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Our troops deserve better from us

Terry Garlock's picture

There is a bill pending in the U.S. House of Representatives, passed by the Senate, declaring March 30 to be “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day,” and similar efforts are under way in a few states. This is in recognition of the lousy treatment given to troops returning from Vietnam four decades ago.

This is a bit of inside baseball, but when Vietnam vets meet for the first time, as they shake hands they are likely to exchange a greeting of “welcome home,” a custom that arose since some never heard those words when they returned. When Vietnam vets gather, the speaker sometimes begins with, “Welcome home!” Some like to hear it, some like me get tired of it.

Speaking only for myself, I think there are far more important things Congress and state legislatures should be doing and if they want to be supportive of our troops, for Pete’s sake, do something for the troops currently fighting multiple wars for us. We treat them too much like mercenaries, specialists we hire to gamble their life to do our dirty work.

I know what you’re thinking. We tell our troops “Thank you!” in a hundred ways now. Applause ripples in airports as groups of uniformed troops come and go on deployment. News reports praise our troops. Some citizens are bold enough to walk up to a man or woman in uniform to thank them for their service.

Years ago when the Iraq war was in full tilt, I heard Rush Limbaugh on the radio talk about outbursts of tears and greeting and applause for our troops in airports, and he said, “I’ll just bet it makes Vietnam vets furious.” Rush is wrong far more frequently than he thinks, and this time he couldn’t have been more wrong. Nobody is more determined than we are to never let troops come home from war to a cold shoulder again, not so long as we are alive.

But beyond lip service, as a nation we are not treating our men and women in uniform well. At the root, I believe, is politics and America’s obsession with being liked.

How long has it been since America made its own decisions on military intervention? For a long time we have sought the blessing of the United Nations, an inept and corrupt organization, thereby giving control to the Russians and Chinese on the Security Council. What a way to promote freedom.

We don’t fight wars to win any more. America gets involved in a shooting war and quickly we morph into a peacekeeping or nation-building force, turning our troops into targets of insurgents.

In search of international support and spreading good will, we tell our own troops to take extraordinary risks to protect civilians, thereby increasing our own casualties. Air and artillery support are withheld from troops in a firefight unless there are assurances civilians cannot be harmed. Troop movements, suspect searches, counter-attacks are decided with a filter of civilian reaction and safety while our enemy quickly learns to hide where we will not strike.

Our enemies no longer fear us. They now know they need not defeat our military machine; they only require a TV news camera nearby when they start a fight that leaves civilian casualties from American involvement, because what America fears most is bad press.

As Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week, it is so easy for us to get involved in a war but very difficult to end one because the day American boots hit the ground there is a rapidly growing list of reasons we cannot leave lest we be blamed for consequences.

And so, we become entangled in the complexities of culture and history we know little about, like Iraq and Afghanistan, and in our need for the world to like us, with every wiggle to leave our boots get sucked a little deeper into the mire.

Disengaging from Iraq is taking forever, scheduled for this December but don’t bet the farm yet on our complete withdrawal.

In Afghanistan, where we have been fighting even longer, I have complete confidence in the strength and capability of our fighting force, but zero confidence we can transform that 7th century warlord culture into a stable nation.

The mental image of the corrupt civilian leadership flying to their hidey hole with suitcases of American taxpayer cash doesn’t help.

While our troops are under fire, we have a duty to support them in every way possible. But the first leg of that support should be giving them a mission with a high chance of success.

So what was President Obama thinking when he approved a troop surge in 2009, but announced at the same time we would begin our withdrawal this summer? Readily apparent to me was a political split-the-baby maneuver to soften the blow to his anti-war supporters. Our enemy took careful notice.

Color it any way you wish, to me it was an unforgivable betrayal of the people we send to fight and sometimes come home severely wounded or worse. As a nation, and as individual presidents, we want too much to be liked.

How far we have drifted from Teddy Roosevelt’s notion of, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Since I am a dinosaur, I can say it with less finesse: we should strike fear in our enemies’ hearts, our allies should respect us, we should continue to be kind and generous, we should withhold our military might until the world’s cretins provoke us, then we should squash those cretins like the bugs they are.

If overwhelming force isn’t going to end the conflict quickly, like in Afghanistan, maybe the message is we should strike the enemy as we can with weapons that don’t require boots on the ground.

Go ahead and think me a Neanderthal simpleton in a complex world. I would argue that using our military as an arm of the State Department, as we have been doing now for some time, sends a message of weakness around the world. Our enemies are emboldened, our ability to influence world affairs is diminished as even allies have less concern about American support.

As a nation, there is a price to pay beyond the cost in dollars. When America is strong and bold, the cretins of the world tend to stay under their rocks. When America is hesitant and tentative, the cretins cause trouble we must deal with. Peace comes from strength.

