The Struggle of a 0.5 Percenter

By Graham Glover

At any given time, there are less than 0.5% of Americans serving in any capacity in the Armed Forces of the United States. Let that sink in for a moment. Less than ½ of 1% of our population is currently serving in any branch – in any component (Active or Reserve) of our military. That is a staggering statistic! That 0.5% preserves the possibility for our democratic republic to survive for the remaining 99.5% is simply mind boggling.

Should this number be different? In other words, should more Americans be required to serve their nation? I’ve written in the past about mandatory military service for all. Conceptually, I still think this a good idea. What better way to give back to the nation that has given us so much than by serving it (even if only for a couple of years)? How better to appreciate the gift of being an American citizen than by putting your life on the line for that privilege? Practically however, I’ve come to think this idea is wrought with problems and undermines the genius of the all-volunteer force.

Even though only 0.5% of our citizens are currently serving, our military system seems to work. Could we use more Soldiers, Sailors, Airman, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen? Probably. Will there come a time when our nation calls on our sons and daughters to serve even when they might not want to? Sadly, I think so. But for now, even as we enter our 16th consecutive year of war, the 0.5% solution works. Our military is the envy of the world and is, without question, the most lethal military force history has ever known.

But being part of the 0.5% is no easy task. Like other vocations, serving in the military has its ups and downs. There are great days and days that you wish never happened. Those that serve obviously deserve our thanks and gratitude. Actually, they deserve much more. But even if we were perfectly loyal to our nation’s warriors, I don’t think the struggle of serving would go away.

The struggle I speak of is not one that we should be ashamed of, or one we need to call others out on. By and large, our nation supports our service members, and offers them numerous benefits that attempt to make up for the countless sacrifices they make. This struggle is not due to a society that is indifferent to what our military does for America and the rest of the world. We know that the American military is the first and last line of defense against tyranny across the globe. We’re it. Plain and simple.

Rather, the struggle I have in mind is one born in a type of naivete. It’s a struggle that service members experience all too often when they engage civilians who are incapable of understanding what it truly means to serve – what it means for them and their families to be constantly prepared to go to war. For the service member, this means a life that is always in flux, from a rigorous training schedule that takes them regularly into the field and away from their loved ones, to a state of being that cannot ever be entirely at ease.

It’s not that civilians can’t comprehend the many threats America faces from our enemies. Our society is keenly aware of these threats and stands ready to flex our nation’s military muscle when necessary. But unless you have served, unless you are serving, it is impossible to grasp the magnitude of the pressure service members and their family members endure as our nation remains at war. Hence, the struggle of the 0.5%. It is a struggle to be understood. A struggle that the vast majority of Americans have not and never will experience.

I’m not sure there is a fix to this struggle. I don’t think those that serve want a “solution” to it. They freely serve our nation and know the realities of this struggle. They know what it means for them and their families. And they’re ok with it. In their own way, they embrace it. They become it. The struggle of serving is part of who they are. But it’s there. For a whopping 0.5% of our population.