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 Michael I do thank you for your service as I do support our Military. Every war, every Veteran. If you knew me you would know this. I am proud of you for joining the Navy but as a person I don’t know Michael, I think you have some hate in you and I can see why… I feel sorry for you. Not all people have the opportunities you mention above like its a piece of cake. If you are a child raised in squalor and disfunction it takes a lot to reach Privilege… But with help and understanding and love of your fellow man…like you had when you were in combat… I know I have a lot of soldier and marine friends. Brothers… REAL loving brothers. Color had no place in the military Michael. Lots of those boys you mentioned very poorly died over there. There children left with NOTHING but the gangs and the streets…. Come on man bring back that noble Soldier ok.. OK and apologize for the words you used to describe your brothers in WAR. ok . Ok. We all deserve a second chance I’m giving you one.

    1. Deborah, you are so “off base” that your crazy comment deserves a reply. It is you who owes Mr Schindler a sincere apology! You have no idea who or what this man has done, not only for vets, but for our community. While so many of your comments come from a place of ignorance and rambling incoherent thoughts, you need to step back and reevaluate your stance on this false accusations. Mike Schindler has nothing but love and devotion for this country and veterans.

  2. My goodness…if ONLY the recipe were as simple as Mr. Schindler laid it out. For starters, the social contract is quite a bit more solid for a white American male than for others. Deny that and you only show your ignorance. We have a long way to go.

    1. What is the social contract? What are terms and when did I [or anyone] sign/ratify this contract.

  3. First, let me say that I almost feel like I have read a completely different letter than Deborah Arthur and Seth Basen. I got something completely different than you did from Mike Schindler’s letter. My history with privilege agrees with Mike. My father immigrated from Mexico at the age of 16. He came alone, knew no one, and at first slept by the side of the road with a piece of cardboard to cover himself. He married my mother – a US citizen – at 20 and had seven children. He became a US citizen 25 years later. My brothers and sisters worked out in the fields picking fruit, saved to buy their school clothes and contributed to the fund which purchased our first 700 sq ft home. When I was five we moved into the “big house” my father built – it was about 1100 sq ft. I shared a twin bed with a sister until I was 11 years old. I am the first college graduate in our family. Since then of my 25 nephews and nieces almost all of them are college graduates. Among them are teachers, computer programers, lawyers (one a superior court judge in California and another a lawyer supervising 20 other lawyers in charge of capital crime out of the 9th circuit court of appeals), real estate developers, financial analysts, escrow officers……. And of the children of my nephews and nieces, almost all of them are college graduates or soon to graduate. Immediate offspring from my mother and father as of 2002 numbered 102. That’s a whole lot of offspring and all upstanding, contributing members of this great country – The United States of America. We all made it through college through hard work – no government handouts. -Continued ……

    1. Theresa, Your father’s experience certainly mirrors my own entry into this country, and the story of my own success without “government handouts”. Thank you for your comments.

      There seems to be a “reading comprehension” problem with Seth and Deborah. Not because they don’t agree with Mike, but their comments don’t even make any sense.

      Mike Schindler, I follow your great work with Operation Military Family, keep doing what you do and thinking like you think, you make this world a better place.

  4. My father was a proud man. I had no idea we were “poor”/financially disadvantaged. The only time we put our hands out were to help others – never to ask for ourselves. Anything we needed, we worked for. My parents lived through the Depression so my father loved President Roosevelt who brought jobs to America. My father was a President Jack Kennedy kind of Democrat – “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”. We seem to have lost that philosophy today. Today, the going consent among many is “how much can this country give to me.” There seems to be a huge sense of entitlement – someone owes me/us something and I don’t have to work for it. When my father died, I sat in the church filled with over 500 people from children in mother’s arms to 90+ years olds as my parents had lived in the same town for over 50 years. I sat in the front pew and noticed a huge, massive floral display. It was so large, it looked out of place. I had to see who had sent this arrangement. I walked up around my father’s coffin and read the card. It was from Bill and Hillary Clinton!!!! What???!!! It was then and there I knew why one of my sisters had taken away Dad’s checkbook. My father did not die a rich man but he did die a proud American. His words forever live on in my heart. They went something like this:- Make something of yourself to be proud of, to pass onto your children. Work hard, Never give up on something worth fighting and working for. Be strong, be proud, love this beautiful country, be respectful. Continued …..

  5. Forgive me for this lengthly comment but I am passionate about our country. So lastly, my father would say: “This free stuff you get from the government isn’t free. If you’re not careful, you’ll pay for it with your very soul.” Hard work in the fields of California’s hot sun didn’t hurt my siblings. Today my sibling are financially quite wealthy by anyone’s standards. Thank you Mom and Dad for all of your love and sacrifice for me and my brothers and sisters. And thank you Mike Schindler for writing your letter “Privilege in America”. I totally get your words because through and because of my parents, I’ve lived it.

