Thursday, July 28, 2005

Why are Citizen-Soldiers in Iraq?

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.


Breezy said...

Is it odd that I cant wait to go over there to serve my country? Am I twisted or misguided?

RTO Trainer said...

Breezy, you sound like a Soldier to me.

Mustang 09, don't you love giving thoughtful answers to such questions. People frequently expect to get a knuckle-dragging reaction and appear so taken aback that we've actually though these things through.

Anonymous said...

Oh so well said. Kennedy is busy rewriting a lot of history. He is one of the 400 historians that signed a dumb petition in support of Clinton when he was impeached.

No amount of facts will change Kennedy's worldview or that of the "draft dodger" you spoke with in Chicago.

Not a sand bagger in a flood battalion is priceless - had me ROTFL!

Anonymous said...

Breezy--I don't think it's twisted or misguided! Many of us have a sense, an urge, to serve our country. There are many others who do not and that is ok as well. I think it's great that you want to serve this country and follow in the footsteps of our forefathers! It's a grand tradition established WITH the establishment of our country! I say, "Right on!"--a fellow soldier

Karens Korner said...

GREAT pOST! and very good answers to the "draft dodgers" of yesteryear. They just don't get it and neve will. Kennedy Yuck!

Kim Ponders said...

I agree that the post was well written and thoughtful. I also know that the Guard and Reserves reflect people from many walks of life, but I do think many people in American are seperated from the miltary, based on numbers alone. Your Starbuck's guy conversation might lends color to that. He mostlikely doesn't know anyone in the military anymore. With 296 million people in the US and about 1.5 in the military, even counting friends and family, maybe 10% to 20% really know someone in the military. (By "know" I mean care about and talk to them).
You wrote, readers of this blog probably know someone in the miltary. I agree with you because most readers are military or family. My husband and I are both Air Force, and get support from that community. However, when my civilian job as a writer, few really "know" people in the military. It isn't that the Guard and Reserves is out of touch with the average americans, it's that so many americans are out of contact with people in military today.
Great post and stay safe

Anonymous said...

Mustang 09,

Thanks for recording your conversation with the gentleman outside Starbucks.

I'm one of the many Americans who only know of someone who has a cousin or a nephew somewhere in the service. Don't know anyone involved directly.

Your reply was and your recording of it is eloquent. I hope that you or someone you know forwarded it to Professor Kennedy.

I will say that I do know of families in my children's school who had a family member in the guard in Iraq and I do think that the sacrifices, particularly financial, that guard families are asked to make is unconscionable. I know one of my children's classmates ended up taking a job rather than going onto college in order to make up the $$ gap for his family because his father was overseas.

Combine that with the lack of support for Guard veterans, in particular, in receiving needed medical attention from the VA and I wonder if many in the nation have a clue of what this ill-managed Iraq venture has cost our citizen-soldiers and their families.

My best wishes to you and your family.

Stay safe

Eddie said...

Thanks for the perspective. This is a great blog you have here. Check out mine if you have a chance, and God Bless the USA.