Shortly after my nineteenth birthday, I won the lottery -- no multi-million-dollar payout, though. It was a far better prize, especially for a teenager worried about being shipped off to an unpopular war. The capsule drawn in the draft lottery by the Selective Service corresponding to my birthday was "327," a high enough number that I was virtually assured that I wouldn't be called up. In fact, the month I turned 19 -- January, 1973 -- Defense Secretary Melvin Laird announced the end of the draft and the start of the voluntary military, though the lotteries continued for a few more years, just in case the draft was reinstated.
For nearly four decades, military service in this country has been optional. Males between 18 and 25 have simply been required to register for a draft, a theoretical conscription that would only be triggered should an emergency arise. Consequently, like so many in my generation, I've never been in uniform. That separates us from previous generations. My father served on a Naval destroyer and minelayer in World War Two and both my grandfathers fought in World War One. In fact, neither of the two major candidates for President this year, the would-be commanders-in-chief, ever spent a day in uniform, a first since Roosevelt and Dewey in1944.
During the seemingly endless presidential campaign, we heard much about the fault lines in the country -- political, gender, class, ethnic and race. But there has been very little talk about the chasm between military and civilian families, despite increasing numbers of deployments and extended sacrifice for members of the volunteer military. They and their families seem to be shouldering an enormous burden, first in Iraq and now in Afghanistan. And for so many of us who've never served and have no contact with our fellow Americans who do serve, the military communities seem distant. I often wonder how we in the civilian world appear to the military families which soldier on to keep our country safe.
It's not just the flag-draped coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base that should get our attention, so should the men and women returning from multiple deployments missing limbs, those suffering from traumatic brain injuries and the uptick in military suicides. It makes you question whether the volunteer military is sustainable in the new world of asymmetrical war with terrorists scattered across the globe.
It wasn't until I got an invitation to a screening of a film some months back that I began to realize just how we've become two nations since the volunteer military was instituted in 1973. The documentary, Gold Star Children -- those American kids who lost a parent in war -- brought home the enduring sacrifice made by young people, who often carry the scars of loss throughout their lives.
I was so touched by the two main subjects in the film -- a Gold Star child who lost her father during the Vietnam War, who befriends and mentors a Gold Star child who lost her father in the conflict in Iraq when she was seven -- that I joined the team making the film. For me, it's an opportunity to help explain the military world to my fellow civilians and a chance to work with Mitty Mirrer, the documentarian who is herself a Gold Star child, born just hours before her mother -- still in the maternity ward -- received one of those visits no military family ever wants: the official notification that Mitty's father was killed in Vietnam.
On this Veteran's Day, along with the sales at the mall and football games, take a moment to reach out to a member of the military community to say thank you. It's the least we can do.