A leader I admire recently spoke of the value that the nation places on service members. While I’ve never thought about it that way, I can see the amount of time and money that the military invests in service members. There is a monetary value on the recruiting, training, and equipping of personnel. Yet more than that, the military is valuable because of the services it performs. We continue to treasure those who serve the greater good.

There can be no doubt that the U.S. invests heavily in its military. For decades, defense budgets have numbered in the billions. This is because of the tremendous costs of recruiting and maintaining the force. It requires thousands of dollars to maintain the readiness of each Soldier – funds for initial training, funds for annual training, funds for medical readiness, funds to feed and equip personnel. The average cost to recruit and prepare personnel for service is $16,000 for each one. The average annual cost of keeping that person in the military is more than $135,000 per year, above and beyond annual pay. Spending on training is approximately the same for Active Duty and Reserve Component personnel, but it is concentrated in a smaller amount of time. Spending on room and board is naturally less for reservists, but it is still substantial because unit dispersion creates the necessity for contracting hotels and meals. When you talk about the value of service members, these are the numbers that most logisticians calculate.

For leadership, there is another value placed on service members – their value as members of a team. Whatever leaders may say, when personnel are not present, they are missed. Especially with smaller units and teams, vacancies and absences can have an enormous impact on operations. Everyone has a job, and everyone brings experiences and skillsets that others may not have. While it’s generally true that no Soldier is irreplaceable, it takes time to backfill people, during which time a unit has to go without. Better not to lose people to begin with. Some people have legitimate reasons to leave the service, but many leave because of being underappreciated or unconnected. This is why it is so important to maintain personal connections with service members, above and beyond their personal value as human beings. Leaders know the value these people have and make efforts to ensure that they are healthy, happy, appreciated, and supported by the unit.

For the nation, service members have an even more important value, which is the cost of their sacrifices for the rest of us. I believe that everyone has a function in society, whether it’s a calling to a specific occupation or a place in a family or clan. However, those who sacrifice their time, money, families, and lives for our society ought to be honored above all. At one time, people dishonored those who served in the military by jeering at them and even assaulting them. The result was that fewer people volunteered to serve, and this endangers us all. As I have written repeatedly, we ought to recognize those who take our place in service, for if they did not go, the government might call on us to go instead. Seen in this way, the value of those who serve is equal to my own. My time is valuable, and so is anyone who serves in my place. Today, it is common for our culture to honor service members by paying for meals, giving them priority on flights, or recognizing them. This is the least that we can do to recognize those who serve. While service members are often embarrassed by such treatment, we ought to see these actions not so much because of anything special about us but because of the value of our service. When we are through serving, we can then honor those who serve after. There is always someone serving the nation, and their service is always of great value.

When people talk about the value of service members, most refer to the time and money it takes to train and equip them. There is a monetary value associated with each Soldier. Yet their value goes beyond mere money. Each service member has value to the team and value to the nation. Let us recognize their value and honor them according to this worth. If we do, more will seek to serve.

© 2023 J.D. Manders