Selfless Service

Updated: November 7, 2010

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” Spock said as he died while saving the ship in Star Trek 2. Ole Pointy Ears must have been a Soldier.

The difference between the active military attitude and the civilian world’s is never more obvious than in the difference between selfish and selfless service. This is by no means a disparaging diatribe on the civilian workforce, so allow me a moment to explain.

When you’re in the military, you work until the work is done, no matter how long that is. If your Platoon Leader, Company Commander, or whomever tells you, “we have to get this shit done and nobody’s going home until we do,” you do it. You bite the bullet, suck it up, and drive on until the mission is complete. You don’t say, “my union won’t allow it,” “am I getting paid any extra?” or “lick balls old man, I quit.” When you join the military you forfeit your rights to rebel against the system. Some will tell you the rank structure that we have and harsh penalties for disregarding it ensure discipline within the ranks. Others will say that when there’s no rest until the work is done, Soldiers will buckle down and work their asses off until they can go back to the barracks and crash. Both of these explanations assume the Soldier is working because he has to, not because he wants to.

I don’t buy it.

I think one of America’s greatest strengths is its all volunteer force. For the most part, everyone in the military wants to be here. The days of “go to war or go to jail” where military service was seen as a punishment for crime are over. No one forces a Soldier to join and we don’t have conscription, so the prevailing attitude is one of volunteerism. The people who do that want to get the job done and done right. It’s called selfless service – recognizing that there’s a collective good much greater than the individual need.

Before anyone gets the impression that I’m about to go off on a holier than thou tirade extolling the virtues of military life and deriding civilian life, know this – I’m sure there are civilians with great, selfless attitudes who work their asses off to get the job done (God I hope so). However, on the whole, the civilian workforce has an attitude of, “what’s in it for me?” which is understandable under the construct of capitalism. That’s what they do-be creative, make money, and find more ways to make money.

Billing hours is a great example. Many civilian companies keep detailed track of their employees whereabouts and have them fill out sheets at the end of each pay period detailing how many hours they actually worked. Anything over their normal amount (usually 40 hours per week) is credited to vacation time. It’s this methodical counting of every second and an unbending policy of clearly defined work times that underscores how different our worlds are. In the military it doesn’t matter how many hours you worked. You just work until the work is done. It’s all about taking care of your unit rather than taking care of yourself. The measure of success is not how much money you’ve earned for yourself or your company, but how many lives you’ve protected through disciplined training and personal sacrifice.

Spock would have made a great Soldier.




  1. JG

    November 8, 2010 at 8:54 am

    If what I’m, (oh dear God, oops I said ‘God’, not Allah, the Dem’s & Lib’s are a comin fer me now, I’m a homegrown terrorist now, heeyuck)about to say here offends anyone, please understand that is not my intent. This is supposed to be America & I am a free willed living, breathing, thinking human being… So understand I am not trying to turn this into anything religious, just my own opinion & thoughts… & if you don’t like, fine say so, that’s your God given, American, human right… Just be careful not to offend me or I’ll sue, lol.

    N e who, I attribute the selfless service of a certain majority of our armed forces members as to that of being truly Christ like, a true Christian. Whether or not any of them belive in Jesus or whatever. The knowledge that the ulitmate fulfillment your job, service, & duties can & potentially be paid on any given day, at any hour with your life for the freedom & life is other’s… that is Christ.

    America as a whole needs to do more to serve those who serve & protect her. Our brothers & sisters that are active or reserve need, DESERVE to come home & above any other have a good paying job waiting for them. Their familes, wives, husbands, children, etc. should not have to suffer financially nor be bullied about finances. Nuff said.

  2. Simon

    November 9, 2010 at 10:27 pm

    Absolutely spot on. As a matter of fact, when my co workers and I are trying to stop someone from bleeding out, we quit the moment the shift ends or our union break begins. Wait, maybe the military ones keep working and the rest of us stop. Yeah, that’s it.

    Seriously, I can respect being proud of one’s service, and none of us should ever undervalue our military or the people within it. However, there are a lot of civilian jobs that operate in a similar manner (with regard to getting the job done, etc.) and where the people uphold similar values. Just a few examples would be emergency services, civilian SAR/USAR/HUSAR, and hospital emergency departments. No, it isn’t exactly the same because the jobs and environments are not exactly the same. However, the different branches of the military don’t operate in exactly the same way either, but no one in the RD would ever claim that the Army is a less dedicated service than the Navy, or vice versa.

