As many of you may know, I am originally from Sweden. A small, neutral country in northern Europe, who have not been in war since 1814. Sweden have been having a fairly strong defence force, at least until about 10 years ago, when budget cuts been reducing it to basically non-existant… Sweden always had a conscript army, like most European countries. All males must serve for about a year around the time they turn 20, and I served 11 months in the Air Force. There are pros and cons to this system, of course. The pros are that you have a huge army trained, and can call it up in case of war. The cons are that you need to pull the men out of their regular jobs every few years for additional training/repeat training. Due to budget cuts, that has not been done on a larger scale for the last 20 years or so.
Anyway, the mobilisation is supposed to take 72 hours. To protect the mobilisation, as well as important locations and object (bridge, air fields, TV towers/buildings and other infratructure sensitive to early attacks and/or sabotage), a volonteer unit called the Home Guard was established in 1940.
I joined a youth company in the Home Guard when I was 15, and served there for 13 years, until I moved to the US. Yes, we could join at age 15. The first year we did basic stuff: marching, erecting tents, recon, operating radios, target practice with bolt action rifles, using map and compass, etc. At age 16 we started learing assault techniques, ambushes, and combat skills, still with bolt action rifles. At age 17 we got full automatic weapons (sub-machine guns and assualt rifles). I spent many weekends out in the field on manouvers, while other kids at school were out partying or having fun. I did not expect any thanks, I did it because I cared about my country and was willing to make sacrifices to protect it. People were actually sometimes making fun of us.
Later, after my miltary service, I transferred to a regular unit of the Home Guard, and continued my training. We actually got paid, the same amount as a conscript soldier. That meant about 5 dollar a day back in 1991/92, for each 8 hours of service. A weekend manouver counted as 4 or 6 hours… So nobody did this for the money.
Last spring, I went to a Nascar race here in Texas. I went to watch a movie about the US Air Force with my son, and a female soldier came in and wished us welcome. She asked "is anybody here in the service or a former service man/woman". A couple of people raised their hand, and I did too, even if I did not serve with the US military. I thought she was just going to see how many were military/ex-military. She then said "Thank you for your service" to each of us. That was amazing. In 13 years, nobody in Sweden said a word of thanks. Here in the US, people respect your soldiers in a way you should be proud of. You may not support the war, but I feel the soldiers are supported and rightly so. I have to admit, I was choking up when I was standing there. I think I actually teared, it was a very emotional moment for me.
On my mother’s side of the family, I have a long tradition of soldiers. My mom was from Germany, and grew up during WWII. She was 19 when the war ended, and she had to run from her hometown to avoid the advancing Red Army troops. My grandfather, who also served in WWI, became a POW with the Russians after he served on the Eastern front.
My uncle, Karl-Heinz (whom I am named after) served as a glider pilot in the Luftwaffe, taking part in the airborne invasion of Crete in 1941. Later in the war, when Germany was pretty much out of fuel, he was assigned to a anti-aircraft regiment who was part of the Luftwaffe. On February 26, 1945 he was shot through the left lung. On March 10 he arrived to a hospital ship in Denmark, but on March 16, he died from his wounds and infections. My mother also lost a sister a year later, due to Diphteria.
My aunt in Germany married a veteran from the French Foreign Legion. He served for 9 years (1951-59) in several parachute regiments, in Indochina (Vietnam) and North Africa. He jumped over Dien Bien Phu and was a POW for 2 years.
No matter what politics you support, and what you think about the government, you have to respect the soldiers doing the fighting.
So, for all the soldiers, in all countries: Thank you for your service to your country.