like they’re fragile and likely to break. This can include family members and civilian friends, which is frustrating beyond belief. It’s probably because the media depicts all veterans as having some sort of problem, whether it’s nightmares, mental illness, or extreme aggression.
Having someone incorrectly assume they know you and your life is pretty insulting. Unfortunately, it’s usually left to you to explain to them that not every veteran has a breakdown every time they hear a car backfire. Sigh.
9. Service members agree with everything the military does
Oftentimes civilians have a hard time separating a service member from their service. As former Army Ranger Steven Elliott said to me, “The soldier is not the war.” Would you blame an employee for something their boss did? Because at the end of the day, military members are doing their job just like anyone else. Granted, their job can involve a lot more danger than the average civilian’s, but it’s still a job.
If you enjoyed reading these myths about the military, check out the top 10 things E-1s waste their money on, from flashy cars to diamond rings and more.