When my brother told me, at 19, that he was joining the United States Air Force, I believed with all of my heart that he was betraying my family. My mother and I were in an incredulous state of shock. My father was dismissive at first, and then angry.
I should explain that my family has a proud tradition of being what is commonly referred to as “commie-pinko.” I don’t mean that in a lip service, wide-eyed idealist way, either. My uncle battled for and won conscientious objector status in a rural Maryland town against enormous opposition and ridicule during the Vietnam war. My grandmother’s job and safety was threatened because of my mother’s so-called un-American activities. There is a strong belief in my family that your political view reflects your moral integrity. When my brother told me that he was an adult and had already signed up, my heart sank. Only my mother, with her extraordinary intelligence, knew better than to recriminate.
We boarded a plane and flew to San Antonio for his graduation from boot camp. Surrounded by proud American families, my mother and I clung to one another in fear. This was completely alien and generally hostile territory. Sitting on the risers, watching the Navy robots fill the field in front of us, I almost sobbed. My beautiful counter-culture brother was now one of them. My friends didn’t believe me or they would laugh and say that we had it coming. Then 9-11 happened. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq happened. It’s not funny to anyone anymore.
I can tell you a few things from the other side of the fence, now. It makes me so grateful to see that people are kind to your loved one because he or she is in a uniform. I am equally grateful to see that people are kind to families here at home for the same reason. I have learned to welcome any straggler that my brother brings home for the holidays, even if it means that the precious personal time I have for visiting is cut short. I cry when I hear the national anthem played.
My brother has been very lucky. So far, he has stayed out of harm’s way, largely because he is smart, well trained and good at his job. When he does well, he is taken notice of. When my brother decided to join the Air Force, he was already on a precipitous path. I can honestly say that, so far, the military has been good to him.
I still believe that it is my responsibility as an American to question my government, and I do so all of the time. I violently disagree with most of the current administration’s policies. I believe it is my right to question my country. I now believe that it is my brother’s right and honor to defend it.