    So here is a crazy theory. Maybe, just maybe, values like service and dedication, or being willing to put oneself on the line for others aren’t things that come from a patch or a uniform, or being military or civilian. Maybe they come from the individual instead. Just a thought.
    Now let the bashing begin…

  3. JG

    November 11, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Simon ur absolutely right that such values come from within people regardless where they are or what they do. It all begins with a sense of selflessness, dignity, personal pride, & conviction. Bullseye boss man, good post.

    All that I said can be attributed to many other service sectors that are underpaid & underappreciated, i.e. Fire Fighters, Police Officers, EMT’s, Teachers, etc. Hoo-Yah!

  4. Kelly C

    November 11, 2010 at 10:53 am

    I agree that the selfless service comes from the person within, but it seems that those people gather into certain professions, like the military, medicine, firefighters, police, etc. That’s the point.

  5. Mike A.

    November 13, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    I also agree with Simon, and want to even take it a step further.

    I started my adult life on Active Duty in the Army, transferred to the USAR, transferred out of the USAR, and am currently a dirty, capitalist pig working in the manufacturing sector (about as far from public service as you can get), so I have a bunch of experience working around military and non-military on both sides of the fence (as well as on the fence as a Reservist not on active duty). I’ve encountered folks–both officers & enlisted, hourly and salaried–exhibiting both selfish & selfless service.

    I’ve witnessed both USAR officers & soldiers complaining about going the extra mile, even though they weren’t technically getting paid for it. However, I’ve also met USAR soldiers & officers who really didn’t need or care about the extra drill pay they were earning; some of these folks were happy to volunteer and pitch in even though they knew they weren’t going to get paid.

    In the civilian sector, I’ve come across salaried employees who complain about working on the weekend because they’re “not getting paid for it,” even though being salaried really just means you have a steady paycheck regardless of the hours you’re putting in, and hourly employees who volunteer to work extra hours, but “don’t want to get paid.” In the latter case, we have to explain to these folks that, not only is it not right to let them work without getting paid, it’s against the law… Some hourly employees drive way out of their way to bring their buddy/coworker to/from work because he doesn’t have a car and never ask for a dime in return. I find the same folks, year after year, salaried & hourly, sweating over the grill at the company picnic, while their co-workers are riding the bumper cars. And that’s not mentioning the countless volunteer hours they put in to plan the function. You find a similar group from your church working the annual ham dinner or building the habitat house. You might think, yeah that’s once or twice a year, not daily service, but it’s almost the same group at every volunteer church function.

    My wife is a teacher, which can be one of the most under- or over-paid careers there is, depending on the individual teacher… There are those teachers who burn the midnight oil, going the extra mile to ensure their students have the best educational experience possible, and those teachers who almost follow their students out the door in the afternoon who must be in it for the paycheck, hours, and ‘summers off.’

    So Simon’s got it right. It really depends on the individual and their values. And Kelly’s got a very good point that, like birds in a flock, the selfless tend to gather in those most honorable of professions—military, law enforcement, fire fighters, emergency and non-emergency medicine, teaching, etc. Of course, there’s nothing more selfless than giving up your life, far from home in a foreign land, for the lives of others. But there are even those dirty, capitalist pigs, who also exhibit the characteristics of selfless service.

    By the way, this dirty, capitalist pig is currently trying to get back into the USAR because, try as I might, I just can’t find an equally rewarding way to serve out of uniform. Leaving service was probably the worst mistake I’ve ever made.

    KC—Just finished your book. Very well done; a great read! And thanks for your service!

  6. Robbie K.

    November 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    My mission, my men, myself…..’nuf said

  7. James

    June 29, 2011 at 12:55 am

    Okay, I have been in the military and agree, when you are in the green there is no timekeeping, the job just gets done. However in civilian employ, I ain’t busting my hump for some bozo that will happily grind me into the ground and boot me out the door when he is finished.

    I think the reason soldiers “soldier on” is for each other in a often, dirty, difficult and under appreciated job that can be a matter of life and death. A soldier, marine, etc makes a commitmnent that is much more than signing on for a pay check. He is making a commitment to the armed forces, to protect his country even at the cost of his life. That is the difference.

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