Reading this OP-ED Piece in the NYTimes by Stanford history professor David Kennedy, claiming that today’s Army does not reflect the mainstream of America, brings to mind a conversation I had while I was home on leave.
My family and I went to Chicago over the 4th of July weekend. One morning we were walking along Michigan Avenue, and my Wife and daughters decided it was time to do some shopping. My son and I decided that this would be a good time for some male bonding, so while the ladies were enjoying the multitude of shopping choices, we popped into a nearby Starbucks. I got a mochachino, he got orange juice. We grabbed a table outside and sat down to people watch, and the gentleman at the next table struck up a conversation. Eventually, after he discovered I was a National Guardsman home from Iraq, he asked a few questions about the war. He was a Chiropractor who had joined the Army reserve during the Vietnam war to, in his own words, "dodge the draft". He asked me if, when I joined the guard, I had expected to serve overseas, because "after all, the Guard is really for floods and things like that". I explained that I was a member of a Field Artillery battalion assigned to an Infantry Division, not a sandbagging battalion in a flood fighter division, and that the primary mission of the National Guard is to provide combat units for federal service, with a secondary mission of providing military support to our respective States. I further explained that I had drawn more combat pay in the National Guard than I had while on active duty in the Marine Corps in the mid 80's, having previously deployed to both Bosnia and Kosovo in the 90's, before deploying to Iraq. He continued down this track, and asked "Well, shouldn't we have a bigger active Army then?"
A great question, with more depth than he realized. The answer to the question, and it's implication that Reserve component troops should not be fighting, goes back to his own Vietnam experience, and also illustrates the fallacies in Kennedy's editorial. First, to counter Kennedy's assertion that today's military does not reflect mainstream America: in just my small unit here, we have teachers, college students, police and corrections officers, network administrators, engineers, a car salesman, a stockbroker, a farmer, truck drivers, and machinists, just to name a few. We represent mainstream America, and we have families, communities, and employers who are sacrificing while we are here. This reality, this representation of America, is why, after Vietnam, the military leaders of the time decided to rebuild our Armed forces in such a way as to prevent our political leaders from ever being able to do what LBJ did in Vietnam; fight a major war without mobilizing the citizen-soldier. You can talk smack about Generals all you want, God knows I do, but they recognize that war needs to cost politicians political capital, or they will be far too quick to wage it. Today's military cannot fight without the Guard and Reserve, and that is a GOOD THING. The military should not be committed to action without sacrifice by mainstream America because only then are those who decide to commit us held accountable.
Regardless of your opinions of the war, it is likely that you know someone who is serving or has a family member serving. It is also likely that they are Citizen-soldiers. We are volunteers who knowingly accepted this burden. Our communities and families are sacrificing. We are mainstream America. And that is how it should be.