January 31, 2012

"What Do We Call Them Again?" A Guest Post by Joel Smith and Mike Stinetorf

I have been busy for the past several days and have neglected the blog. I had meant to cross-post this Victoria Fontan offering, for example, on Carl Prine's blog but will instead link to it here and recommend you all read it.

I also want to give some space for a guest post from Joel Smith and Mike Stinetorf*, who work on our "Joining Forces" initiative here at CNAS. As these two guys have worked on issues related to active-duty servicemen veterans, they have run up against the question of what, exactly, we should call veterans of these recent campaigns and want some feedback from this blog's readership. Take it away, guys.


The U.S.
military mission in Iraq is over and the war in Afghanistan (our involvement,
anyway) is scheduled to end in 2014.  As we transition out of the longest
war in U.S. history, it is clear many questions remain, including the legacy of
those who are serving during this period. What is not clear, however, is what
we should call these individuals.

What do we
call “the other 1%?”  Is there an appropriate term for
those who currently serve?

The most
obvious place to look would be to the military itself.  But, in an
institution that prides itself on using more than its fair share of jargon, the
military has a plethora of terms to describe its people:  service members,
service men and women, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coasties, uniformed
personnel, warriors, wounded warriors, warfighters, troops, grunts, officers,
NCOs, commanders and the list goes on.  Throw in a little civilian
vernacular, and you get terms such as “hero.”

The media
uses these terms interchangeably, often without knowing their meanings.  “Troops”
is perhaps the most over-used of them all; it seems neither the American public
nor the media know the true meaning of the word, which refers to Army enlisted.
There is an on-going debate regarding the usage of the term “hero;” the President used it (as well as “troops”
and “men and women in uniform”) in his most recent State of the Union address.
“Warrior” is also not a word that meets with common understanding or approval,
and some in uniform do not believe they are warriors. 

When we talk
about the military community at large, what do we call the OEF/OIF era service
member?  Is “service member” sufficient
and accurate albeit a bit bulky?  Is
“hero” an inclusive term or reserved for those who have performed extraordinary
acts in uniform?    Who or what is a “warfighter,” or a “warrior?”  Do we differentiate between those who
participate in combat and those who serve in other ways during a time of war?
Is there an accurate word that journalists and historians can and should use to
get it right?

As we
attempt to understand this era and these wars, addressing these basic questions
should be done with dignity, respect and perhaps above all else, accuracy.

*Joel is the son of a chaplain in the U.S. Army and has the good sense to date a girl from East Tennessee. Mike served as a U.S. Marine in Iraq and recently graduated from Dartmouth College. He was played by this dude on television.