Serving in the Military Can Be More of an Education Than Four Years of College

I attended three Gridiron dinners and what always seemed most memorable were the journalists in white-tie, looking like extras in a movie about the Gilded Age, and the Marine Corps Band playing the anthems of the four service branches. When the anthem of each service is played, those who have served in that branch of the military stand at attention.

Each year fewer of those at the dinner stand. After the 2017 dinner, one journalist said, “I didn’t count, but the diminished number was noticeable enough that my guests and I commented on it.”

At the dinners I attended most of those standing for the military anthems were, like me, over 60 and either nearing retirement or already there. For all the talk in recent years of needing more minorities in journalism—no argument there—you rarely hear much about drawing more military veterans into journalism.

I went in the Air Force in the 1950s and for me it was more of an education than four years of college and a year of law school. When I arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, I was surprised that none of the guys I lived and marched with were at all like those in Wisconsin I’d grown up with. Basic training was tough, a shock to the system, and we learned to accept our differences and get along.

As you move on from basic, you’re smart to keep your mouth shut until it’s the right time to talk and you have something to say. If you pay attention, you figure out how things are done and how you survive and maybe do well. Looking back, I think having to deal with all kinds of people in pressure situations helps you develop a bullshit detector.

One of the most successful Washington businessmen I’ve known never went to college and he credited his three years in the Air Force with giving him the confidence and savvy to deal with and understand all kinds of people. He figured basic training and his two years overseas were the equivalent of a master’s degree in what people—including those who voted for Donald Trump—are really like.

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