Our military is now stretched very thin. There is little strength in reserve for unexpected events like China making an opportunistic move on Taiwan, or a no-fly zone in Libya, never mind the potential for natural disasters on our own shores.

There is also a personal cost, but you and I don’t have to pay it. We have an all-volunteer military now, so we can go about our daily life with little concern about war. Someone else does the dirty work. Do you even know someone who serves in the military?

If you do, ask them what happens when America gets itself into a war we cannot end. Ask them about three or four or five tours in a war zone, what it does to a family, how serving repeatedly in combat changes them even if they return without serious wounds.

But we don’t even have to think about it. You and I don’t have any skin in the game. When the President or Congress considers committing American troops to a conflict, it won’t be our children at risk. We can relax and focus on “American Idol.”

Because there is a rapidly diminishing part of the population with military and combat experience, we tend to push social change on the military with little understanding of the consequence.

The latest is a report ordered by Congress on diversity in the military’s leadership – turns out the proportion of blacks, Hispanics and women in the leadership structure is inadequate.

Peachy. Now we will use a new brand of affirmative action instead of just selecting the best.

This reminds me of Army General Casey’s warnings in the aftermath of the Ft. Hood shootings that we must be sensitive to diversity. That sounds harmless enough, but the shooter, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, had outwardly given clear signs for years of pro-Muslim, anti-American sentiments, but nobody did anything for fear of upsetting the diversity applecart.

General Casey might be a good example, as is Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mullen, of soldiers and sailors morphing into politicians when promoted beyond a certain level.

We don’t think of our troops when we should. As the debate raged about spending a trillion dollars on stimulus a couple years ago, I never heard any politician point to our troops sacrificing on multiple combat tours and suggesting we give them a handsome bonus. What about a cash bonus for every year in a war zone with the condition they have to spend it to boost the economy? Maybe it is too easy to not think about our troops; after all, they are volunteers.

Things aren’t all bad. Our Navy is a vital part of projecting American power in the world and is a key asset of aid in disasters like recently in Japan even though the number of ships has been cut in half since the late 1980s. Our armed forces today are the most combat-experienced ever, the world’s best, highly professional, well trained and skilled, standing by to bet their life on the missions we hand to them.

We should continue to thank our troops, to applaud them in airports. But they deserve far more from us.

[Terry Garlock lives in Peachtree City. He occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen.]


Mike King's picture

All currently in uniform deserve much more, and regretably all they'll likely see for the next decade is continued cutbacks. The gratitude shown in airports, public forums, etc is, in my opinion, largely a result of these wonderful men and women being the sons and daughters of Viet Nam veterans.

Bullets flying in three separate conflicts, a hamstrung Congress, and an Oval Office Opportunist-Sounds like 1964 all over.

I still have my chicken plate, do you?

tgarlock's picture

. . . I was shot down, one more thing we had in short supply, passed on to the guys who followed. That would have been a big problem had I been shot down 5 times like you.

Terry Garlock, PTC

Mike King's picture

Since I deros'd in Sep '72 there were few to follow, so they simply let me toss it in with my hold baggage. Besides, it has a hole in the center caused by an irate and worthy adversary who took out his angst on me over an interrupted breakfast.

tgarlock's picture

. . . but the guy I was flying with when we went down might have different chicken plate sentiments. Our impact was hard enough his chicken plate crushed his larynx, broke his jaw and cracked his neck vertebrae, hit him hard enough it opened up his neck so he had tendons hanging out, gross. I lost everything when I went to the hosp, even all my photos were lost in the shuffle when someone packed up my stuff. Just last year one of the guys in the other snake who landed to help told me when they loaded me in medevac I took out my pistol, he thought I was going to shoot myself because I was in a lot of pain, but that I handed it to him and told him he now had a pistol off the books. I told him I don't remember a thing about that, and he said he brought it home hidden in a Teak speaker, pulled out the old .38 and showed it to me, but he wouldn't let me keep it.

Terry Garlock, PTC

Mike King's picture

They are quite bulky, 40-45lbs, and I can see how they would do serious damage with sudden stoppages. You amaze me in that you were concerned about taking a 38 cal off the books after your crash when my supply guy was writing off jeeps, deuce and a halfs, 50 cals, and the like each time we had a bird go down. It's likely we had the 'cleanest' property book in country.

At our next breakfast I'll bring it to see if Skip can: Lift it, carry it a distance to simulate taking it to the flight line, sit on (no, we won't do that), or whatever else we can think of.

Mike, sounds to me like you ought to be kissing that sucker every morning you get up! The one book I read by a Cav slick driver said there was a shortage everywhere and all of a sudden, they got in a huge delivery. And yes, of course many did indeed sit on them.

Mike King's picture

Yes I have the chicken plate, and on occassion remember the day it happened, but please understand that not for perhaps some skill that I possessed at that time, someone else may have suffered a much greater misfortune.

