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Thank you for your service

June 27 was designated by President Obama as a national day of service. Citizens were encouraged to go out that day and engage in some well organized, volunteer activity. I’m sorry to say I forgot to sign up. In fact, I forgot all about it until the next day. I could have volunteered for one of Obama’s service projects, but I was too busy that day helping a friend move. Service happens.

Since Barack Obama has moved into the White House, I have been reflecting on what it means to serve your country. I appreciate that Obama regards all types of service, not just military service, as valuable contributions to our nation’s health and security. Obama is not a veteran, which annoys conservatives. Of course, he is not the first Commander in Chief without military experience.

For me, it opens up another question as someone who never enlisted into the military. Can a person in civilian service be considered as noble and heroic as one who carries a gun into harm’s way? Is the community organizer fighting poverty in our nation’s cities as important to our national security as the tank driver in the Middle East? Do I have the right to say that I have served my country?

We have a number of holidays that honor those who have worn military uniforms: Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and the Fourth of July. On each of those days we honor those who have “made the ultimate sacrifice,” and, as well, we should. Those who have given their lives should be honored. Those individuals are indeed very brave. In contrast, does that make the rest of us cowards? Those of us who refuse to fight have been given that label. Yet many pacifists have been known for their unselfish dedication to humanity and some of them have made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.

Those who served in past wars included those who did not carry guns. My father, Thomas Campbell Sr. served in World War II as a Seabee. As a carpenter, he helped build the landing strips and other facilities that allowed our troops to fight the war in the South Pacific. He told me that he was once caught in the middle of a battle on one of the construction sites. He confessed to being so scared that he shit in his pants. I replied that if people were shooting guns at me and all I had in my hand was a hammer I would shit in my pants, too.

Then, there are many veterans who never came within a thousand miles of a battlefield. They just did their jobs and returned to civilian life. Don’t we honor these veterans as much as those who saw combat? We certainly don’t call them cowards. And some of them have made the ultimate sacrifice. The civilian and military staff who went to work at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 did not think they would be giving their lives while serving their country. Yet on that day, a number of them did.

I appreciate all the opportunities we have to serve our country and defend our democracy. One that has been valuable for me is working the polls on Election Day. Yes, we do get paid for our work, though not that much. It is mostly a labor of love. On the day of our last Presidential election, I served on a small crew at the local fire station. We busily checked in voters and directed them through the process that ensured their votes would be counted. We assisted Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, and those with no political party at all. Each was equally important to us. Each had a vote that needed to be counted.

During the last hour that the polls were open an elderly black woman arrived with the assistance of some younger family members. We didn’t ask her age, but we were sure she was well into her eighties. She told us she had never voted before in her life, but she came down that day to vote for an African-American man for President. As she slowly filled out her ballot, others continued to file into the fire station and cast their votes. Patiently, we helped her feed her ballot through the scanner. Then, with more assistance of her family members, she slowly walked outside to return home. Our crew remained at our post until the polls officially closed.

We worked late into the night, shutting down and packing up the equipment. Then we took the completed ballots to the county election officials to be duly tabulated. Across the nation other poll workers were doing the same. We knew the election conducted in our precinct was fair because we stood as witnesses to that election. We trusted that other common citizens across the nation were also witnessing a fair and honestly conducted election. We served our country that day and defended the legitimacy of our democracy.

To all the poll workers in every national and local election, I thank you for your service.

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July 9, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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