The Greatest Generation?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Robert Mallets
  • 22nd Operations Support Squadron commander
As I was growing up, I watched many movies and read many books about the amazing contributions of our nation's "Greatest Generation." This "Greatest Generation" are the soldiers, sailors and marines of World War II. Then, we were the United States Army Air Corps.

Few would argue these great Americans not only changed the course of the world, but also accomplished this with amazing determination and spirit, the brute force of thousand of airplanes formations and more importantly bravery and courage in every battle.

These warriors defeated two nations determined to conquer the world earning them the title of "Greatest Generation."

While, their effect was immense, not all of the service members were volunteers and few knew what they were getting into when they boarded those ships for foreign lands.

One wonders how many would have raised their hand knowing they would be embroiled in war within months of entering the service. Certainly, this is not to question their commitment or bravery, but a majority of those that participated were drafted and went due to their Nation's summons.

Warp forward 20 or so years to the Vietnam conflict. There is a separate Air Force and in the beginning, a volunteer military force.

Here is a generation of warriors entrenched in the ongoing Cold War with communism and now drawn into a conflict in Vietnam. Here is a generation fighting against an unconventional enemy compounded by a continual constraint from Washington D.C.. This conflict was a grueling test of the American serviceman because he faced a new kind of enemy and had to deal with a nation that did not support their efforts.

My father returned from Vietnam after a year of service to a nation tired and unappreciative of his sacrifice. He did not come home to a parade for heroes, but instead a woman spat on his uniform.

I ask, was this the "Greatest Generation?" Service members facing adversity and still committed to serving our great nation. Were their contributions any less heroic? Heroes such as Colonel Carl "Bud" Day who fought for democracy, had his aircraft shot out from underneath him, lived under unimaginable conditions as a prisoner of war and came home to a unappreciative nation.

I believe that these heroes who dealt with so much and so little recognition, earns them the right to be a contender for the "Greatest Generation."

Enter my generation, "Generation X," a generation who joined the military in the late 1980s or early 1990s at the end of the Cold War.

We are a generation who entered at the end of the Reagan Era when the military enjoyed exceptional support, equipment, funding and the greatest support from the public since World War II.

I graduated Officer Training School two days after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. From my first day as an officer, our generation experienced nothing but success. Some may say that we are 4-0; Operations Desert Storm, Allied Force, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. While our work is certainly not done in OIF and OEF, the major operations were an overwhelming show of force.

We have the best equipment, best planners, and experienced and committed leaders who know how to prosecute war. Every time we came home from these operations, we came home to parades or other great showings of support for our efforts or victories.

Although we are privileged to enjoy this unparalleled success, our enemy is not a peer competitor and for the most part unable to counter our overwhelming power and technology. What is our impact on the world? Have we faced the adversity that the two previous generations have endured? Does our success make us contenders for the "Greatest Generation" or should it be expected since we have the best support and the least capable adversaries?

Enter today's generation, "Generation Next" or as some of us call it "Generation Y" with text messaging, instant information, and enthralled and proficient with technology.

A generation that has not been allowed to fail, protected from elimination games or anything that might not look like success.

Our generation, at times, has difficulty understanding them, but is privileged to lead them. While we may think we have all the answers for them, we need to take a step back and understand their situation.

This is a generation with our military at war their entire adult lives. Each of these brand new servicemen comes into the military knowing they will be deployed, at least for the foreseeable future, almost 50% of every year, knowing they will be in harms way, fighting against an enemy that doesn't fight using conventional means and dealing with an ever decreasing support from our public. But they still joined nonetheless.

The success of this generation is still in the making, but the level of commitment is still no less than that of their predecessors.

We may not understand these new warriors, but we still must admire them for answering their call despite the impending and constant danger. So, despite our lack of understanding of what makes them tick, is this generation the "Greatest Generation?"

Some may say that it is blasphemy to compare today's generation to our heroes of World War II, but I say that we must consider that every generation has its claim to this title under very different circumstances.

I think it is important that we at least look at all of our generations as the "Greatest Generation," in that no matter the situation, success or adversity, our servicemen have answered their Nation's call, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for many reasons; stopping tyranny, battling terror or ensuring the ideals of democracy continue.

No matter the reason they fight to defend our great nation, each has earned the right to be considered our nation's "Greatest Generation."