Want to know what the Army adds to our society' Just ask a Soldier.

The answers tend to be pretty positive - even uplifting. And they also represent yet another sign of the remarkable change that has taken place in the Army.

Soldiers today are far more attuned to the moral and ethical underpinnings of military service than they used to be. Ask about the value of military service and they talk about self discipline, courage, sacrifice - the aspects of individual character that helped make ours the most successful democracy on the planet.

I don't think those would always have been the dominant responses to the question. In decades past - at least in the era of the volunteer force - I think the answers would have been less thoughtful.

The Soldiers I knew in the '70s and '80s would have been more likely to stress missions - protecting the country from communism, fighting our enemies. And those only after going through a list of personal goals.

I enlisted back in the mid '70s. While I was spending a miserable weekend at the reception station at Fort Sill a staff sergeant placed in charge of the 50 or so new recruits I was among killed some time by asking us why we enlisted. Most responded that they needed jobs, or they were looking for training. Any response that talked about personal growth or patriotism - and there were a few - was met by obscenity-laced derision.

"You all came in for the money" was the NCO's conclusion. Most of the recruits nodded agreement.

I don't think the decision to enlist in the Armed Forces is ever that simple, but the type of individual signing up then was certainly different from today.

Today's new Soldiers - on average - are smarter, better educated and more likely to have made a considered judgment before signing up. For many in the 1970s military service was a last resort, for most now, it is a first choice.

Perhaps the formal declaration of seven Army values had an effect. When Soldiers talk about the value of their service, they seem to describe attributes the Army values cover. I suspect it is a chicken and egg kind of thing - the idea of a meaningful list of core values struck a responsive chord at the same time the changing nature of new Soldiers made them more attuned to discussions of character.

Some old Soldiers who no longer have much direct contact with the Army, seem to think that today's troops can't possibly measure up to those back in the day. I take pride in correcting those misperceptions.

I am constantly amazed at the character of the individual Soldiers I meet, and the rock solid values that seem to guide their lives.

How can you know'

Just ask them.

David W. Kuhns Sr. is editor of Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri July 25th, 2008 at 18:39