You Are the Elite!

Yes, you. For one thing, chances are you came to this blog entry via a Twitter or Facebook link. That makes you sort of techy, not just a run-of-the-mill person-on-the-street.

And you’re still reading. Good on you! That makes you even rarer, a member of the elite.

At least, apparently, as the U.S. armed services use the word.

Okay, first a caveat, lest someone think I’m a military basher: My family IS “our troops.” My great uncle served in WWII, my stepfather in the Korean conflict, three uncles in the Vietnam War, my oldest daughter in Korea a few years ago, her husband during two tours in the current Iraq war, and my younger brother and I in the Illinois National Guard. My mother has an entire wall of her living room devoted mainly to Basic Training portraits.

But last week on the Colbert Report (June 11, to be exact), when Command Sgt. Major Frank Grippe pitched to Stephen the idea that our troops are the “top three percent of Americans,” and turned to that audience of troops to reiterate the rationale, it left me irritated.

I’m all for building troop morale, but not by lying to them.

Remember, I’ve been through Basic Training. I’ve covered for the guy who couldn’t tie his boots correctly, or get his bed linens squared. I’ve seen the idiot on the rifle range who peered into the barrel of his own weapon when it jammed, and then waved it up and down the firing line toward the rest of us, trying to get the Drill Sergeant’s attention. Nor are these just Basic Training stories. I’ve been with one of the regular Army’s front-line units when it drove five hours off post to set up for a three-week field exercise, only to discover that the battalion aid station had left its generator back home.

Sure, those are the exceptions. Most of the men and women I’ve met are thoroughly professional, many of them are exceptionally bright, and they all have to remain in excellent physical condition.

But as a whole, the top three percent of American civilization? Really? (Colbert had earlier quipped that they were the elite in being the five percent of Americans who still had jobs.)

Maybe I’m just old and out of touch. Maybe the military has upped its standards of late, recruiting only geniuses.

Or maybe this is just more “shit on a shingle,” served up to keep men and women in harm’s way feeling good about themselves.

Maybe I shouldn’t begrudge them that. But I can’t help but worry about how much of a let-down it may be for many of them to end their duty, return home, and discover how hard it is to land a good civilian job–that they can’t just walk to the head of the line past ninety-seven other people to take their place in the elite three.

I’m inclined to think that our troops are indeed some of our best and brightest. They’re strong and intelligent enough to be treated as adults rather than fed a line of “three-percent” propaganda.

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