Today is a day to reflect on what veterans and the military have brought to our country. Yes, they have fought for freedom in grand world wars. Yes, they are scouring the remote mountain valleys of Afghanistan. Yes, they surged into Iraq to bring a semblance of sectarian peace after toppling a dictator. Yes, they serve as our nation’s disaster backbone as seen so clearly during the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
However, the media coverage, right now, of the military’s heroic efforts here at home and the devastating toll that their service is taking on our young in Afghanistan is appallingly lacking.
I am a product of a military life — my father was a colonel in the Air Force; I grew up being stationed at military bases from Montgomery, Alabama, to Naples, Italy; I went to Department of Defense schools; went to college on an Army ROTC scholarship; and served four years in the post-Vietnam military in Germany, first guarding nuclear weapons and finally, briefing generals.
Back then, I was in a military that had a much closer relationship to the nation’s citizens. I lived in a military populated by an Army, Navy and Air Force drafted from across the nation. I lived in an army where young men were drafted from their mothers to fight in foreign lands. I lived in a country where Representatives and Senators asked questions about everyday issues of the military, driven by concerned mothers and fathers worried about their childrens’ welfare.
In those days, fighting wars and coming home dead was far more personal to Americans. War, then, was against the fabric of our country, something extreme, something so important and of such a danger to us that it required the blood of our young.
Today, the draft is no more. That visceral and countrywide bond between the nation’s mothers against inscription of their young is not the same. Today, with a volunteer army, our nation as a whole has grown to recognize the military as another everyday arm of politics and international relations.
At Walter Reed Hospital, outside of our nation’s capital, soldiers wounded in Afghanistan, with faces disfigured, brain injuries and legs blown away, lie fighting for their lives and relearning how to walk with prosthetics. They are all but forgotten by the national media. The horrors of war still affect the families of the military, but do not seem to affect the soul of the nation, because they are no longer protested by mothers across the country and splashed across TV screens, computer monitors and newspapers as they once were.
When military reserve and National Guard members across the country mobilize to help natural disaster victims, forming up with their units more than 3,000 miles from home to assist their fellow Americans, it has become an everyday headline. When the Navy anchors amphibious ships off the coastline of the New York/New Jersey devastation to fly non-stop rescue missions, their heroics barely make the news. When soldiers, Marines and Coast Guardsmen work feverishly helping storm victims, rebuilding damaged areas and providing food and fuel, it is treated as a simple disaster news footnote.
Travelers focused on flight schedules, re-booking flights and getting to meetings on time rarely realize that without the day-round efforts of soldiers, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, the New York City airports would have never regrouped as quickly. Plus, the international order that allows us freedom to travel would never be as it is.
I hope that on this Veterans Day, everyone stops to consider the sacrifices that our military makes every day for the benefit of our country and its citizens. Not only do we celebrate the winning of wars from days of yore, but we recognize the amazing and heroic service of the men and women of our armed forces in far flung lands and right here at home.
Better yet, they should be thanked every day.
Photo from NYCMarines Flickr Creative Commons