I wasn’t there today, but I was there years ago to see the pomp and celebration of four years of accomplishment for the young men and women of West Point. I have also lectured at the Air Force Academy and was impressed with the collective as well as the individual dedication of the cadets and instructors.
All of the service academies graduations engender a spectacular ceremony that wells with emotion and precipitates deep patriotic pride and a foreboding bellicose prognostication.
Pride because these new spirits of the American dream have spent hard physical and mental hours over that last four years to honor their dream of an education and of service and commitment to the everlasting ideals of America. The bellicose possibilities exist because many of these 950 men and women West Point graduates will be heading to Iraq or Afghanistan as platoon leaders and officers in the field of war. It is their destiny determined by the times.
This will be a longer post because I have other observations to make about the way our Nation treats these young warriors. It has nothing to do with whether you think the war is just, or right, or wrong or should be ended. It has to do only with the warriors we, as a nation, send into harms way.
Many of the men and women we designate as warriors and send to battle have families and all the needs that go with that responsibility.
Too many of them cannot afford to care for their families on what pay they take home, even with allowances that vary depending on rank, duty, and dependents.
It is not uncommon for young military families, in all the services, to need food stamps to exist. We ask them for sacrifice, not only of their lives if need be, but the sacrifice of extended time away from family closeness at seasonal and personal celebrations, yet we seem to forget them at budget time.
The lower ranks, after taxes might have a spendable income of maybe 18-thousand dollars a year and it does not get proportionally greater for the upper ranks or years of service. If we are to continuously ask the peacekeepers to risk their lives, then we need to provide peace of mind at home.
It starts with public awareness and goes way beyond the meager pay raises that congress occasionally approves.
When we send our men and women into battle we think of them as warriors, as skilled fighters, as cohesive units trained to win. They are that and so much more for no matter where they are the dichotomy of trained soldier and the tenderness of human nature abounds.
I have seen pictures from the AP and from Reuters that shows American soldiers at their best. I’ve seen a soldier on patrol, weapon at the ready, kneeling for a moment to pet a kitten. I’ve seen a soldier teaching a little Arab boy to slap a five. A smile on all their faces is a lasting victory. I’ve seen a soldier, maybe a father himself, sitting on the ground cradling a wounded child in his arms.
You can have the best technology to fight a war, but you also must have the best of heart to win one.
Now to the hard part of war!
In Vietnam, I covered the war and the coffins coming home. I’ve seen the dead in Croatia and I’ve reported on the nightly news the mortality count in numerous wars and conflicts since the sixties.
What governments have always failed to acknowledge is that once a warrior is dead, politics end. The dignity of a name is important to the validity of service, not only to the family, but also to the social and patriotic permanence to our society. Heroes are honored, not hidden.
Hang the politics of hiding the death count. These are our dead. We directly and indirectly sent them where harm could happen. They serve and served by choice and honor. They die by circumstance and the hatred of another. Let us acknowledge their remains with honor and names and bugle calls in public. And let us congratulate the new warriiors who choose to serve and pray they are kept from harm.
More in a later post.