Most uphold a relationship with their political masters that can be summed up by the age-old mantra, "you command and we obey". They take an interest in domestic political affairs and, while they cannot participate in the process, that does not prevent them exerting as much influence as they possibly can.
For example, most matters of importance arrive on the desk of the Military Assistant to the Defence Secretary before going any further and there is very little that happens in the Ministry of Defence without the knowledge of that particular officer, normally a high-flying lieutenant-colonel. When necessary - for example, when there are deep disagreements over policy - information can be leaked but, for the most part, lips are firmly buttoned.
The Scottish referendum on independence is one such matter that has been met with silence in the defence establishment. From the findings of the House of Commons Defence Committee it is clear that the mixed bag of Conservative, LibDem and Labour (but not SNP) backbenchers entertain severe misgivings about the viability of a workable post-independence defence policy.
However, at the sharp end, the response of the armed forces is perhaps summed up by polite interest balanced by a desire to watch out for their own interests. Anecdotal evidence suggests that current service personnel will not be immediately enthused about transferring their careers to a future Scottish defence force.
Inevitably, this will be seen as a second-best choice with less variety and fewer challenges.
For example, in 1922, on the creation of the Irish Free State, all five Irish infantry regiments recruiting in the 26 counties were disbanded yet Irish men were still able to join the British Army and many took the opportunity, simply because it offered more variety. For example, 5000 deserters from the Irish Army served in British forces during the Second World War and for their pains many were arrested on returning to Ireland in 1945.
To date, the SNP have made much of possible alliances with the UN, EU and Nato, which would offer an opportunity for overseas operations but, as the current report points out, they have "seen little evidence that the Scottish Government has reached any understanding with northern European nations regarding military co-operation".
That, of course, needs to be balanced by the understanding that the Scottish Government will not publish its own paper on defence until next month. And that is the difficulty about the current state of debate about defence in an independent Scotland. Until a future government decides its foreign policy and its security needs, it is very difficult to know what kind of forces would be needed and how they might be configured to carry out the tasks demanded of them.
Civilian support for the armed forces also needs to be addressed. At present, veterans are helped by a variety of agencies and military charities, the majority of which are UK-based - for example, Combat Stress, SSAFA and the three benevolent funds of the navy, army and air force. While these could be reconfigured to take control of their share of funds already made available by the Scottish Government, there could be much unnecessary duplication of effort. All this matters to people who are currently serving in the country's armed forces: one day they might need to make use of this kind of help.
And that is the basic problem with carving up the three services. By development and practical deployment they have worked well as UK entities, all service personnel swear allegiance to the monarch who is their commander-in-chief (this would only stay in place as long as Scotland remains royalist), and the history of the services is firmly rooted within a British context. How can that ethos be retained or should it even be retained? That is what many service personnel want to know and their voices need to be heard.
One thing is clear: it will not be addressed by vague promises of restoring historic regiments that have disappeared during the past decade. As a Scottish general remarked during a period of reform in the late 19th century, he was not particularly concerned about which kilt a soldier wore but he was keen to know all about the soldier who wore the kilt.
In an age of continuing uncertainty when current plans will see the UK armed forces reduced to their lowest levels ever, serving personnel have a right to know what will be in it for them. At present, that is being ignored on both sides of the discussion.