A long time ago (as my personal timeline measures it) I tried to join the military -- specifically the Air Force. I did well on a placement exam, but I couldn't cut it in Basic. (Ironically, I'd have absolutely no trouble getting through it NOW).
Being in for even that short, non-active stint did give me two things; an inside look at at least part of the operation of a real military force, and a vast respect for those who do not only make it through basic training, but then go on to make a CAREER of this -- a career which may be very, very short if their assignment takes them somewhere that there are armed and hostile adversaries.
Our military is often reviled by people either watching what they're doing, or present in the areas they're sent to. This is one more thing they have to deal with: theirs is often an UNPOPULAR job. Oh, back in WWII it was a Good Thing to be a soldier. For a brief few months after 9/11 it was a Good Thing to be a soldier. But much more often it's a decision, and a job, which a lot of people will give you a hard time about.
The fact is, the vast majority of our serving military people are good, dedicated, hard-working individuals who have chosen to put their careers -- and sometimes lives -- into a service that is a vital, if sometimes misused, component of our civilization. I work with a LOT of military people, both serving military and civilian auxiliaries (who are themselves often retired military). I admire most of the ones that I have had the privilege of working with. And I'm grateful that they are out there to do a job that I couldn't do when I was younger, and am now pretty much too old to do now.
The prior military generations made it possible for me to have a life here at all in a country which, despite its problems, is still one of the greatest achievements of mankind. I can sit here comfortably typing in my house and sending this message to countless people around the world in great part because, before I was even born, a hell of a lot of my country's young men and women went out and put their lives on the line -- some of them coming home alive, others coming home only with honors and a quiet, polished casket.
I salute the living veterans, and toast their missing comrades.