Monday, May 29, 2006

Supporting The Troops

Today is Memorial Day. Over the last week or so, there’s been the usual outpouring of support and recognition military personnel, past and present, living, dead in the fullness of time, or killed in action.

Make no mistake. Soldiers recognize and appreciate that support. Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day are times not only for us to honor the men and women in uniform that came before us, but to celebrate our connection to them, and to receive those reminders that our society appreciates our sacrifices. That appreciation truly does help keep us going in the hard times.

We notice other things, too. Those of us currently overseas can’t see the bumper stickers, but we see them when we’re home. Those of us who visit Arlington National Cemetary notice the respect that tourists show on that hallowed ground. Organized efforts like Operation Dear Abby and smaller efforts from elementary school classes truly get to us when we’re deployed, and truly matter to us.

But we notice other things, too.

In San Francisco, the Board of Education is considering banning the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) from their high schools. The stated reason is to protest the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy – and, since it is San Francisco, that’s a believable reason, and one that I can respect. However, some of the supporters of the proposal believe that JROTC is “just an easy way for the military to get a foothold in public schools and encourage teens to enlist after they graduate.” (San Francisco Chronicle). San Francisco will have to pay for the protest, if approved – the Department of Defense helps pay the JROTC teachers, and the courses count for Physical Education credits. If they kill the program, they’ll have to pay full price for replacement courses. At any rate, I seriously doubt that the proposal would go very far were it not for parents’ fears that their children might choose the same career I did. You already know how I feel about that.

We notice when National Guardsmen and Reservists join us on deployments, and then return to find their jobs gone. Sometimes they get fired when they leave. Sometimes only when they get back. Either way, a lawsuit will get their jobs back – but not if their bosses manufacture excuses. The employers can document bad attitudes, missed work, low performance…especially subjective problems that the soldier can’t prove false. And then they can fire the soldiers after a few months, so they can hire someone who won’t be called away for weeks or months at a time. We notice when our brothers and sisters in the Reserves and Guard can’t find jobs – because they proudly included their military commitment on their application or resume. I’ll bet some of those employers have yellow ribbon stickers on their SUVs.

We notice how we are portrayed in movies, TV, books, and newspapers. We notice the little things – like misspelling ranks and titles in news stories. Since references for that are available through a brief internet search, mistakes show a level of concern. Mis-worn uniforms, incorrect patches and ribbons…a movie or TV producer could hire any decent NCO for peanuts and be sure of getting those things right. We notice bigger things, like the way enlisted troops are usually mindless automatons, obeying ridiculous unlawful orders with a lack of hesitation that would do credit to a Nazi. Or that officers are either warmongering fools or desk-bound bureaucrats – except for Our Hero who has to work around or actively fight his superiors to Do What Is Right.

We notice our representation in government, and how few congressmen have real military service in their backgrounds. We know the difference between an elected official that served as a grunt in World War II and one who signed up for the Guard but was never called up and rarely showed up for drills. We’re fixing this one ourselves – several Iraqi Freedom veterans are running for election this year. They’re running in both parties and on both sides of the question of the war. And they’ve got several incumbents very nervous.

We notice the nation’s overall level of sacrifice for this war. We know that in World War II, the country suffered through rationing of all sorts of foods to feed the troops, and coped with shortages of rubber and metal to arm them. We know that the sheer size of our forces drained so much manpower that women were pulled into the workforce, changing the economy forever. We know that the Vietnam War pulled over 8,500,000 men and women into the military – about 4% of our total population, enough so that everyone at least knew someone who went. Our forces right now are below 1,500,000, while the population has increased – less than half of one percent of the population are part of the current war. There’s no rationing…no sacrifices. Even taxes have come down. For the second time in our nation’s history (the first being Desert Shield/Desert Storm), the sacrifices of war are entirely on the shoulders of our men and women in uniform – and ther families.

Like I said before, we appreciate the support of our nation, in big ways and small. But think about us again next week, after the flowers have wilted and the flags have been put away. Think about us next month. Ask yourself – am I really supporting our troops? Or did I just buy a sticker?

My apologies to my family and friends – your support and love are unquestioned.

Statistics pulled from Office of Veteran’s Affairs and Wikipedia’s census entries.

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