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Half of Americans surveyed say all servicemembers are heroes

Airmen, Sailors and Soldiers stand in formation June 6, 2018, during the closing ceremony of the Alabama Innovative Readiness Training in Monroeville, Ala. In a new YouGov poll, 50 percent of those queried in the U.S. said everyone in the military is a hero regardless of his or her job.

CAMERON LEWIS/U.S. AIR FORCE

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 27, 2018

Half of Americans believe that all U.S. servicemembers are heroes regardless of their roles or experience — a view at odds with how some Europeans perceive their militaries, according to a new poll.

Fifty percent of Americans surveyed in a YouGov poll released Wednesday said that everyone in the military is a hero, while 33 percent said it depended on their service. A parallel poll in Germany found that just 15 percent of those surveyed think all troops are heroes, and 30 percent said that no military members deserved that accolade.

The response in Great Britain fell between those in the United States and Germany. There, 32 percent of those surveyed said all troops were heroes, while 49 percent said that some were heroes depending on what they did.

The YouGov poll was conducted between July and September in the three countries. It asked respondents whether troops should be considered heroes and, if so, which ones qualify.

The sharp distinction between Germany and the U.S. underscores how vastly different the military’s role is in each country. It also suggests the challenge German politicians face in increasing defense expenditures to meet NATO spending guidelines — a sharp point of contention between Berlin and the Trump administration.

In Germany, shortfalls in military manpower have some political factions flirting with the idea of recruiting other European Union nationals into the German army.

While nearly a third of Germans withhold the hero designation from all of their fighters, only 5 percent of those polled in America said no troops are heroes and 12 percent said they didn’t know.

The numbers demonstrate a tendency in the U.S. to put military members on a pedestal. A 2017 Gallup poll found that 72 percent of Americans had confidence in the military, the highest marks for any public institution. However, a 2016 book edited by current Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Kori Schake, “Warriors and Citizens: American Views of our Military,” found that few Americans were very familiar with the military or how it functions under civilian authority.

In Great Britain, only 6 percent of those polled said soldiers shouldn’t ever be described as heroes. But Britons were more likely to reserve high praise for troops who performed heroic acts, with 32 percent saying that demonstrated bravery should factor into the equation.

While people over 40 in the U.S. hold military members in the highest regard, in Britain and Germany, younger people are most likely to say troops are heroes, according to YouGov.

Ambivalence among older Germans could be linked to their country’s Nazi past and eventual defeat in World War II.

Twenty-five percent of Germans between 18 and 29 years of age said all troops were heroes, compared with just 7 percent of people over 60, according to YouGov.

In the U.S., women are more likely than men to consider any servicemember a hero: 57 percent, compared with 42 percent for men, who were more inclined to link heroism to serving in a combat role.

Staff Sgt. Dylan Urban, an artilleryman with the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), thinks what he and most soldiers do on a day-to-day basis isn’t generally heroic, but that heroes do exist within the ranks.

“I’d never picture myself being called a hero,” Urban said. “I would definitely direct them to the real heroes out there. To me, I’m just working and serving my country.

“I think that this is just a job, at the end of the day. Heroes are the people that have paid the ultimate sacrifice in order to let me keep doing my job safely.”

Staff Sgt. Connor McGregor, a Marine drill instructor at Parris Island, S.C., thinks so many Americans view them as heroes because of how servicemembers carry themselves.

“I think this has to do with the pride and united front that servicemembers display on a daily basis, and their respect for their branch of service,” McGregor said. “Regardless of the (servicemember’s) experience, the fact that they raised their hand in support of our great country makes them more of a hero than the average civilian. Every military member took an oath to lay down their life for their country, if necessary, and that is heroic in itself.”

McGregor added that he sees heroic traits in each of his Marine recruits going through training.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

Stars and Stripes reporter Martin Egnash contributed to this report.