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Touching the Third Rail

In political circles, it's often said that social security is the third rail. Touch it at your own peril. If there were a third rail with respect to military life, I'd venture to say it would be the issue of rank. Touch it at your own peril. Most of us never do. No good can come of it.

One of the most discussed stories so far this year was that of the Commander's wife who was accused of harassing soldiers and their spouses. One thing that made me cringe when reading various comment sections was the overt hostility towards the wives of officers. I learned over and over and over again that unacceptable, boorish behavior was standard operating procedure for these wives. They wear their husband's rank, they throw their weight around and they are, after all, notorious bullies. Rumor has it that Home Depot sold out of broad brushes in record time.

The logic here, if anyone cares to objectively examine it, is utterly foolish. Somehow, I missed the ritual that goes something like this: When issuing a military ID card, the issuing party must note the rank of the sponsor and in addition to issuing the ID card, they must also issue a personality which is a good fit for the service members rank. If that's not happening, do you think enlisted service members gravitate towards a certain type of woman and officers opt for another? Although, I must say, I do feel sorry for the wives of members who go green-to-gold. What are those wives to do? They must be so confused. Maybe they go back to the ID office and have another, opposite personality issued. A reprogramming, if you will. That must be it.

Yesterday, I read a great article written by a milspouse which examined some of the recurring points made by various commenters regarding this story.

Many individuals posted recommendations that senior spouses should be kept away from young spouses. Many used the excuse of bullies and crazies as their reason to stay away from all military events.

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1. Whack jobs are not the norm.

Maybe we should accept that some whack jobs will be with us always. In military life, we will have a certain number of bullies. Crazies. Despots. Dictators. The mentally ill. The terminally strange. The perpetually angry. We can't let ourselves get distracted by folks whose problems need the attentions of a three-star general. Instead, we need to focus on the norm - the young. The lonely. The overwhelmed. The perpetually busy. The remarkably resilient. What can we do for them?

One thing I love about being a part of this military community is the rich diversity of the community. I've often said the military is the ultimate melting pot. From a cultural perspective, It has greatly enriched my life. I've crossed paths with people from all corners of the earth, all races, all socio-economic backgrounds. I've met milspouses who were PhDs, stay-at-home-moms, writers, lawyers, strippers, a swimsuit model, a professional cheerleader, a tarot-card reader and the list goes on and on. I've met people I could talk to for hours on end, and yes, I've also met people I couldn't wait to get away from. For those I've dared to engage, I've learned something from all of them. This has been one of the most meaningful benefits of being part of this enormous family.

Stereotypes are a dangerous thing. When inaccurate perceptions become reality, it affects all of us. As with politics, in the military fishbowl in which we live, narratives take root and often do more harm than good. They create wedges. They divide us. They prevent us from digging deeper, from broadening our horizons and from building mutually-beneficial relationships. At the end of the day, it's a lose-lose proposition.

I'm just a little tired of the rank stereotypes (for both the service members and their spouses), and even more tired of feeling as if we can't discuss them. It's like the 800 pound elephant in the room that we tiptoe around. We do so because we fear a flame war might erupt and all the harmful stereotypes will be thrown on the table yet again, but how about a civil, rational discussion? For the most part, if someone is snotty, would they not be snotty if they were married to an E-3 instead of an O-7? If someone is lazy, would they not be lazy if they were married to a soldier instead of a lawyer? If someone is friendly, would they not be friendly if they were married to a sailor instead of an accountant?

There are real, consequential issues facing milspouses right now. Engaging in broad demagoguery of any subset of the community is such a waste of time and energy.There are miserable people in all walks of life, the military is no exception. But the good news is that for every Lenore Baker, I can point to countless Claudia Joy Holdens, and for every gossip girl network (think first and second season), I can point to countless Roxy LeBlancs and Pamela Morans.As Jacey said above, there are a certain number of "whack jobs" in this community, and they're embedded in all ranks and branches. Steer clear of them whenever possible. Don't make the mistake of transferring their quirks and short-comings onto others in similar circumstances. It's a huge disservice to the overwhelming majority of us who are living in a post 9/11 world and just trying to do the best we can with what we have.

Rank.

The Third Rail.

It has been touched.

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