Somewhere in Afghanistan Remember Afghanistan? For that matter, remember Iraq?
When the Iraq war ended, and I use the term loosely, there was no tickertape parade down the streets of Manhattan filled with returning troops. There was no time-defying photograph of a nurse draped over the arms of a sailor, destined to forever be lip-locked in the pages of history.
Instead the war ended and Iraq rode quietly off into the sunset, not to mention the back of our minds. It was a long war that was best forgotten. The war took a toll on the American people, the partisan divides of our government and most definitely the military.
Iraq’s being fought, sometimes it appeared in vain, while Afghanistan only got worse made the American public and the family members of service members weary. “Bring our troops home” became the battle cry of the people.
Well, our troops came home, only to be sent to replace the troops in Afghanistan. There was one less war to fight, one less war for the Department of Defense to pay for, one less war to report on but still another war that had to be fought nonetheless.
Now, the Afghanistan war will end next year. There will be no declaration of “Victory in Afghanistan! Troops come home.” We are just tired. Most people can’t even seem to agree on what victory really means in this war.
These have, after all, been our longest wars. Our country was flagrantly attacked 12 years ago and the American fighting force responded with a punctuated message that dared anyone ever to challenge us again. Flags flew from households across the nation and the American people were galvanized in our resolve to defeat those who attacked us.
Why, then, are the presses not burning the midnight oil to print the early edition declaring “VICTORY”?
The answer is simple and understandable. Unlike those who fought World War II, we weren’t gone for years at a time with no way to communicate home but letters. We had mass media saturate the stories of war to the point of exhaustion; the Greatest Generation had only occasional headlines, leaving those back home starving to know what was going on. They returned en masse, while we return unit by unit. A parade is what they well deserved, but they deserved still more.
The veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fought until they were told to stop. They answered their nation’s call and a parade is not what they seek now. Recognition is not what they need. The wars they fought and the Great Wars are not comparable. The challenges they face now, however, are very much the same as the Greatest Generation.
The Department of Defense has begun the process of downsizing and the veterans of those wars have begun the process of trying to figure out what to do next. Some veterans find themselves “downsized” after 12, 15, 18 years of service. No retirement, maybe a severance pay if you’re lucky, but no job. The enemy they face now is staggering unemployment, a recessed economy and a long historical precedence of jobless vets.
We have been weaned off war, we welcome peace, but for those who fought those wars, what of them? Those with the images of battle ever scarred in their thoughts, and the pain of unemployment stinging their skin, what of them?
I do not suggest that the plight of the American service member is any more important or sorrowful than the plight of any unemployed citizen.
I do, however, ask our government who so gainfully employed these heroes as they swore our allegiance to defend the Constitution without pause, what of them? To those civilian employers who were proud to “Support the Troops,” what of them?
What of those who turned down college to pick up a weapon? Who didn’t spend the last 12 years in a craft fitted for civilian employment but mastered the craft of war?
Was “Support the Troops” just a party line, or will the craft they did learn transition into employment? Or will they be forced to start over? Will they be competing for college with those fresh out of high school, with no deference from the government? What will come of them? Will our country learn from those who faced these same challenges a half a decade ago and since, or will they simply become a statistic? Will they too be forgotten?
So, I ask you again, will we truly remember Iraq and Afghanistan?
Russell Ellis of Gastonia has 12 years active duty in the Army and is based in Fort Bragg. He served in Iraq and currently serves in Afghanistan. He wrote this as a private citizen, not in his official military capacity.
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