My wife and I own a couple of smoothie/food shops. As small-business entrepreneurs, we take a lot of pride in providing 55 jobs while making payroll every week, all self-financed as saved- and scrimped-for investment capital. As owners, we choose to offer a 10 percent discount to first-responders and active-duty/reserve military and guardsmen. Which is where I get to my rub.
Recently, I had a military spouse grow irate with my cashier because we didn’t offer a discount to military family members. Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened. I guess I could stop offering any discount at all to the military, but would rather not. In this particular case, my cashier was on the receiving end of a very long tirade about how obviously unappreciative ownership must be of the sacrifices of the military family. The woman ended by stating “it would be in the owner’s best interest” to offer discounts to families as well. I wish I was there to find out exactly what she meant beyond her vague threat.
Her response, I believe, had nothing to do with my veteran-owned business being unappreciative of military families (we know firsthand about the hardships endured on the home front), and everything to do with the growing sense in our active and retired military community that as a group its members should be catered to because of their service. This is terribly misplaced and hurts civil-military relations, as well as sullies our service to this great nation.
I get it — society is grateful for our military service, and reasonably so. I also believe that society’s overboard efforts to recognize military service are directly related to the lasting guilt over how we treated returning Vietnam veterans. It’s a shameful part of our history to be sure, but the big difference today is that we veterans all volunteered.
I’m a big fan of the all-volunteer force, and I loved my time in service. Combat was terrible and awesome horrible and exhilarating. All my deployments were fantastic adventures, whether in combat zones or supporting foreign troops while in Special Forces. It was miserable at times, to be sure, and I was always glad to get home. Then I immediately started looking forward to the next deployment or training. I’ve been retired eight years and still miss that, as well as my brothers in arms.
We are fortunate in our society that we have tremendous citizens who pursue professions for our betterment. Teachers, police, firemen, doctors, nurses, scientists, social workers, civil servants, diplomats — and yes, military — all do our part to make our society a bit better while taking care of our citizens. All deserve admiration and thanks. It is time we recall that and quit creating a separate class of citizens.
I’m all for easing up on thanking veterans and uniformed personnel ad nauseam, eliminating most veteran hiring preferences, and having military leaders stomp out the attitude that military members and veterans are better than others. Let’s focus instead on fixing the Department of Veterans Affairs, allowing business to hire the best-qualified candidates, and taking care of our wounded warriors.
At the end of the day, I’m a capitalist and fought to defend that system. I'll offer a discount to whomever I want, and if you don’t like it, then patronize another establishment. If offered a discount as a retiree, I'll take it, although I'll never ask for one. I just regret that military-civilian relations are suffering, in part because of the attitude among some that civilians should have the military on a pedestal. Enough is enough.
Dave Duffy is a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served in the Special Forces.