As I wrote about on Facebook on July 4th, I had a very tough conversation with a combat veteran earlier in the week. He had served in Bosnia, in the initial invasion in Iraq, and in Afghanistan. For him the fall of the Sunni areas of Iraq to the ISIS group raised all sorts of complex emotions.
What did his service mean in Iraq and increasingly in Afghanistan? If these two countries fall back into chaos, why did his friends die? Was their sacrifice a waste?
It was easy for me to say your service was “for your country and the men/women next to you, thanks for your service and don’t worry about the politicians messing it up. You didn’t.” Easy because the men and women in the enlisted ranks at the point of the spear have no policy agenda. Whether you believe President Bush was a disaster or President Obama abandoned a “success”, a sergeant had nothing to do with either.
He or she just said “yes, sir,” saluted, and moved out toward the enemy.
But I also remember being in Lot 60 at Arlington National Cemetery in 2007 during the “Surge” in Iraq. We were moving back home to Colorado and I wanted the boys to see the sacrifice. Lot 60 is where all the recent dead from Iraq and Afghanistan are laid to rest. There are not a lot of high level officers – it’s mostly enlisted and lower ranking officers. When we were there on a typical weekend day, this area of Arlington was flooded with people. They were all the survivors: spouses, children, friends, wounded unit members from Walter Read.
They were all there to visit their dead, our dead.
The most striking moment for us was a very young woman with her baby at the headstone of her husband – a specialist killed in Iraq at age 20. She was having a formal picture taken. Once it was over a reporter approached her and began to ask her questions, which she calmly answered.
What she said hurt the most was that some of her fellow citizens did not support the mission in Iraq. That without that support an eventual victory in Iraq would not happen and her husband’s sacrifice was in vain. After she left the boys and I were able to pray at her husband’s gravesite, not just for his soul, but for her to find peace.
But of course, she was wrong. In a democracy we cannot allow the sacrifice of the armed forces to set policy or to justify a flawed policy. And any politician’s use of that sacrifice for any political purpose is disgusting.
Elected politicians set policy and reap the electoral judgement of those policies. Perhaps the highest level generals and admirals serve in a policy position and are due the praise or approbation of the politicians. But the enlisted men and women, the mid-level officers are free of that burden.
So regardless of whether you are a Republican, a Democrat, or an independent seek out a vet or a veterans organization. Tell them how much you appreciate their sacrifice for you and your family. And leave the policy disagreements for the next time you vote or donate to a campaign.
Because, they saluted, said “yes, sir”, and moved out toward the enemy.