Conceptions of Service

CC’s Relationship With the Military: Part One of a Three-Part Series

Between the five military institutions located in and around Colorado Springs, the city hosts over 35,000 active duty service members, not including approximate 4,000 cadets at the Air Force Academy. Almost 20 percent of the adult population in Colorado Springs are veterans, according to census data compiled by Forbes.

The military influences the economic, political, and cultural spheres in Colorado Springs. CC can sometimes be cast in a the shadow of larger institutions. “CC has a very low profile at times in this community because it has a small footprint,” said Professor Neal Rappaport, who served for 27 years in the Air Force in various positions including posts at the Air Force Academy.

As CC attempts to engage with the broader community of Colorado Springs, this military presence has an impact on the effectiveness of that outreach. Simultaneously, the military presence also offers CC students and faculty the ability to compare perspectives with a system that seems worlds away at times, though it is still literally just down the road.

The relationship between CC and the military institutions  in Colorado Springs has evolved over the past half-century. “When you talk to older people, and I’m pretty old, but when you talk to people who are even older, they have memories of when the world was different, 45-odd years ago during the Vietnam time,” said Rappaport. “I think that there’s good relations [now].”

One attempt at investigating those relationships is the Democratic Dialogue Project, which brings CC students and Air Force Academy (AFA) cadets together for discussions and exchanges between the two campuses. “Democratic Dialogue Project was an attempt to bring genuine

bipartisan dialogue to campus so that future civilian and military leaders would have a chance to discuss issues of national importance,” said junior Helen Griffith, who facilitates the dialogue.

“I think the two places [CC and Air Force Academy] look at each other with a particular type of curiosity,” said CC Professor Michael Sawyer, who attended the U.S. Naval Academy and then served in the Navy for a little longer than five years. “Air Force has always been understood [by internal service academy culture] as being more like a college than any of the others.”

Griffith found that on the CC campus “a lot of the times we talked about military intervention in an abstract way.” Griffith’s father was a diplomat, so she grew up in a context “where American foreign policy was always discussed through both a military and civilian lens.”

In addition to having conversations on foreign policy and international relations, Griffith and her Air Force Academy counterpart attempt to foster more general understanding and opportunity for questioning. Griffith recalled a story where “the cadets were asking why CC students protest all the time. A CC student responded by saying that, to her, it is a way to serve.”

The conception of service drew out further similarities and differences between CC and the military. “I think, in a lot of ways, CC students have a broader notion of service,” said Rappaport. “In a lot of ways, the CC students, because they are not graduating from here and going to work—they do not know exactly where they are going to be working—I think they often have a broader view of service.” Following graduation from the Air Force Academy, a cadet is commissioned for eight years, five of which are active duty.

Sawyer also saw similarities in a more theoretical sense. “What has to be understood about the way that [the military] functions is that it is country first for them,” said Sawyer. “So when you have a particular kind of service at a place like CC, in many ways, there is a meeting at that kind of conceptualization because there is typically some abstract conceptualization that means something—the environment for example.”

Griffith echoed this sentiment that both groups characterized their service in terms of a greater goal or conceptualization. “For a lot of people on campus, what they are really driven by is social activism or the environment or race and gender issues,” said Griffith. “That’s our vision of a better America. For a lot of the cadets, they want to focus on international relations, they wanted to have a debate about the use of drones or Syria.”

Unfortunately, the student body’s commitment to service of the student body at CC can seem inconsistent or piecemeal. Isaac Becker, a senior who will commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps starting in May, expressed some skepticism in drawing too many comparisons. “Very few people that I interact with have a sense of service,” said Becker. “There is no sense of national contribution, overwhelmingly, in any case.”

Becker stressed that his skepticism did not come from a sense of superiority. “I don’t think that what I am doing somehow makes me a better person or better citizen than anyone who is genuinely an active participant. With that said, I think it is very easy to become commonplace.”

Some gap will always persist between CC and the military, both in their respective conceptions of service as well as in world outlook and operating philosophy. “At the end of the day, there are pretty big differences in outlook on the campus and on the base, and I think they attract a different kind of person,” said Griffith. “Our choice is either to live in this bubble and only have conversations with people who already agree with us, or to actually engage with the rest of the community that we are living in.”

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