Want to know what the Armed Forces add to our society' Just ask a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine.

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 Armed Forces.

Service members 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 in the mid '70s. While I was at the reception station a staff sergeant asked us why we enlisted.

"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 is ever that simple, but the type of individual signing up then was certainly different from today. Today's service members are smarter and better educated. For many in the '70s military service was a last resort, for most now, it is a first choice.

Perhaps the 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 veterans without direct contact with the active forces, 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 service members 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 Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.