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Veterans Day 2019: Who Are Our Military?

Kristin Saboe and Laura Tate

Happy Veterans Day to SIOP’s military community and beyond. The sacrifices our military men and women and their families make daily are commendable. These sacrifices often go unspoken because it is a way of life for them. Many times when someone stops a veteran to say “thank you for your service” you’ll find the veterans pauses and has to think about a reply. It isn’t that they are not thankful for your gratitude and acknowledgment; it is often that veterans simply do not see their daily actions as anything different from those not wearing a uniform around them. The first few times I (Kristin) was welcomed with such a comment in public after I joined the Army, I fell mute because, in reality, I was simply doing my job as an I-O psychologist in uniform. I, like so many veterans and family members of veterans think of this as a job to be done but to those they protect and enable freedom for, it is far more than that. It is a sacrifice few – about 8% of the U.S. population are veterans – are willing to make for an outsize impact on the world.

SIOP’s Military and Veterans Initiative (MVI) Task Force was launched in fall 2018 after maturing from a prosocial effort first founded in 2012. Focused internally, the Task Force builds a community for those that work on military-relevant or funded topics whether through research, practice, and/or identification as a military community member. Externally, the Task Force communicates best practices of I-O psychology relevant to Veterans’ and their families’ well-being, work conditions, and employment topics.

This article is the first of a two-part series aimed at increasing our military cultural literacy within SIOP. Though I-O psychology owes much of its advancement to military-funded projects, many I-O psychologists may be unfamiliar with the military itself and how it runs. Our second article debuting next week will tackle topics related to the civilian employment of military spouses and veterans.

Focusing on the experience of military service, let’s start by identifying the different branches of service in the U.S. military. In the U.S., we have five primary branches of the military: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard. The U.S. Public Health Service Corps is a small but mighty branch that works directly for the Surgeon General, focusing on domestic public health topics. It is important to note that most militaries around the world have similar branches but are organized differently.

Each of the branches of the military serve both combat and humanitarian missions. There are also different components of the military – Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard. The Active Duty component is our primary military service component comprised of military service members that work for the Department of Defense around the clock. They typically move duty stations (place of work on an installation or assignment) every 1 to 4 years, depending on need and their occupational specialty (job type in the military). The Reserves is another component of the military that maintain their readiness through (typically) once a month training to ensure they are ready to backfill our Active Duty domestically and internationally for missions when needed. Typically, Reservists maintain a civilian job in addition to serving in the Reserves. The National Guard, similar to Reservists, stand ready to serve specific time-limited assignments when they are called upon, do not wear a uniform daily, maintain a civilian job, and train monthly to maintain proficiency in their military occupations. Differently from the Reserves which is federally funded, the National Guard is state-funded, meaning their missions may be to help with events within their state specifically and/or provide back-up for our Active Duty personnel.

The military is a hierarchical organization with a defined rank structure. In the military, the higher your rank, the more senior and tenured you are. Enlisted personnel make up approximately four-fifths of all service members; officers make up the remainder of military personnel. Officers are considered the military’s top-line leaders. Enlisted become managers and leaders as they ascend the ranks but are still deferential to officers for final decision making. It is important for civilians however to not make assumptions about capability based upon officer or enlisted ranks, as most enlisted will be given substantial decision-making responsibility and leadership responsibilities very early in their career.

Serving in the military comes with many benefits, which are well-deserved. When you hear someone has “retired” from the military, it means that they served for 20 or more years. Retirement in the military entitles you to healthcare along with a pension. Because service is age limited, nearly every one that serves in the military is guaranteed at least a second if not a third career.

Check in next week for Part 2 of our series on military literacy!

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