What This Country Needs, it Cannot Buy
By: Greg C. Reeson
Those familiar with my writings know that I expend a considerable amount of time and energy analyzing the Iraq War and our nation’s fight against Islamic extremism. As a soldier who has served in Iraq twice, and who has witnessed the wounding and deaths of friends and fellow soldiers, the war is a subject of deeply personal importance to me and to my family. But this time, instead of discussing the merits of the war or the consequences that our failure would have on U.S. national security, I’d like to talk about the men and women who volunteer to serve their country during one of its most difficult and dangerous moments.
A few days ago I traveled to Fort Polk, Louisiana to say goodbye to one of my closest friends as he prepared to leave for his fourth Global War on Terror deployment since 2001. We initially got to know each other during the first year of the Iraq War, working together during the day and sleeping ten feet from each other during the night. He had already deployed to Afghanistan once following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and I was adjusting to my first expeditionary mission since I deployed to Haiti in 1994. We shared many experiences that first year, some filled with laughter, and some filled with tears. While we were growing closer to each other in Iraq, our families were doing the same back home. It is a relationship that has matured to the point where we, our wives, and our children, now consider each of us part of one big family.
After that first year, I deployed for a second time to Iraq while my friend left once again for Afghanistan, marking his third separation from family and friends in the course of just four short years. While there, he earned his third Bronze Star, which was added to his Purple Heart and the award for valor under fire that he earned for his heroic actions following a roadside bombing in Iraq that severely wounded a close friend of ours. One of the most difficult moments of my life was watching him scrub our friend’s blood out of his body armor, not knowing what to say to ease his pain, and ultimately realizing that just being there with him was what mattered most.
Just before he left for his second Iraq tour and fourth deployment in six years, my friend and I talked briefly about his thoughts on the war, repeated deployments, and what it means to be a soldier. Some of the discussion was personal and will remain between us. But I can tell you that he understands why we are in Iraq, and why it is important for us to complete our mission there. He and the vast majority of men and women in our military are perfect examples of what it means to put service to the nation ahead of service to self.
Still, despite their continued willingness to return to the fight, I often find myself questioning what we are doing to those who volunteer to serve our country in uniform. And when I say “we,” I am not merely referring to the defense establishment, the Bush Administration, or the Congress. I am referring to the country as a whole. Yes, we all willingly signed up for military service, knowing full well that we could be called on a moment’s notice to put ourselves in harm’s way, and that our time away from home and loved ones could be considerable. But from the very beginning our military has been fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan while our nation has been conducting business as usual, largely unaffected and ignorant of the sacrifices being made on its behalf. It is our soldiers and their loved ones who are bearing the burden in this war, with thousands killed and wounded on two of the most critical battlefields of our time.
The health of the all volunteer force is in jeopardy because America is not acting like a country at war. As a nation, we need to stop the partisan bickering and recognize that we are facing a volatile and dangerous future confronting extremists who use terrorism to lash out at America’s values and ideals. As a nation, we need to stop saying the war in Iraq is lost and figure out the best way to give our troops what they need, when they need it, to ensure America’s strategic interests in the Middle East and around the world. And as a nation, we need American citizens to understand what is at stake and to stand up in defense of our country.
The American military is not some fringe organization disassociated from normal society. Our military IS America, and we should all be grateful that we have such outstanding men and women of character who are willing to devote their lives to guaranteeing that we are able to live in a free and prosperous nation. We are blessed that so many of our sons and daughters choose to serve in the defense of this country, and we should all be inspired by their example. That’s one of the reasons I continue to serve as a soldier. I feel honored to be in the company of such amazing individuals, and I am humbled by the sacrifices that so many of them have made.
The Iraq War has bitterly divided this country, and America will feel its effects for decades to come. But I know that as a nation we will be okay because of the men and women who make up our armed forces. They represent all that is good and right about America, and they will see us through this difficult time. In reflecting on those individuals I have been fortunate enough to serve with, I am reminded of the words of a former Army Chief of Staff who spent nearly four decades as a soldier for this nation. General Creighton Abrams once said, “What this country needs, it cannot buy. It needs dedicated soldiers who see service to their country as an affair of the heart.” I think General Abrams would be proud of my friend, and of all those serving this nation in uniform today.