Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Remember the Troops Day

Dear Soldier,

I am glad you found your way to this blog post, because I wrote it just for you. Recently I have been listening to a lot of personal stories from the War in Iraq and it has inspired me to declare today, December 1, to be Remember the Troops Day.

I am against war. That isn't to say that I think wars should never be fought, but more that I think it should be a last resort after all other options have been thoroughly pursued. So when we went into Iraq, at first my total attention was towards the Iraqi people. I cared about innocents dying, the destruction of their society, the raping of their resources. I remember my drives to school in 2006 when I would listen to the news report about the latest suicide bomb or car bomb or IED and another 10, 15, 20, innocent Iraqis would be reported killed. I would slam my fist against the wheel in anger and disgust. I would swear to myself, "What the f*** are we doing?"

But in recent times my attention on the war has shifted to you, our troops. And I'm not talking about Petraeus or Sanchez or the other masterminds at the top. I came to know about stories of ordinary soldiers. The first thing I kept noticing is that during interviews with platoon sergeants or marines, almost without exception the interview would have to stop when it came to discussing comrades that had been wonded or killed. Like Donovan Campbell talking about a fire fight in front of a school where he lost a marine because he had decided to go against better judgement and linger to treat some children who had been wounded by mortar fire. He talks about meeting the soldier's mother later and not being about to do anything but cry and say he's sorry, it was his responsibility, and he lost her son. Everyone just kept breaking down and crying.

Leave no one behind. When a soldier dies, you pick him up gently, even if in the middle of a fire fight. When you are sitting in a VA hospital waiting room, vets from other wars know you're there for PTSD and come sit in silence and support and solidarity next to you. I realized that when you are out there, there is a deep level of bonding and camaraderie. Esprit de Corps. It seemed from how you talked about it that when you're out there, you aren't so much fighting for the country or for the mission as much as you are fighting for each other. That idea was confirmed in this program.

I was also impressed by how thoughtful and articulate you are. You aren't brutes or drop outs. You are high achievers, some with degrees from Ivy League schools. You are America's best. It's why I have changed my outlook on things like Abu Grahib. You are not bad apples, but rather good apples that got thrown into a rotten barrel. War is rotten, not you. I see that clearly now.

From these observations I started developing respect for you, but since then it has grown to admiration and love. I've come to realize a few things. Number one, you went to Iraq to serve our country. While some of you admit that you also wanted the adventure and the feel of combat, most see this as your country is calling, so you respond. And what a sacrifice, risking your life! When I respond to our country's call, it's to pick up trash or serve the homeless. You literally are putting it all on the line for our country. I can't say enough about how brave and generous that is.

The second thing I've realized is the depth of this sacrifice. First off, many of you are serving in your mid-20s, which I consider to be prime years of a person's life. For you to make the decision to dedicate those years in service of your country in the ultimate way, I can't express how commendable that is. The other dimension is that this becomes a lifelong burden you carry on your shoulders. It's not like when you come back the war is over in your mind and heart. You come back a different person entirely. War is inhuman, it's "where bullets meet bodies." I've heard the noises of war, and heard many of you talk about it. What you've done and seen there, how you've lived, one second at a time, trusting no one, always on alert for threats, hostile environment, it changes, no, mutates, a person. A lot of you come back and suffer from PTSD and depression and other challenges. Your divorce and alcholoism rates are 4x the national average. Some have said coming back is worse than war. I can't imagine the turmoil going on in a mind like that.

And I know we normal civilians make it worse. I understand you are annoyed and pissed at us. Sitting in restaurants and movie theaters laughing it up while you're on patrol in some god forsaken place trying to stay alive. Oblivious. I get it, if I were you, I'd be frustrated about that too. So this is my attempt to start making things right.

I declare December 1 to be Remember the Troops Day. Sure we have Memorial Day and all that, but there isn't a special day were we remember our troops who are at this moment in harms way somewhere around the world. The day works as long as we are fighting a war at the time, so in some sense I hope I don't have to celebrate it every year. But given that we are in Orwellian times, it's a distinct possibility.

Dec. 1 seems like a good day; people are in a giving and thankful spirit after Thanksgiving, but it's over and Christmas is still a ways off. On this day, Americans across the country (starting with me) will think and act in memory of American soldiers fighting in conflicts at that moment. I pledge to you to observe this day every year for the rest of my life. My act this year was to invent the holiday, write this post, and to encourage my readers to observe by checking out the following materials about troops that have really touched me:
Out of so many memorable things I've heard you say was a response to a civilian's question, "What can normal people do, right now, to help soldiers?" One of you replied simply, "Get to know one".

You got it.

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