Grad students’ podcast attempts to bridge military-civilian divide

Naval officers at Harris interview big-name guests for ‘Thank You For Your Service’

Freshmen and sophomores at the United States Naval Academy must wear their uniforms when they go out in Annapolis, Maryland, the historical town that houses the campus. For Thomas Krasnican and Nicholas Paraiso, those rules led to some awkward interactions.

“People would say, ‘Thank you for your service,’” Paraiso said, “To me, that was always really strange to hear because I hadn’t really done anything of service.”

Four years later, as University of Chicago graduate students, the two military men have found an outlet for bridging this disconnect through their podcast, “Thank You For Your Service.” The first season, which has been featured by media outlets including CNN, was their attempt to provide “an educational exploration of the dynamics of American civil-military affairs.”

Now studying at the Harris School of Public Policy, Krasnican and Paraiso have covered topics ranging from the politicization of the military to the ways in which defense policy is reported in the news. They have done this while snagging big names on their show, securing interviews with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former Sen. Claire McCaskill, UChicago Institute of Politics Director David Axelrod and CNN’s Chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper.

Krasnican and Paraiso hope “Thank You For Your Service” will reach their fellow students—future policymakers who could one day have a role in correcting the issues rooted in the civil-military gap.

“There are people who write about this very eloquently and are much more of subject matter experts in it than Nick and I,” Krasnican said. “Usually their work shows up in like very wonkish media outlets or even just academic journals. We knew that for most of our classmates, who this podcast was really targeted to, they just weren’t going to come across this subject or this material unless it was in a medium that it's easily consumable.”

‘A true respect for what we do’

The questions Krasnican and Paraiso wanted to ask began brewing long before they arrived at UChicago. As freshmen at the Naval Academy, they came across an article in The Atlantic that analyzed the American public’s understanding of the military. In it, journalist James Fallows noted his fellow Americans’ general disinterest in a televised speech by President Obama about the war in Iraq.

“This reverent but disengaged attitude toward the military—we love the troops, but we’d rather not think about them—has become so familiar that we assume it is the American norm,” Fallows wrote.

Fallows’ article provided a framework through which Krasnican and Paraiso were able to continue assessing their shared military identity, as well as the ways in which policy creation affects the American public’s perception of the military.

When they came to UChicago, Paraiso and Krasnican found it difficult to converse easily with their Harris peers about their military background.

“Anytime I said, ‘I'm a Naval officer,’ the dynamic kind of shifted,” Krasnican recalled. “People would say, ‘Wow. Thank you for your service.’ Or they would get weird about it—like, ‘Oh, OK. Yeah, my uncle was in the Air Force,’ or something. There is a struggle to connect. Nick and I both feel that that is unnecessary.”

The podcast, done in collaboration with UC3P, a student-run organization at Harris that publishes podcasts through an interdisciplinary lens, served as the perfect conduit for continuing the conversation.

Krasnican said the podcast “helps make sense of what we’re doing, what our profession is about, what it’s place and true value in our society is.

“Obviously, I'm somebody who respects the military enough to join it,” he added, “but this research has given me a true respect for what we do and a belief in its values as society. Also the inclination to question it and interrogate it a little bit and be accountable to society.”

The “Thank You For Your Service” podcast and comments by Krasnican and Paraiso for this article are in no way intended to reflect the official positions of the Department of Defense or any other military entity.

—Article originally appeared on the Harris Public Policy website