Photo by Army Sgt. John Schoebel
Years ago, the military services realized that as an organization, the U.S. Defense Department was having an identity crisis. There were standards, but they were loose and situationally dependent.
Values were independent of the service. Meaning, every service member brought their own scruples to the service and then they tried to live according to their personal values within an organization that didn’t have its cultural values outlined and understood by those in the ranks.
A slow, but steady push started in each branch of service to not only clearly state its mission statement, but also to list what values the services wanted to see in their personnel. Beyond that, it evolved to mean what values service members were expected to live, on and off duty, while they were members of the U.S. military.
While the U.S. military officially put values on paper, one of those values, selfless service, has been the cornerstone of military service since the Continental Army. How did soldiers in the Continental Army show selfless service? For starters, they fought against a superior military force. The British Army was better trained and better equipped, but the Continental Army did not back down.
In some cases, they fought without food, water, or supplies. They were led by men who left their families and businesses to fight for the cause. They started the military value of selfless service in the U.S. military because these soldiers put the fledgling nation’s needs first over their own; the greater good over their personal needs.
Photo by Elizabeth Fraser, Army
Selfless service has been a part of the U.S. military ever since and throughout U.S. military history we have seen it evolve, but it remains a core value of military service.
For example, during the Civil War, thousands of African American men joined the Union Army ranks to serve a nation that did not give them the full rights bestowed to Caucasian men. In fact, even though they were standing up to seceding southern states who supported breaking away from the American union and continuing human slavery, they risked their lives at less than half the pay white Union soldiers were paid.
This selfless service continued as the Buffalo Soldiers were established and continued to serve in segregated units. These brave men epitomized selfless service by putting their lives on the line, again, for a nation that refused to give them equal rights and treatment.
As mentioned, selfless service took root at the start of America’s military, and it has continued as a core value for more than 200 years. It’s important to note that it has always been an expectation, whether it was written or identified, that all American service members approach their duty with selfless service in mind.
Selfless service is why so many American heroes have earned combat awards where they placed the lives of others first before their own. The greatest thing a person can give another is their life.
Throughout the history of the U.S. military, there are thousands of anecdotes that tell the story of battlefield heroics done in the name of selfless service. Men and women of the U.S. military are trained from the start that they are devoted to the person to the left and right of them. It is no wonder more than 3,500 Medals of Honor have been presented. Many of those awards were presented posthumously, the recipient killed while saving others or fighting to protect others.
Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Branden Rae
But where does this intangible drive of selfless service come from? How is it that so many Americans across such a long timeline can share the same values in such varying situations. Is it because selfless service is in their blood somehow because as previously mentioned as a nation Americans had to be selfless to succeed?
During the Korean and Vietnam Wars, millions served in the two unpopular wars and while the nation collectively almost fully turned their backs on these brave men and women, many veterans from these wars are immensely proud of their service, as they should be, and they will quickly admit that they served their fellow veterans on the ground. Selfless service for them was taking care of each other and a willingness to lay down their lives for each other.
Selfless service continued beyond the Cold War and into the Global War on Terrorism where millions of veterans deployed to fight terrorists overseas. Many of them deployed multiple times, a display of selfless service each time they deployed to multiple fronts.
Today, the selfless service continues. There are sailors aboard ships putting the Nation’s needs above their own. They are in international waters, away from their loved ones. That is selfless service.
Photo by Navy Petty Officer 3rd Christina Himes
There are soldiers deployed to Syria and other places combatting terrorism. They are missing birthdays, holidays, and family milestones. That is selfless service.
There are airmen flying all over the world far away from the lives they ordinarily live. They are providing selfless service.
Lastly, somewhere, there is a Marine who is ready for anything at a moment’s notice, whether they are on a ship or at an embassy. They are on duty, rooted in selfless service.
Selfless service is ingrained into the U.S. military culture. It is beyond an expectation. It is a way of life. Service members are expected to put the Nation, their service branch, their units, and their fellow service members and their families before themselves.
Selfless service is the norm, not the exception in the ranks.