Those of us who haven't served in Iraq or Afghanistan have no idea what it's really like. Having your gun malfunction, the constant threat, the constant stench, placing bodies in plastic bags for removal...
I guess I've been thinking about this a lot lately, with a few current students enlisted already or considering signing with the National Guard, and scores of former students in the Guard or other branches of the military.
I was reminded of it again when President Obama gave a speech last month at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida.
"Your dedication to duty is humbling. Your love of country is inspiring. The American people thank you for your service. We honor you for your sacrifices. And just as you have fulfilled your responsibilities to your nation, your nation will fulfill its responsibilities to you.That's the message that I offered to the inspiring Gold Star families I met with a few moments ago-families who have made the ultimate sacrifice and whom we honor. And that's the message I bring to you and all our forces, families and veterans-around Jacksonville and across America.You've made the most profound commitment a person can make-to dedicate your life to your country. And perhaps give your life for it. So as your commander-in-chief, here's the commitment I make to you."
Many of us share his sentiments. No matter how divided we were on the Bush Administration's policies in Iraq, we are can remain united in our unwavering care and concern for our service men and women and their families.
I take Luke 14:25-33 very seriously. Remember the concerns about "mission drift" and "nation building" when the U.S. committed troops to the U.N. action in Kosovo to help end the Serbian genocide of Muslim Croats in the former Yugoslavia? I sure remember Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld deflecting questions about managing the aftermath and rebuilding of Iraq after combat would end, before the invasion in February and March of 2003.
That's why I so appreciated when the President said,
"...while I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests, I also promise you this-and this is very important as we consider our next steps in Afghanistan:I don't care what you think of health care reform or stimulus packages, you can oppose the President with every breath you take- he shouldn't risk their lives unless it is necessary and they do deserve clear goals and adequate equipment. Even if you don't trust him to keep the promise, you can not disagree that it's a promise they deserve.
I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm's way. I won't risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it is necessary, we will back you up. Because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission, the defined goals and the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That's the promise I make to you."
We've been in Afghanistan for eight years now and we still haven't caught Osama bin Laden. Some think he's dead. There are some who argue that we should get out of Afghanistan because most of the Al Queda forces we're pursuing are already in Pakistan instead. Some think we can't leave until we're absolutely certain that the Taliban can not return to power, others say that the Taliban was never our target, Al Queda was.
So we are at a decisive moment, some of us want a troop surge in Afghanistan, some of us want a long deserved standing-down of all U.S. troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile the President seems to be weighing both options and some balance in between.
And then came the tragedy at Fort Hood. Like everyone else, I was shocked and sickened. And when I read about Major Nidal Malik Hasan, I was saddened. Maybe because he is my age, but mostly because as an Army psychiatrist it was his job to listen to the stories of and counsel dozens of veterans returning from service who experienced Hell on Earth, many of whom suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And too because he felt harassed by his fellow soldiers because of his political opposition to the wars and because of his religion.
Don't think for a minute that I excuse what he did- it was heinous, cowardly, truly inexplicable and ultimately inexcusable. At best it was terribly misguided, selfish and counter-productive to the causes he claimed to stand for. At worst it was plainly evil. But it should bring our attention to the true spoils of war, the spiritual, social and emotional putrefaction that leads to such psychological break down.
It should make us pause and take to heart Luke 14:25-33 before we resort to military force, and do so only with the somber grief and caution of an Abraham Lincoln, and not the zeal and enthusiasm of a Kaiser Wilhelm II. What's more, I don't think that there is any shame or dishonor to re-evaluate and reconsider why we're in any war, or how we prosecute said war.
Unlike Iraq, we entered Afghanistan with no controversy or disagreement. Terrorists trained and harbored in Afghanistan attacked us on our own soil. Though not by Afghanistan herself or even my her own people (most members of Al Queda were Saudi). President Obama called it a "war of necessity."
Be that as it may, American men and women are dying there every month and enduring experiences which will haunt them their entire lives. They are being torn from their families and careers. We need to support them whether or not we support our government's sending them into harm's way. We need to support them whether we love or loath their Commander in Chief. And we need to support them and their families in thought, word, and deed, not just in word only.
Please pray for our troops and their families. 2010 will see the largest single call-up of Iowa National Guard units since World War II. Some will be 18 year -olds, others will be 40 year-olds. Many on their first tour of duty, and many on their fifth or sixth deployment. But don't just pray for our active-duty soldiers- remember to pray for our veterans too. WWII, Korea, Vietnam, First Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghan veterans (and their families) need to know that we value them, that we are grateful for their sacrificial service.
Here are some ways that you can make a difference:
- There are 27,600 living vets just in Iowa. Consider writing a thank you card to one of the veterans at the Iowa Veteran's Home, 1301 Summit St. Marshalltown, IA 50158.
- Remember to buy a poppy to support the VFW and American Legion
- Visit www.supportsiouxlandsoldiers.com and help them provide for troops and their families. Adopt a family this holiday season.
- Consider supporting the United Service Organizations (USO) at http://www.uso.org
- Most of all, pray for our troops and our vets. Challenge yourself to pray for them everyday between Veteran's Day (November 11) and Thanksgiving.
- Wear black to work or school on Thursday, November 12, in honor of the victims and families effected by the Fort Hood massacre.
- Observe a moment of silence and pray for peace at 11 AM on Veteran's Day (11-11-1911).
- And no matter how you voted, pray for President Obama, that God would help him keep the promises he made at Jacksonville last month and that God would guide all of his decision making, but especially as Commander in Chief.