I will consider bringing it to our next little breakfast, but only to see if Skip can lift the damn thing!

tgarlock's picture

. . . we should pay bonuses now, I realize that cannot happen. I could have worded it better. What I meant is so long as we were going to throw away nearly a trillion dollars on stimulus a couple of years ago, wouldn't it have been nice to at least consider the people who are doing our country's hardest work, but I never heard them mentioned.

Terry Garlock, PTC

I would be happy if they just properly handled their wounds. They are still in-lines waiting.

If head injuries are the problem, then set up a school just for them and lead them through it. Damn shame to wallow around in road-side bombs anyway.

I hope they don't foul-up the GI Bill for them. All of them, even make-up schools if necessary. In fact, make them go to school if they are on disability. Pay the way, of course.

Hey, I have a head injury. but can't collect due to heritage Several here in same shape..

tgarlock's picture

. . . a service-connected injury and don't know how to deal with the red tape at the VA, contact me offline and I can recommend someone at the GA Dept of Vet Affairs who is very familiar with the process. You can't apply to the VA without good representation because the system is so complex. But if you qualify, you should apply because despite all the public statements to the contrary, I have found the VA's treatment of my injuries to be first-rate. VA docs are often Emory docs.

Terry Garlock, PTC

I get your joke. My head injury is due to what I write here, in case you were serious.
Also, if you bleed and are disabled there seems to be no problem. That must be your case.
If you can't see any wounds--how do we know you weren't like that when you came in?

I admire your defense of the VA but if you recall a few people lost their jobs at the gate between hospitals and followup treatment!

It is better now than before. I had an uncle who had three purple hearts. He still had shrapnel in his spine. He got 20%. 20% of a technical corporal's pay wasn't much in the late 40s!

There was discrimination then as now, but it wasn't color so much as rank!
Also, friends in high places don't hurt!

tgarlock's picture

. . . serious. I know I am beating this to death, but here's an example of VA care. My doc's office reminded me by phone the 3rd time he needed lab work - blood - for a periodic check. Yesterday I went to the VA clinic, got into the lab and out again in 20 minutes. They do the analysis same day in-house. Today my doc - himself - called to tell me the results, mostly good but he spotted one area of concern and ordered a new med mailed to me which will happen quick because the VA medical system is integrated, not manual. As a taxpayer you can kick about the cost of all this, but the service is often impeccable.

Terry Garlock, PTC

I certainly believe you that you are getting superior care, but many are not! Maybe you don't know any but if you will ask in your column if there are any I think you will be overwhelmed!

And never has been.

There is a lot of serious stuff in my comments, but who is going to read about only serious stuff all of the time?

Now spyglass you are only interested in what affects you right now. The future is the futures's problem.

Making fun of silly serious stuff is the only way to make people guess what is and what is not.
For instance; those right now who think we are in a war because we have bombed someone just simply do not know our "enemies" capability.
They have none! We are turkey shooting turkeys in a barrell.

Didn't we strafe amnd bomb Grenada once? Panama?

We shoot a billion dollars worth of guided missiles to what consequence?
To turn loose a few thousand rag-tag, unorganized bunch who bring their dogs and wives with them to "war."
They like to shoot their only ammunition up into the air all of the time!

The Generals own Egypt and will soon bargain for Libya. Anybody else in either place and they will be killed within six months!

Maybe we can prevent some being killed by interference but only for the short haul.

Since when can wars be really won without occupation?

I see our Navy got to shoot up all of their old guided missiles and are using the oldest F-15s! The Marines even drug out the Ospreys again.
The B2s (all few of them) dropped some 500 pounders from 90,000 feet. Well, maybe 50,000!

Bahrain next, or help Saudi Arabia?
Even NATO gets a call to arms in a "sure thing." Haven't done anyhthing yet.
The yellers of the conserves said EARLY THIS WEEK "OBAMA SHOULD "GO BOMB."
Yesterday they also said, hey it is "way too late."

We should back a bunch of ragtags who lost the war in four days because we didn't bomb four days ago?

Are we Libya and Egypt's Lafayette? Hardly.

I'm thinking real hard we need to disestablish the Pentagon and all officers above LTC or Commander. Have all cadets go for two more years of what they exist to do! Quit advising unless asked and resign if they disagree.

If Quadaffi can be proven to have killed his own countryfolk, then why would he not be charged by the UN Human Rights Commission?

If you look at the blueprint for quote fiscal responsibility unquote that the Tea Party folks are pushing, you'll see that the GI Bill is already targeted for elimination.

Partial list of programs targeted for elimination because they "don't work":
<ul><li>Veterans Administration Hospitals</li>
<li>GI Bill</li>
<li>VA Home Loans</li></ul>
Remember this list the next time one of the Citizen's bloviators trot out that tired meme that it is <strong>Democrats</strong> that "don't support the troops".

Observerofu's picture

"Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt"
-Samuel Adams
Illegitimi non carborundum

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