  6. I served in the military, as did my father and 4 of my 6 brothers, and in my 28 years in uniform I found the service to be a great meritocracy and leveler of humanity. We all started at the lowest rung of the ladder and through our individual effort and contribution to a team effort we were able to climb the ladder of advancement. What the military taught me more than anything else was respomsibility. At 20 years old I was responsible for my part of the safe operation of a squadron of aircraft that lives depended upon. Personal responsibility and accountability builds strength of character.

  7. This is just an attempt to redefine what privilege really means. There are many inherent advantages of being born with white skin. These advantages have been cultured and protected throughout our history. THAT is what we are talking about in the discussion of privilege. No one is saying that gains achieved by hard work is bad. That is a strawman argument. This is the classic American tradition of changing the topic to avoid the real, and much more difficult, discussion.

  8. I might suggest you all read Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson to get an understanding of “privilege” in America who really has such “privilege”. Thank you.

  9. I think Mike has confused the concepts of “privilege” and “opportunity” somewhat in this article. Privilege is something that is given to you just because of who or what you happen to be. The military gave Mike lot’s of opportunity, but it didn’t give him privilege as he asserts. It merely gave him and others in the services the “opportunity” to develop and excel as people, regardless of race, religion, sex or place of origin. This is a very good thing of course, but it is not “privilege.” Privilege is the right of a President to pardon because of his position; or as in the not too distant past; the right of a white person to be a member of the Elk’s club, but not a Black person. “Privilege” can be abused but “opportunity” can’t, generally speaking. Immigrants aren’t flocking here legally and illegally to obtain “privilege.” They are coming to obtain opportunity, that the “”privileged” in their counties of origin deny them because of what class or category they are.

    1. I agree, Clinton. Mike, by the definition you provided, “Privilege” is something that is not available to everyone; it is “granted” to a person by someone or some entity thus giving the grantee a special advantage over another person. In your example you describe it being a privilege to have served in the military, but in that situation you were part of a “restricted group” and your privilege was granted by the government. There is “opportunity” available for everyone, but many of us have to overcome the “Privilege” of others (on top of working hard, educating ourselves, and making the best of our family situation) before we can reap the benefits of our hard work.

  10. IMHO, privilege is not all about skin color, rather its more about one’s social standing. India’s caste system is an example of this. Those born into the Brahmins and Kshatriyas have more privilege than those born into the lower caste systems. British Royals born into the British Family have more privilege than almost all who are born in the UK. The Kennedy Family in the US has more privilege than most all of us growing up. This is the reality in almost every country around the world and has been since the advancement of civilization.

    No one is saying this is right, but what they are saying is that it exists and always will. While I do not want to speak for Mike, I think his point is that in America we are allowed the freedom to overcome the lack of privilege we are born into despite our socioeconomic upbringing, color of our skin, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or political beliefs. Our system is not perfect and no one system is, but in this country, there is more opportunity than in others, especially in the military.

    To trash Mike, who I know personally and who is a very good man is just not right. What ever happened to open dialogue and civil conversation in this country. The people who have trashed Mike on this site want us to understand what they are saying and for us to believe that they are the only ones with all the answers and that they are the experts in this field. They have no real facts to back up what they say and thus have lost the narrative and resort to trashing and name calling a good man who still serves our country. This is about as low as it gets.

  11. The problem today is that everyone wants to be heard but no one wants to listen. It’s quite obvious that some of the people commenting on this did not really read it or maybe just didn’t understand it. Instead of reaching out to Mike to ask him to explain himself further or to provide further clarification, they just trash him and say he has a lot of hate in him or he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

    There needs to be a way in todays world where people give their opinions in a comment that isn’t tearing that person down just because they don’t agree. Mike’s article was very positive and uplifting with no negativity toward anyone. It did not deserve the type of negative comments it elicited. Anyone who knows Mike knows he is the last person to have hate in him. He is a very honorable and faith based man, a father, a husband and a veteran. He is a good man who does good for others. You may not agree with him but you do not need to disrespect him to make your point.

    1. Rod, I agree with you. Rod, Mike, Theresa, Linda, Steven, James, and Susan all seemed to understand what Mr Schindler was talking about, and I know half of this list are indeed immigrants, as am I. Thank you Mike for your thoughtful and truthful commentary. I always enjoy your perspective.

