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A Society Apart: The Oft-Forgotten Sacrifice of Military Service

When most people--even those within the ranks--consider the matter of personal sacrifice as it relates to military service, notions of dangerous training exercises, long deployments, "compulsory" family neglect, and combat action typically come to mind. And these indeed represent some of the potential and poignant sacrifices made by our nation's men and women in uniform. However, these forms of sacrifice are only episodic; that is, they come and go during one's term of service. For example, a Soldier might serve one or two years in a combat theatre, but the rest of her tenure is spent in peacetime assignments. Or a Sailor may go on a six-month cruise, but the rest of his year is occupied by shore duty, enduring a relatively "nine to five" routine. Again, an aircrew may fly a dangerous, 10-hour training sortie, but the other 14 hours of the day are spent safely on the ground. In other words, the aforementioned sacrifices are real, but they are not generally continuous.

This is not true for one sacrifice, though. In their book entitled "Military Law in a Nutshell," authors Charles A. Shanor and L. Lynn Hogue write, "The military services are a 'society apart' from civilian society by virtue not only of function, but also by virtue of the fact that servicemembers enjoy more limited constitutional rights than American civilians." What most Americans don't realize is that when a civilian enlists or commissions as an officer in the U.S. military, she forthwith forfeits some of her constitutional rights, such as certain rights of due process (Fifth Amendment) and freedom of speech (First Amendment). One is want to think of any vocation other than the military where an "employee" can be brought up on statutory charges for refusing to get a haircut or for giving the boss a "piece of his mind." Sure, in civilian contexts such actions may land one in the unemployment line, but they will not land him in jail. And in how many civilian occupations can a person be charged with, convicted of, and punished for a crime without ever going through the judicial system? Yet, this is reality for servicemembers under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and its well-established doctrine of non-judicial punishment (a.k.a., NJP, captain's mast, and Article 15). The hard truth is that when members of our free and democratic American society "sign on the dotted line" and vow service to our nation's military, they become members of another society altogether. And this new society, as wonderful as it is and as personally fulfilling as it can be, is not built around unwavering First- and Fifth-Amendment principles. Although such principles are not obliterated for the servicemember (I am certainly not accusing the military establishment of permitting post-Thirteenth-Amendment chattelry or harboring a government-sanctioned dictatorship), they are indeed redacted or otherwise amended. Although an integral part of America and American culture, the military is undoubtedly a sub-society set apart to do that which most would never consider doing and some even find unconscionable, but which must be done to ensure liberty for all.

Of course, two caveats are in order at this point. First, none of the above is meant to portray military servicemembers as either victims or heroes. Few of those in uniform regard their sacrifice with conceit and even fewer would ever cry woe for having to fulfill their service obligations. Although servicemembers do, in fact, "sign away" certain constitutional rights, they do so (in most cases) freely and humbly. Secondly, the redaction of constitutional rights (noted above) is necessary for proper and effective function of the military. If servicemembers were given all the freedoms and protections of their civilian counterparts, then it would be quite difficult (or even impossible) for commanders and other leaders to maintain the uncommon personal and corporate discipline required for military service, to ensure a ready and able fighting force, and to prosecute war and other contingency operations efficiently, justly, and with minimal loss of life. When compared to the "everyday" of civilian existence, military service is strange and unconventional. Consequently, the same rules do not always apply.

Again, though, one will rarely hear a servicemember complain about any of this. In an all-volunteer force, those who join do so with eyes wide open. They willingly become members of this "society apart" and give years and, in many cases, decades of their professional lives to something in which they firmly believe. Are they constitutionally hamstrung in some ways? Sure. Do they sacrifice in ways that other Americans do not? Absolutely! But like the college athlete who wants to win an important game or the single mother of four who wants to provide the best for her children or the philanthropist who wants to see the plight of his city's poor remediated, military members step forward knowing both the costs and the rewards of their service. And, so, I encourage you neither to pedestalize nor victimize our estranged men- and women-at-arms for their abridged rights (and other sacrifices). Instead, simply recognize that military service is fundamentally different from other "jobs" or "career fields" in American society, appreciate the existential importance of the "rights" sacrifice, and, if you're so inclined, tip your hat the next time you pass someone in uniform.

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I praise the military for the sacrifices they must make to fulfill their duties. I had three brothers that served in WWII and thanks to GOD they all came home.

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