San Diego has the largest concentration of military in the world, making it important for us to understand the impact the military has on the safety and economy of our region. Recently, through LEAD San Diego’s IMPACT program, I was fortunate enough to get an up-close look at what our military men and women do, some of the challenges they face, and how their work impacts our region and the rest of the world.
Our “field trip” took us to the Waterfront Recreation Center at Naval Base San Diego, where we heard from experts on military programs, issues and assistance. Capt. Larry Blumberg, USN (ret.) from the San Diego Military Advisory Council (SDMAC) told us the military’s presence in San Diego is responsible for $32.2 billion in economic output and impacts about 22 percent of jobs in San Diego County. He also said that he hopes San Diego will soon be a hub for more cybersecurity jobs and a center for excellence for unmanned systems – two of the military’s growing areas of concentration – which is good news for the region.
Next, we toured the USS Decatur, a ballistic missile defense ship. We barraged the sailors running the ship with questions and they were open and honest in answering them. Needless to say, I stepped off the ship amazed. To those who say the next generation is lazy, these men and women were, at the very least, the exception to the rule. We saw 18-year-olds taking charge, handling enormous responsibilities and working together as one unit.
Lastly, we met the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group One at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado. These guys were superhuman. Not only do they have to be able to swim, dive and parachute with the best of the military, they also need the knowledge, steady hands and composure to quickly dismantle bombs, often in the heat of battle. The stories we heard, and the technology and equipment we got to play with – heavy suits, robotics and sonar equipment – gave me a whole new appreciation for the level of expertise required to serve in our military.
The whole experience was inspiring, and it honestly made me feel pretty inadequate in comparison. Not in the way that Lebron James making $130 million (even though he’s two weeks younger than me) makes me feel inadequate. More in the way that no matter how much I reflect on friends who’ve served in the military, no matter how much I donate to military-related causes, no matter much I say I’m patriotic and appreciate veterans’ service to our country – I still underestimate these brave individuals and what they do, and often take what I have for granted.
I encourage you to not just think about our military. Thank them. Buy them a beer or a meal. Listen when they need to talk with someone. Write them letters. Send them care packages. Get involved with assistance organizations that have a presence here locally, like Operation Homefront or the Veterans Medical Research Foundation. It’s the least you can do to support those who sacrifice so much on your behalf.