  12. Add me to your list Grace. Mike Schindler walks the walk and talks the talk. Those who don’t understand or agree with him by making “word salad” out of “privilege and opportunity”, the usual people, are entitled to their opinion, as are we immigrants and POC who agree and understand what Mike Schindler is saying. Bravo to you Mike, courage seems to be your mantra, “hate” is not anywhere in Mike Schindler.

  13. I don’t have anything against Mike and I pretty much agree with most of what he is saying in his article. I do not feel that I have trashed him in any way. I simply disagree with his and his drill instructor’s take on what “privilege” means. The military apparently gave Mike and his D.I. great opportunity and I commend them and those like them on taking advantage of that opportunity.

    On the other hand, it is no accident that many people in the lower ranks of the military services come from the less advantaged social classes in our country and they are joining up, not just to be patriotic, but also to gain opportunity to succeed in life. I stand by my comment that “privilege” is not the same as “opportunity.” Like apples and oranges they might be related some what, but they aren’t one and the same. (Thought I’d throw that in since some folks like to accuse me of writing “word salads.”)

  14. Mike, thank you for sharing Ms. Smith’s story and eloquently stating what many of us veterans experienced in the military. When you serve, you join with people from all walks of lives, all colors and religious beliefs and economic background. We all come together for the shared mission to protect and serve this great nation. There are so many inspiring examples of how opportunity is not limited to just white males in the military. For starters, the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General Charles Q. Brown Jr, is an African American. The superintendent, of the United States Air Force Academy, Lieutenant General Richard M. Clark, and the assistant superintendent, Col Otis Jones of the Academy are both African Americans. Their accomplishments were realized because they followed exactly the principals you describe in your article. I had the pleasure of going through survival training with Col. Jones back in the day when we were young cadets and I can guarantee we were not thinking about what color, what sex we were or how much money we had. We were thinking about stretching out meager food (one MRE for 3 days) and evading “captures” all while traversing mountainous terrain in the dark to get from point A to point B. Bottom line, we had to trust and and count on each other!
    Acknowledging and remembering past discrimination in the military is valid but it will be the celebration these types of achievements and progress made over the past 50 years that will bring the peace and unity that we all want.

  15. According to some, the only “right” thing to do here is agree, without question or anything less than wholehearted agreement, with the author on this issue. To do otherwise is, apparently, un-American.

    I don’t disagree with Mike on his premise – hard work, discipline, pursuit of education, and keeping one’s nose clean are key to success and reward (I would add the importance of not becoming stuck in the story of one’s past (victim-thinking)). Some call the expression of my opinion “word salad”, “trashing Mike”, “being disrespectful”, “not listening”, “opinions coming from ‘the usual people’” (guess someone’s keeping score); I call it pointing out the difference in meaning between words, which matters to me.

    1. Annon:

      You did not trash Mike and I actually enjoyed your perspective. Other comments trashed Mike, saying he had hate in him, etc. Also, no one is saying that people cannot disagree and to do so is un-American. That is what America is all about!!! What we are saying is that Mike’s article was positive and one view, but as soon as you talk about privilege then all of a sudden all of the experts come out on what privilege is and what we should all think it to be with no real facts to back their rhetoric up. Believe me, I have had people say I am privileged just because I am white and that is the only qualification. Even though I was raised by a single mother on welfare for the first 9 years of my life. I grew up in East Bellevue and many of my friends were privileged but I was certainly not. To say one is privileged solely based on skin color shows complete ignorance for what privilege really is. And for people to bring this up in regards to Mike’s article is missing the point of what he was trying to say.

      So let’s be honest here. Many white people are calling other white people privileged or racist, etc, because of their skin color. Let’s stop identifying people by their skin color (like I just did saying many white people…LOL) and identify them by who they are as a person. That would solve 90% of all this so called misunderstanding and political correctness and “WHITE” privilege.

      Maybe I just made a word salad as well 🙂

  16. Surely, your reading comprehension is better than this. What matters to me is that you allow others an opinion. While I do not agree with your opinion, you certainly have a right to one. I don’t think anyone is un-American, nor do I believe that others think that. Deborah said that Mike had hate in him, for some reason you seemed to miss that slight, but many others did not; it certainly adds to the score that only you are keeping.

  17. Rod, thank you for your respectful reply (I like salad). Pushing back a bit: Even if you’re not aware, you have had certain privilege simply because you’re white.

    When is the last time you were watched by staff when shopping? Were the police called because you drove through a new neighborhood for fun and a resident thought you “looked suspicious”? Were you at a black tie fundraiser only to be summoned by a fellow attendee to fetch them another glass of wine? Has anyone assumed you were part of the lawn care team as opposed to the home owner? It is “privilege” to be immune to the treatment and experiences many non-whites encounter on a sometimes daily basis. It is “privilege of ignorant bliss” so to speak, and maintaining this bliss delays our collective healing.

