The United States military makes up a small proportion of the overall population. Less than one percent of the population of the United States is a member of one of the five military services, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. It is an all-volunteer force, made up of Regulars, Reservists and National Guard. The numbers of each are set by law, and both Reservists and National Guard may be called to active duty to fill slots when needed.
So, what does the United States ask of it military? Many are called upon to fight for our country. Others are stationed in foreign lands or must travel between bases every year or two. A career in the United States military means never having a long-term home.
The normal actions of these men and women who have volunteered for the military should impress us. For low pay and lousy working conditions, these bright and educated people stand between us and danger every day.
Heroism is an implied requirement for a member of the military. They are called upon to voluntarily and routinely do things most Americans will not or can not. That is heroic.
The military recognizes that some men and women do more than their job, and there are a whole host of medals, awards and societies that officers and enlisted personnel can earn or be admitted to that demonstrate that they performed in an extraordinary manner.
Beyond that is an area unique to the military, valor in combat. For a soldier, sailor, Marine, airman or Coast Guardsman, combat is not valorous. Actions above and beyond the call of duty, however, are and for these heroes the military also provides awards recognizing their unusual and outstanding bravery.
Tim Nein and Leigh Ann Hester were serving with a Kentucky National Guard military police unit in Iraq. The convoy they were escorting was ambushed by insurgents firing from trenches and well prepared fighting positions. The actions of this young man and woman that day would earn him the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) and her the Silver Star. The DSC is the Army’s second highest award for valor in combat and the Silver Star is its third highest. Hester became the first woman to be awarded the Silver Star since World War Two.
Monica Lin Brown was serving as a combat medic in Afghanistan. She wasn’t supposed to go out on combat missions. But… there were few medics and only a woman could search the Afghan women that patrols ran across. In the midst of an attack on her patrol, Brown helped pull wounded soldiers to safety and was seen shielding the wounded with her body as mortar shells rained down. She is the second woman to receive a Silver Star.
Brian Chontosh was just learning his trade, that of a Marine officer. He was part of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, leading his unit in combat like so many other young men. While in a convoy, his men were attacked by Iraqi troops. Hemmed in by vehicles front and back, he ordered his driver to crash through an opening in a roadside wall. He discovered a trench system full of the enemy. By the time Chontosh finished his work that day, he had earned the Navy Cross, the Marine Corps second highest medal for valor in combat. His actions singlehandedly defeated, killed, dozens of enemy and ended the attack on his unit.
Ross McGinnis was what most Americans would call a “wise ass” in high school. He made some poor choices and seemed headed for a life that included jail time. A chance contact with an Army recruiter changed that. Driven, he buckled down in high school, enlisted and went to Iraq as a gunner. Ross’s valor one day would result in he being awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor in combat that the United States can give. He earned it the usual way, by dying. Most Medals are posthumous. McGinnis threw himself on a grenade to protect the other soldiers in his vehicle.
Robbie Miller is the latest soldier to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The President will present the Medal to Miller’s family on October 6. Miller’s team was attacked while on patrol in Afghanistan. The officer was wounded. Miller chose to stay at the front of the formation and use his weapon to great effect against the enemy, who firing from concealment. He fought, providing covering fire for his team, until overcome by his wounds and dying.
These are just a few of America’s military heroes. No list can tell all their stories, but from the Revolution on, the real bravery of men and women in our military is clear.