Disclaimer: I’ve tried to think of a better way to write this post, but no matter how I phrase this it still comes off as self-righteous. It certainly isn’t intended to be, as I’m not trying to make myself sound awesome (I’m not) nor am I trying to talk about what a good person I am (I’m not that, either). However, this is a thought that needs to be conveyed along with the back story that inspired it.
As I’ve already pointed out, I’m active duty military. My unit does Physical Training (known as PT from here on out) every morning, Monday through Friday. The way everything works out we usually have less than an hour to shower, change, cram some food down our gullets and get to work. It’s an exercise in time management, but we usually do okay.
As I was leaving the post after PT yesterday morning, I saw a car parked on the side of the road with its hazard lights flashing. There was a woman standing next to the car, waving her cellphone back and forth in an attempt to get someone’s attention using the screen as a signal light. Since PT has just ended, I was in the middle of a line of cars and trucks that drove past. Every single car and truck in front of me drove right on past, not even slowing down. They shifted their position to the left to give the stranded vehicle more room, so it isn’t like they didn’t see it, they just didn’t seem to care. Either that or they were concerned that they couldn’t spare any time if they wanted to get to work on time.
I pulled over and got out of my truck to see what was wrong. It turned out to be a married couple, and their car had run out of gas. They needed help pushing the car out of the road, and they needed a lift to a gas station so they could fill a gas can. I helped them push the car into a nearby parking lot (my hip wasn’t happy about that, for those of you who know my medical status), then gave the husband a ride to the gas station, then paid to fill their gas tank once they got their car to the station (the car and their state of dress gave me a good idea of their financial status). I ended up being about 15 minutes late to work, but luckily I’m senior enough (and don’t really give much of a damn) that I didn’t get in any trouble.
What bothers me about this situation, however, is the fact that at least fifteen fellow military service members drove right on by without even a second thought. A car on the side of the road, the driver actively trying to get someone, anyone’s, attention, 5:30 in the morning in a bad neighborhood (there aren’t a whole lot of good neighborhoods right outside a military installation), and not a single service member so much as slowed down. Sure, these people ended up being out of gas and damn near broke, but that was only discovered after I had pulled over and asked what the problem was. For all anyone else knew, someone could have been hurt or dying.
Now, I understand the “I can’t be late” mentality. It’s all but beaten into us in the military that being five minutes early is actually being five minutes late, as you should always be ten minutes early for everything. It’s so engrained into our minds that when the General sets a start-time of eight o’clock, the Colonel tells everyone to be there by 7:45. Then the Lt. Colonel sets his arrival time to 7:30. The Captain? He tells his people to be there at 7:15. The First Sergeant puts out 7:00 to his platoon sergeants, who in turn tell their squad leaders to have their Soldiers formed up and ready to go by 6:50. Before you know it, you’ve got Soldiers standing in formation at 6:30 for an event that isn’t kicking off until 8:00. It’s part of the lifestyle, and we’re used to it, so I definitely can see the whole, “I can’t stop to help, because I’ll have my face chewed off by The Boss when I show up late” thought process.
I can also, to an extent, understand the “don’t talk to strangers” mentality. Some people are afraid to pull over and help a stranded motorist, because there’s a change we might end up stabbed or shot while someone drives away with our car. It’s happened before, and it’s likely to happen again.
But all of that doesn’t matter to me. It actually makes me ashamed to know that these people saw a couple dozen vehicles leave a military installation and drive right past them in their time of need. It saddens me to know that even though we don’t make a whole lot of money (they don’t pay any of us enough, but if we can’t take a joke we shouldn’t have joined), at least there is money in our bank accounts every two weeks while a good sized chunk of our fellow citizens haven’t gotten a paycheck in years. And it infuriates me to see my fellow service members being unwilling to forgo the cost of a couple of cases of beer or a new Xbox 360 game for themselves in order to help out someone less fortunate than them.
The military is a service, meaning we serve the nation, serve the people, serve the public. It’s our duty, our responsibility to lend a hand to our fellow citizens (or non-citizens if that’s the case) when they ask for it. I’ve heard of a little thing called common decency, something that the rest of the country is supposed to practice. People hold us in the military to a higher standard that the rest of the country, meaning we should rise above common decency. Apparently, common decency isn’t so common, because when I paid for their gas and apologized on behalf of my fellow service members for not stopping to help, the wife started to cry.
My fellow Soldiers, please tell me we’re better than this.
– Sergeant Van