Some months ago, the US Army raised the maximum age for those who wanted to enlist because it had found it difficult to retain employees. At the beginning of the war, a lot of people joined because they felt it was their patriotic duty. But, over time a different reality has become apparent. It is this: The mantra that the armed forces takes care of its own is, in fact, empty of any meaning. The reality is that, like most politicians, they are more concerned about being seen to do the right thing than actually doing it. This tragic truth has emerged in recent messages published near military bases and on the Armed Forces Network (AFN).
Upon exiting one overseas base, there is a sign exhorting drivers not to tailgate because “We cannot afford to lose you.” AFN has also run a series of ads stressing the need to notify your chain-of-command if someone you know is thinking of suicide. The message to soldiers is that suicide weakens the Army.
These messages would be funny if they weren’t so tragic. “We can’t afford to lose you” is a far cry from “We care about you.” I once had a sales manager ask me how her sales team to could appear to care to their customers. I considered my words very carefully, and very nearly said, “Duh!” She was obviously surprised when I said that her sales people need to genuinely care.
If we really care about people, we need to tell them in words that cannot be misunderstood and then back them with unmistakable actions. To do anything less is to substitute appearance for actually doing the right thing.