Sunday, August 05, 2007

Support Our Troops

I went to a coffee meeting this morning with the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) to hear about the efforts by and for veterans who oppose the Iraq Occupation. The occupation is breaking our military — for example, the 82nd Airborne, "The Tip of the Spear," is meant to be able to deploy anywhere in the world within 24 hours, but that capability is no longer available because of the strains President Bush has placed on our military preparedness in an enterprise that is making us less safe every single day. Not only that, but the diversion of financial resources to the occupation is starving projects here at home. The Minneapolis bridge collapse this week highlighted the dangerous state of decay of our domestic infrastructure; for example, if the money we have spent in Iraq had been applied instead to our highways, every highway bridge in America could be repaired to at least a "B+" grade. But the most shameful aspect of Bush's War is the way the Bushies, and therefore our nation, have treated our men and women in uniform. Forty years ago, some soldiers began Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which was a cornerstone of the movement to end the war; today, we have IVAW on a similar mission.

Soldiers in Iraq are re-enlisting in large numbers. Why would they do that, given the fact that most of the soldiers oppose our continued presence in Iraq? Part of it is patriotism and commitment to the other soldiers in their unit, to be sure. But there is also a much darker reason. Let's suppose you're a soldier in Iraq, nearing the end of your enlistment. You have two choices:

  1. Re-enlist, get a substantial bonus, get the promise of lifetime medical care in the V.A. system if you're injured, get benefits to your family back home, and hope that you don't get blown to bits.
  2. Let your enlistment lapse and go into the Individual Ready Reserve, also known as the Backdoor Draft. You can be recalled to active duty up to 8 years from your enlistment date, unless of course the military decides to call you up later than that. In that case, you are no longer an active-duty soldier or Marine; you are classified as a Reservist. As such, you get no re-enlistment bonus, no benefits for yourself, only two years of V.A. medical care if you're injured, and no family benefits.
So the very real possibility is that you're going to be sent back to Iraq, no matter what you do, so you might as well get the benefits. The threat of involuntary servitude as a second-class soldier certainly casts the re-enlistment figures in a different light.

Clearly the Bush Administration's talk of supporting the troops is largely empty rhetoric, but what can the rest of us do to actually support the troops? For the troops returning to civilian life, it's a profound adjustment. I can tell you that it's a bit of a shock just spending a week in the desert north of Reno and then returning to civilization, and I'm sure that the contrast from the desert north of Baghdad is orders of magnitude sharper. It's like comparing a skinned knee to a double amputation, and that simile carries forward on another level: one is short-term, the other a lifelong issue. Being shot at, having no safe place to let down your vigilance, having to kill other human beings, and seeing widespread death and destruction, has to leave an indelible mark. If you know a returning veteran in your community, let him or her know that, even though you oppose the war, you don't hold the troops to answer for the damage the war is doing both to Iraq and to the United States. Let that veteran know that you want to help in any way you can. You probably won't have to sit through bloodcurdling stories of combat, IEDs, or other horrors, because the veteran may not be ready to talk about those things.

On a larger policy level, call your Congressman and tell him or her that you feel that the Backdoor Draft is a national disgrace, that Reservists deserve the same medical benefits as regular soldiers if they're injured on active duty, that it is immoral to send our troops to Iraq and Afghanistan for ever longer tours with ever shorter breaks between deployments, and that you want him or her to support the troops by bringing them home alive. The soldiers don't support the occupation, the American people don't support the occupation, and the Iraqi people don't support the occupation. It's only the two governments that think it's a good idea, and it's time to say enough is enough.

Technorati tags: , , ,

Click below for more...