Military Wire: Privilege in America — How to get it and keep it

Privilege is a good thing. Everybody wants it and many work hard to achieve it.

And then there are some who want it handed to them. But that’s not how privilege works. You must work for it.

In boot camp, my company commander was clear: to serve in his military was a privilege. He reminded all of us new recruits that it was our privilege and his honor to train and drill for countless hours to safeguard the freedoms of this country. He’d remind us that it was this military that transformed “this hoodlum from Harlem” into one of the country’s finest and that it would do the same for us “dirt bags.”

It didn’t take long to understand why it really was a privilege. He took a bunch of young men from different faiths, upbringings, cultures and colors and broke down our biases then transformed us into one team who shared respect for each other and for this country. To be a part of that was incredible. He stretched us physically and mentally. And it was damn hard.

The “dirt bags” had become part of a privileged team. Immune from our ignorance if we stayed true to our training, educated in understanding how our differences could be leveraged to benefit the team, and committed to preserving the privileges this country offers those who come here legally, we had earned the privilege to protect and defend.

But it was conditional.

Privilege is defined as “a certain entitlement to immunity granted by the state or another authority to a restricted group, either by birth or on a conditional basis.”

It knows no color or gender. But it is conditional. And it does require discipline.

There are four areas that, when one stays disciplined, privilege abounds:

Education. Hard work. Family values. Lawful decisions.

If one ignores, violates, or abuses any one of these, he or she will go without the many privileges that come with these categories. In the military, if one fails to do the work in these areas, advancement opportunities, prime assignments or duty stations, and respect amongst the crew or team begin to shrink. And in some cases, if staying disciplined in these core areas is disregarded, one is no longer part of this privileged class.

Fortunately, in the civilian arena, one can’t get “kicked out;” but one can fall out of favor and privilege.

Staying disciplined in these four areas – education, hard work, family values, and lawful decisions – applies to everyone if they want to experience the full privileges America offers.

Audrey Smith made a promise to herself more than 30 years ago that helped her chart a career path that would eventually lead her to managing the Army’s billion-dollar business portfolio.

Her story is inspiring. She grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, in a blue-collar family. Her dad served as a chauffeur and her mother worked as a janitorial supervisor for a school district.

It was her commitment to hard work and education, strong family support, and lawful decisions that earned her the 2020 Women of Color Joint Women’s Leadership Excellence Meritorious Service Award.

Audrey is afforded many privileges because of her discipline and she is just one example. There are countless examples of those from different cultures, faiths, and economic backgrounds that understand how privilege works and then do the work to get it.

Those of us born in America often fail to understand the privilege being born here brings until we travel abroad and realize that even our impoverished make more than many of the average income of working individuals worldwide.

It is why many still fight to get into this country. There is no guarantee that you’ll live on the street of dreams, but if you stay disciplined, you’ll have privileges and luxuries not afforded many throughout the world.

Bottom line: privilege is available to those who do the work and stay disciplined. It won’t be easy. But when you do the work to educate yourself, follow the laws of this country, make the best of your family situation, and commit to doing the hard work that each of these requires, you’ll experience the privilege that comes with it.

— By Mike Schindler

Mike Schindler is a U.S. Navy veteran and CEO of Operation Military Family, a 501(c)(3) veteran service organization that provides proven pathways for Veterans to discover and deploy their greatest gifts in family, work and life. Schindler is an award-winning author, the national podcast host of The Military Wire/VISION2020 and an effective trainer who has been featured in USA Today, CBS Radio, Entrepreneur Radio, the Lars Larson Show, the Boston Globe, Q13 FOX, Yahoo Finance, and others.




  1. Well-said, Mike! We seem to have lost our corporate ability to self-discipline. Praying we find our way back to focus and work.

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