Opinion: Support the troops, but only when they’re white.

Kaylah Jackson
April 18, 2018 - 10:30 am

Photo courtesy of Ronald Franklin

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When I enlisted in the Florida National Guard in 2012, my first unit assignment was an engineer company that was "overwhelmingly” black. I say overwhelmingly not in distaste but because I was unaware this type of unit makeup existed. A cursory glance during first formation on a drill weekend and you could easily see a majority of the soldiers looked like me.

Neither of my parents served but I have grandfathers and numerous extended family members who have had the honor of wearing the uniform but still, seeing myself reflected in such large numbers was unfamiliar to me. Even to me, the stereotype of a service-member has always been a middle-aged white infantry guy.

That’s why, when I saw the video of Judy Tucker assaulting and referring to two Army women Captains, one of whom was pregnant, as “black lesbian bitches,” I wasn’t surprised, (as many black people aren’t when instances of racial aggression surface).

Seeing that video reminded me that I continuously grapple with the idea that Americans support the troops, but only when they fit a more broad definition.

In an era where if you have a keyboard and internet access, you have a voice, I am constantly drowned in conversations where the “super Hooah” archetypes are the only ones of merit.

If your social media profile isn’t you in full-battle rattle in a far-off foreign valley, if your truck doesn’t display a “Don’t Tread on Me” license plate or you don’t casually wear military insignia, to the American public and even to some within the military circle, your voice doesn’t matter.

I do not discount the work, nor sacrifice of our nation’s infantrymen and special operators. I have the utmost respect and admiration for my brothers in uniform who volunteered and endured the elite training to earn their respective titles.

Yet, those are the voices I see elevated. From in person conversations, to online exchanges, even among veterans groups and it is even a position that has plagued even recollections of my own service.

I have (yet) to deploy, is my service worth anything? I don’t have what civilians think as a “combat MOS,” is my service worth anything? I’m not a white male, is my service worth anything?

Some might argue that this stereotype has credit given a majority of veterans are white males, but as with many topics, just because something is the majority, doesn’t grant it freedom from criticism.

Bullets do not discriminate, neither does artillery. So, why is it that when we serve and when we come home, civilians do? I venture to argue that the average American is most familiar with one job in the military—the infantry. This is a gentle reminder that we all have learned to fire a weapon and your portrait of the American hero is not painted with one color.

Like many, I would rather be referred to a service member than a female service member or a soldier rather than a black soldier.

But, as a black woman who dons the U.S Army uniform, those qualifiers exist. I can’t ignore them because America doesn’t ignore them, but when coupled with experience and knowledge, our voices should be valued within the broader military conversation.

When singular voices are neglected the strength of our Armed Forces suffers and the civilian military divide widens because we claim to “support the troops,” but only when they are white.