Sunday, November 11, 2007

Supporting the Troops

It really bothers me when people who want us to move towards stopping our military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, or who disagree with the Administration's current deployment strategies, are automatically charged with not "supporting our troops." It also bothers me when legislators, whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent, or any other citizens are charged with not supporting our troops, if they dare to question or disagree with a huge war or military appropriations bill for tens or hundreds of billions of dollars. Similarly, it also bothers me a great deal when I hear Americans called unpatriotic, just because they question or disagree with any of these issues.

That said, having proudly served in the military, though not in combat, I think I understand the deep emotions involved by those making the charges, especially those who have been career military people or who have sons or daughters, husbands or wives deployed in these two countries. It concerns me much more when those making the charges are clearly doing so purely for partisan political purposes, and likely don't really mean in most cases that the people they criticize our intentionally unsupportive of the troops or unpatriotic.

I'm confident that, with the possibility of some very limited exceptions, these are largely bogus and unfair charges. Virtually everyone supports our troops, whether they are in combat or not! Those making these kind of charges perhaps need to be reminded that the U. S. is a democracy where, fortunately, we have certain important civic rights, including freedom of speech, even at a time of war.

I was prompted to write this posting by a compelling article I read in the Los Angeles Times this morning in its California section about Sergeant Major Jesse Acosta. As a member of the Army Reserve, Acosta was deployed to Iraq to a supposedly relatively safe logistics and supply assignment at Camp Anaconda in October 2005. In January 2006 he was hit by mortar fire and got badly wounded by a shard of shrapnel that ripped through his left eye. He lost sight in both his eyes and will apparently never see again. He also lost a nerve in his brain that controls taste and smell. Several surgeries to his head followed and reportedly more are to come. Acosta, 50, without a trace of self-pity, doesn't question his military service and is making slow progress in his reorientation to civilian life with the help of his family and a guide dog.

However, talking about supporting our troops, he is strongly criticizing the support he got from the military and our government after returning to the U. S. from surgeries at our military hospital in Germany. He said he was released from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center much too soon, stating, probably with a little exaggeration, "I received no care whatsoever coming back to the U. S." It isn't the first time, of course, that we have heard from our troops or the media from serious deficiencies at Walter Reed. This story also reminds me of what former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsveld said at a press conference a few years ago. "As you know, you go to war with the Army that you have, not that you want to have or wish to have at a later time." This was, as many will remember, in response to a media question about reports by soldiers of shortages in armored plating for the humvees they were driving in Iraq, leading to a great many serious injuries from roadside bombs.

Given many of these reports, it would seem reasonable that many of those making charges to legislators and other American citizens about not supporting our troops should rethink their rhetoric altogether or redirect them instead to our own government and our military leaders in the Pentagon. Equally important, we should stop the blatant and petty partisanship in Washington and elsewhere in the country and encourage our leaders to work together to deal with our important issues in a manner that serves the best interests of the country (and our troops), rather than narrow special interests or any single political party. However, I'm not holding my breath that this will happen any time soon.

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