One Percent

I have a poster in my office, generously shared with me by my husband, that reminds me every day that while I am here to serve a small sector of UNLV’s community, it is a sector that deserves so much repayment for their sacrifices.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about bridging the divide between academia (higher education, in particular) and the military.  After the firestorm over bringing back Columbia University’s ROTC programs, that divide has really never seemed wider.  Some excellent writing has been done on the topic in recent weeks, including:

In Defense of ROTC – A guest post on VA’s VAntage Point blog

Sensitivity to Veterans’ Issues on Campus – A blog post from SVA

Columbia, ROTC, and The Civilian-Military Divide – Another guest post on VA’s VAntage Point blog

A particular thought in the Defense of ROTC piece caught my attention…

The 2010 Military Family Lifestyle survey by Blue Star Families…found that 92% of respondents agreed with the statement, “The general public does not truly understand or appreciate the sacrifices made by service members and their families.” This statistic has been quoted by many of our nation’s leaders in their own speeches about the dangers we face, as a nation, when our military and civilian populations don’t recognize each other and therefore, can’t understand or trust each other.

Just one percent, one percent of our nation, is bearing the burden of this war. With such a small percent serving in the military, it is easy to see how the sense of shared sacrifice, which was present in earlier conflicts such as World War II, decreases and gives way to gaps in understanding, and eventually alienation.

The case for ROTC as an opportunity to bridge the academia-military gap is well articulated in the above articles.  Certainly a military officer corps will be more successful when it leverages the full scope of intellect & creative thinking available in our nation’s universities.  But, the officer corps is a very small percentage of the overall fighting force in this country.  If we are effectively going to build bridges here, the entire veteran and military community must establish clear communication opportunities with higher education leaders.

We already know that veterans returning to or beginning in higher education after military service face a certain amount of challenge in their transition.  Veteran Services offices and Student Veteran Organizations are trying to overcome the language and experience gaps, but it would seem that more could be done.

I’ve advocated before that one of the primary problems in academic-military relationships is one of language.  We need to learn how to talk to one another.  Veterans and military folks can learn the languages of higher ed (learning communities, anyone?) and higher ed folks can take the time to really understand military service.  Student veterans, just like ROTC students, are in an amazing position to share the good word by talking about their service with a fellow student or a trusted professor.  We (veterans) tend to be an insular group, trusting each other first and using acronym code to bond, but if we are to gain true support from the 99% of this country who have not served, we need to start sharing with people outside our group.  We need to speak slowly, spelling out our acronyms, and explain as we go.  As we go to campuses throughout this country to obtain and education, we can, in turn, also educate.

It’s not often that so many in this country owe so much to so few, but now is one of those times.  Let’s start talking.