I have read and listened with great interest of the commentary about the aftermath of armed forces recruiters and the murder of four Marines and a sailor in Chattanooga, Tennessee. All of the chatter about whether it’s safe for service members to proudly wear their uniforms while on duty in a civilian environment reminds me of the early 1970s when I was an Army recruiter.
I spent 11 of my 20 years in the U.S. Army as an Army recruiter in Michigan, Georgia and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I vividly remember, while assigned as a recruiter in East Lansing, Michigan, the home of Michigan State University, when anti-war/military sentiments were so rampant recruiters were not allowed to wear uniforms on campus. This was for fear of being attacked by anti-war demonstrators.
As a proud paratrooper, who had spent two years of combat duty in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division and as an instructor in the Airborne school at Fort Benning, home of the airborne, Rangers and the infantry, I was in no mood to be instructed I couldn’t wear my uniform anywhere I wanted to in America.
Those were the times in that period of our nation’s history we were living in, so I played along, but it didn’t stop there. We were also instructed we would be turning in our Army vehicles and the Army would begin leasing civilian vehicles, without any military markings with regular state license plates.
This lasted for two years. My colleagues stationed in the South did not have to adhere to such rules and regulations. I didn’t think too much of the idea. Like any good soldier, myself and others, throughout Michigan and the Midwest complied.
Just as I felt at that time we should not give in to the anti-war protesters, I feel now current armed forces recruiters should not give in to terrorists by locking themselves behind their recruiting station doors. They should not be afraid to move freely throughout their assigned recruiting areas while interacting with the general public. These men and women have been instructed to recruit the best and brightest young men and women America has to offer to join the best military in the world.
I’m not suggesting the threat is not real. Of course it is. But by cowering down and giving in to those whose goal is to put fear in our recruiting force or to prevent young people from having access to recruiters is a losing proposition. Nor do I believe the thousands of recruiters throughout America and its territories should be required to carry firearms.
Should it come to that, then perhaps this war on terrorism demands, “All hands on deck,” to use a Navy term. Or to have everyone “leaning forward in the fox hole,” an Army term. In my opinion, this means it’s time to return to the draft where selective service offices can operate in the “safety” of the well-guarded federal buildings just as they did prior to the all-volunteer Army.
Being an Army recruiter wasn’t the first time I felt the need to shed my uniform to avoid harm or danger. I remember returning from Vietnam via San Francisco in 1968 and being advised not to wear my uniform if I planned to tarry in the Bay Area prior to traveling East. These were my exact plans. In order to see what all the anti-war fuss was about I decided to spend a few days in the Bay Area and move amongst the hippies, militants, pot smokers, LSD droppers, women’s libbers, draft card burners, bra burners and others without them knowing that just one week prior I was in the jungles of Vietnam fighting the same war they were protesting. Even had they known, I doubt anyone would offer the now popular phrase, “Thank you for your service.”
So for all those who served and returned home and shed their uniforms upon touching down on American soil, I would like to say a big “Thank you for your service!”
To the five who gave their lives while serving in the best armed forces in the world, as well as those serving in combat and elsewhere, including my grandson, who is an infantryman in the 3rd Infantry Division, I too say to them, “Thank you for your service,” and I mean every damn word of it. Airborne!
C. Jack Ellis is a retired Army senior non-commissioned officer who spent two years as a combat leader in Vietnam and is a former mayor of Macon.