I recently saw a quote from Bill Maher:
“I feel like the troops have this dysfunctional, abusive relationship with George Bush. The more he mistreats them, the more they seem to like him…why do they still like George Bush?”
Well, first off, not all of us do. The military is not some monolithic structure in which every member thinks alike – many of us disagree with current policies, and many of us voted against President Bush in one or both of his elections. But let’s set that aside for the moment. The real point is that this “dysfunctional, abusive relationship” is nothing new to us…and certainly didn’t start when Bush was elected. Where the public sees mistreatment of the military, we see nothing but status quo.
The newspapers report that Walter Reed is a disaster area, in desperate need of repair. We see our barracks rooms, with “work order submitted” tags on faucets and light fixtures, missing window screens and barely-functional air conditioning. We make copies of the weekly maintenance log for our trucks, so we don’t have to write “parts on order” over and over again. We see the worn carpet in our offices, the patches on our tents, the empty supply cabinets. Building 18 was a horribly extreme example, and the Commander and First Sergeant were quite properly relieved of duty – but it was a matter of degree, not something new.
We see that the outpatient clinics and the VA are mishandling paperwork, denying valid claims, and causing huge delays in processing. We remember that VA hospitals have ALWAYS been overfilled, underfinanced, and overloaded with administrators – look at any TV show that portrayed a VA hospital, anytime since 1970. We remember all of the paperwork our unit clerks have lost, the underpayments that took months to resolve, the overpayments that came out of our paychecks with no notice. We remember our spouses dialing over and over starting at 7:25 to try to get through when the same-day appointment line opened at 7:30…and giving up at 8:00 after 30 minutes of busy signals, because they knew the appointments would all be full.
We feel the shame of Abu Ghraib, cheer when the guards are brought to justice…and feel rage when we see their senior leaders escape unscathed. But we remember a Private in 1990 who left a round in his weapon, was caught when he cleared his rifle into a safety pit designed for that purpose, and it went off, and he lost a rank…and a Captain in the same unit who fired his pistol through the floor of a bus, and finished his deployment with a Silver Star. We remember junior Soldiers drummed out of the service for a DUI…and more senior Soldiers who were promoted within six months after getting one. We remember the shame of My Lai…and the further shame of the cover-ups…and the rage that the senior officers who set the command climate, and orchestrated the cover-ups were left out of the courts-martial.
We hear people screaming that we don’t have sufficient body armor, vehicle armor, mine-clearing equipment. We agree…but we know that despite the deficiencies, we are the best-equipped military in the world, better equipped than even U.S. forces in any previous war. And we mutter to ourselves, “The mission comes first,” and we go out to accomplish it.
We groan at the thought of extended deployments, keeping us away from family for an extra three months. But we remember our assignments and training from before the war, when a typical career could easily include three one-year tours in Korea, 18 months away from home in leadership or MOS training, half a dozen or more training exercises every year. Even without deployments, a 20-year career might require a cumulative seven years or more away from home. An extra three months is just more of the same.
I suspect, though, that the main “mistreatment” Bill Maher would bring up is sending us out to fight an unjust war. But war is our business. It isn’t our job to decide if the evidence of WMDs is sufficient to justify an invasion. It isn’t our job to decide if we have enough troops to do the job, or if our battle-focused training will still be effective when the mission changes to police work. We know better than to say “We’re just following orders,” but when our civilian leadership decides war is necessary, well, that’s a lawful order. We salute and move out.
We don’t see sending us to war as disrespect, either. If anything, President Bush and his advisors may have had too MUCH respect for us, overestimating what we could do, even when GEN Shinseki and others advised them of the facts. And while we realize that any politician is capable of lying, we see sincerity in President Bush’s statements of support. Anecdotes of his visits to deployed or wounded troops make the rounds, and his off-camera attitude seems to reflect his on-camera speeches. Anecdotes of other politicians make the rounds, too, and give the lie to their speeches of support.
Yes, we’re tired of deployments. We’re tired of poor support and mediocre medical care. We’re tired of getting shot at. We’re particularly tired of attending the funerals of friends. But none of this is really new to us, and none of it is only six years old. Don’t expect us to blame the current incumbent for problems that we’ve suffered for decades, through Presidents and Congresses of both parties. It isn’t our fault that none of you noticed until now.