In honor of Veteran’s Day, here are the stories of two of my high school classmates, one a veteran, the other an active duty military officer, about what their military service means to them.
Jason Wong was a Captain in the U.S. Army and worked for the Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command. His military experience started with ROTC in high school and college. But he joined the army only after getting a law degree and working for a few years at a law firm, which he found unsatisfying. He quit the law firm and joined the army as a prosecutor. “This country’s been very good to my family,” said Jason Wong of his decision to serve in the Army. “This was my chance to give back.” Jason’s great-grandfather emigrated from China to San Francisco as a paper son. His grandfather was a small business owner in Hawai’i, and his father was the first person in their family to go to college.
Now a small business owner himself, his experience in the military continues to shape him. He recently hired a veteran at his Seattle office. “Most Americans don’t realize the sacrifice service men and women make,” he says. “It’s something you’d just have to experience to fully comprehend.” An avid cook, Jason sends care packages of baked goods and handwritten letters to friends who are actively serving overseas. “I know what baked goods and letters from home are worth,” he says.
Lieutenant Colonel Chris Hamilton serves in the U.S. Air Force. His grandfather was a Gunnery Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps and a Korean War veteran. Chris initially joined the military to help pay for college. “I wanted to get near the space program,” Chris says. “I only planned to stay in for four years.” But the military offered Chris the chance to get two master’s degrees and a wide range of work experience. “I’ve had opportunities I couldn’t get in the civilian world,” Chris says.
“People do it [join the military] for different reasons, but deep down inside, they want to do something bigger than themselves,” says Chris. “And the military is a chance for you to do that. It’s an equalizing force. People come from all walks of life, but when you get there, everything is based on your performance, not who you were before you joined.”
Chris and I talked briefly about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which was repealed in September 2011. He says by the time Congress repealed the discriminatory law, the military had already long accepted gays in their ranks. “The active-duty military reflects the young population of this country,” he says, “not the decision-makers in their 60s and 70s,” and thus has the same tolerance towards gays as the great majority of young people in the rest of the U.S. “Military folks,” says Chris, “are just like everybody else.”