    Certainly there are different types of privilege, but given the tensions of today no one should be surprised that some reacted negatively to Mike’s word choice. Healing takes time and effort, and there are few things more damaging to a soul than having one’s experiences dismissed as irrelevant or untrue by someone simply because that person hasn’t had the same experience.

    Please, let’s acknowledge the fact that people are hurting and together work to heal the pain and inequity that exists. We can start by respectfully listening to each other, and by learning to empathize with each other. Writing an uplifting piece extolling the virtues of hard work and dedication in spite of one’s circumstances is a welcome endeavor in my opinion. My suggestion would be to use words like “opportunity” and “reward” instead of a word that elicits painful reactions from those of us who know all too well what “privilege” can look, and feel like.

  18. Annon: I like your message and agree with many points you make, but some people have taken the word privilege and changed the meaning of it to fit their narrative that is based solely on WHITE colored skin.

    You could have a similar scenario that you describe above where a poor white person with a beat up car and long hair with his music blaring heavy metal drive through an affluent neighborhood for the first time and many of the residents (both white & POC) would look at that person the same way you describe above. Some may even call the police. People used to call this profiling, or stereotyping or bias. Now they call it “White” Privilege.

    This same scenario could play out in India where you have a lower caste individual eating in a restaurant with people of a higher caste system. That person would stand out and bring attention to themselves and the people of the higher caste system would be appalled and demand that that person be asked to leave, even though they are the same race.

    Privilege to most people means you have grown up with more than most and have more advantage than others. Kobe Bryant’s kids have a lot more privilege than another African American kid growing up in south Chicago in the projects. LeBron James kids have a lot more privilege than a young white kid growing up in a meth infested homeless camp in Seattle. My point here is that privilege is not exclusive to “WHITE” people and it’s offensive to me as a white person to assume just because I am white I am privileged. That in and of itself is bias and profiling.

    Peace 🙂

  19. One more point and then I will stop : )

    When you say that someone is white, therefore they are privileged you are labeling them based on their skin color, which is a form of racism. I’m not saying you are racist in any way (I don’t even know you), but what I am saying is that you and others are labeling people based on the color of their skin and that is not right. You can’t have it both ways. People cannot expect other people not to label people or have bias but then turn around and do the labeling themselves without knowing the person they are labeling.

    It’s like when councilmember Adrienne Fraley Monilas said Edmonds was basically a racist town, but then in a text to a friend called the people that live downtown a pack of rich white people. So according to some, it’s OK to call white people names and label them, but don’t you dare to that to any other person. In short we should never label of judge anyone based on skin color….period!!

    1. ….continued response to Rod:

      I know there are different kinds of privilege. You brought up financial differences a couple of times. Do those who are wealthy among us have financial privilege? Yes, I don’t think anyone would argue about that. If they look down their noses and otherwise treat poorly those who struggle financially then they’re not only privileged, they’re also jerks in my book. Doesn’t matter what the color of their skin is, they’re just rude, and extremely insecure if they have to put others down in order to feel good about themselves.

      There’s financial privilege, educational privilege, privilege of location (something we as Americans hopefully realize), privilege of gender, even privilege of beauty. There is the privilege of being in the presence of greatness, the privilege of loving and of being Loved. It is my belief that there is also, at this time in our history, a certain privilege that comes from being white. If my belief, in your eyes makes me a racist, then so be it. If, on the other hand, I’ve been able to shine some light on the disparities between the collective “us”, as well as clarify my thoughts, then I am grateful. Not sure what else I can say at this point.

      1. Not sure what’s going on with the web site, but I’ve been having a heck of a time getting a response posted. Not sure if the first part of my response to Rod will some through, but I’ll wait a while to try and post it again.

  20. Rod, your explanation makes sense. You are exposing the “critical race theory” edge that some are trying to sell as privilege vs opportunity. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. Many are truly sick of those who are hung up on color, and especially telling us what we should be thinking, CRT is garbage.

  21. I don’t remember his exact quote but Morgan Freeman had a great insight when asked how we will know when there is an end to racism. He said something to the effect of “when we quit referring to people as to the color of their skin.” Other than the human race, personally I think “race” is pretty much a made up mythology by sick people who are trying to use certain people for economic gain. This is facilitated by a lot of pseudo science and religious nonsense put out to exploit the fears and ignorance of the masses. There is little point in arguing or discussing this with closed minds or people who don’t believe in any sort of social progress. Just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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