By: John Aldrich, Vice President of Military, Veterans and Educational Partnerships
As a Baby Boomer, I often sit on the fence regarding my views on Millennials, but since I also feel affinities for Gen X-er’s I tend to move easily between the two generations of thought. For example, I generally take a more heterogeneous view on social and cultural diversity, whereas Boomers — especially those born shortly after WWII — tend to have a more homogeneous perspective. This is precisely the type of stereotyping that goes hand-in-hand with most generational biases, and someone out there is already disagreeing with me, but that’s okay. Such differences are one of the many things that make our country great.
Most of today’s active-duty force and veterans are products of the millennial generation, shaped by their environment and combined social experiences. Millennials in the military run the spectrum, from their obsession with social media to their often liberal-leaning political views. Like their civilian counterparts, they are often described as a lazy, self-centered, and privileged generation. In the workplace, Millennials are often portrayed as putting in the bare minimum of hours, and driven by the self-absorbed notion that they should be promoted overnight.
I work with numerous Millennials, some of whom have served, and couldn’t find this sentiment to be more wrong. My experience is that they are actively engaged in meaningful social causes and typically among the first to contribute their free time and money toward a worthy cause. One could also argue that being strapped with paying down the nation’s debt created by past generations or being subject to a retirement system dependent on the whims of today’s financial markets isn’t “privileged” at all.
What is clear, whether you are talking about the Greatest Generation, Boomers, Gen X-ers, the Net-Generation, or Millennials, is that they all share a love of country. Millennials are no different.
I have the honor of visiting veterans and servicemembers throughout the country, and each encounter brings a great sense of pride about the young men and women from this generation. They join the service for many of the same reasons as others before them: to seek adventure, grow up, get a job, serve others, and especially to satisfy a deep sense of post-9/11 patriotism. This is no different than those from the Greatest Generation flocking to recruiting centers after Pearl Harbor.
The future for millennials in the military is as bright as that of any preceding generation. Women are breaking barriers by joining the exclusive military communities of Navy Submariners and Army Rangers, and, as the first digital natives, Millennials are perfect candidates to combat the growing threat of cybercrime. They question authority more than past generations, but no one should doubt that this generation is any less patriotic. The heroic stories of self-sacrifice by this generation on the battlefield and the enduring sense of optimism by those Millennials wounded in recent wars are humbling.
As America celebrates Military Appreciation Month and prepares for this Memorial Day, we not only take time to reflect and honor the accomplishments and sacrifices of those who came before us, but to also recognize today’s servicemembers and veterans.