Vietnam Era Veterans; All Veterans Remembered


I am a Vietnam Era vet. I did not serve in Vietnam as I was sent to Korea. And that turned out to be a bit of a hot zone all by itself, though Americans had little if any knowledge of that. But I am getting ahead of myself.

When I joined the army, I was sworn in February 19, 1968, the Vietnam war had taken a dark turn for Americans. Earlier that month the Viet Cong mounted what is known as the Tet offensive. Tet is the Vietnamese New Year. Americans let their guard down figuring the Vietnamese would be busy celebrating Tet, their new year. Contrary to what people were told in America, the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong were very smart and very savvy. They hoped we would let our guard down so they could spring a surprise attack of large proportions, and that is what happened. Starting on January 31 they attacked over 100 South Vietnamese cities and nearly overwhelmed many American strongholds. Hue, Danang and even Saigon were attacked. The Marines at Hue were nearly overrun and suffered nearly 700 casualties.

But who were the men who were fighting in Vietnam? All branches of the armed forces, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, and the U.S. Coast Guard too, who in those days fell under the auspices of the Treasury Department. A very large portion of those in Vietnam were draftees even though some were never formally drafted. Many guys waited for the draft notice to show up and went for induction. But others with the knowledge that they were probably next, gave in and enlisted just prior to their likely drafting. Then there were the poor. The army was filled with a disproportionate number of blacks, mostly poor, mostly poorly educated. To them, the army seemed like a good deal. Then there were the white kids like me who, lacking direction, enlisted because we did not know what else to do but also because our fathers had fought in World War 2 and it seemed like the right thing to do.

When I arrive for my basic combat training at Fort Polk Louisiana, I discovered there were four identifiable groups of men, those who had signed up known as RAs, those who were drafted known as USs, those who signed up for the reserves, ERs, and those who joined their state’s national guard, NGs. The two letter codes were the letters that preceded our soldier’s identification number, for example, I enlisted and my number was RA11625182. Some things you never forget. But had I been a draftee the RA letters would have had US substituted. And since we all had to recite our number many times in the early days, we knew what every man had chosen.

A tour in Vietnam was mandated by law to last no longer than 12 months. This meant there was a high turnover of personnel going and coming to and from Vietnam. But there was also this country called Korea which also had a maximum 12-month tour. From 1964 to 1975 over 9 million men in uniform served in Vietnam, 58,145 died there. And here is a stunning fact: over the 4 years an infantryman served in WW2, he saw about 40 days of combat. Over the 1 year an infantryman served in Vietnam, he saw about 240 days of combat. It is small wonder so many came back so screwed up.

The infantry training at Fort Polk, in those days, was rough. The drill sergeants were charged with bringing together a very disparate group of men into a single fighting force. One of their most successful ways of doing that was to pit us against each other. I was in Company B, 5 Battalion, 1st Training brigade. I was in what was called the “Yankee Platoon.” We were men from north of the Mason-Dixon line of course. Then there were two southern platoons and finally one “misfit” platoon. The misfits were from states like California which were not easily grouped. The drill sergeants showed great favoritism towards the southern platoon in large part because every one of them hailed from the south. The drill sergeant assigned to my platoon was from Texas. Our company command was from Alabama and his executive officer was from Georgia. But a funny thing happened during those 8 weeks, we all came together. Any sort of divisions which existed at the start of basic training disappeared along the dusty roads were we force marched along. Their plan worked magnificently. On graduation day a full 95% of the men of our company were loaded onto the back of cattle trucks and taken to “Tiger Land.” Tiger Land was the advanced infantry training course with an emphasis on tactics used in Vietnam with a faux Vietnamese village to boot. I had gotten myself into helicopter training school so that was not in my future. But for as much as those drill sergeants yelled at us “Charlie’s gonna get you!”, Charlie being a euphemism for the North Vietnamese army, I do not remember a single conversation regarding the possibility we could die over there.

The American forces in Korea in 1968-1969 number in excess of 50,000 troops. There were two full infantry divisions, 2nd and the 7th. And there were countless support units. I was stationed a mere 25 miles from the DMZ and had change to travel in its proximity on several occasions. Places known as Camp Humphries, Camp Casey, Camp Red Cloud and others we each an armed camp unto themselves. They were armed because there was always the very real threat of a North Korean incursion into the south which actually happened though in small numbers. Still, anything north of the Han River was considered a combat zone and many an infantryman in Korea saw his share of combat, as did some of the field artillery units. Remember, this was the time when North Korea captured the USS Pueblo and shot down a US Air Force EC-121 reconnaissance aircraft.

During my tour in Korea a fair number of American soldiers were killed in action by North Korean soldiers but most of that was never reported.  Few new of that war zone.  Those tasked with guarding the frontier were under the constant threat of an attack from the north.  North Korea regularly lobbed artillery shells into the south.  A lieutenant who was inspecting the DMZ was cut to pieces by a machete wielding North Korean soldier.  America seemed to have forgotten that even 15 years after a truce was declared, it remained a truce in those days and that truce was violated by the north of many occasions.  American soldiers died and no one knew.

As for Vietnam, on April 30, 1969, there were 543,482 men station there at one time. But one thing was consistent for the soldier in Vietnam, his short-time calendar. A “short-time calendar” was the outline of a naked woman with 365 squares, or what passed for squares, within her body. You filled in one day waiting impatiently for that day you could call yourself a “short-timer.” A short-time was someone who had 99 days or less of time to serve. You got to call yourself a 2-digit-midget because you were getting so close. Sadly, stories abounded of guys who were within two weeks of rotating back to the U.S. only to be killed. Everyone knew such a story and some even knew the guy. Such things wreaked havoc on the psyche’ of the young soldier. Many came back so damaged, not just physically, that putting them back together was an impossible job. It wasn’t until either very late in the war or in the first few years following it that the term PTSD came into being. The VA and Army hospitals overflowed with men so damaged that it was felt they would never be right. I knew of at least 2 such individuals. One put a gun to his head and the other had a heart attack at the young age of 34. He had yelled at the VA that he had been sprayed with agent orange but that fell on deaf ears.

If you want a good picture of the army in those days first watch “The Boys of Company C” which will give you an excellent view of basic training during Vietnam and then watch “Good Morning Vietnam.” Each in its own way does justice to what really happened, to the tensions which existed, the horror of war, and how boys were forced to become men literally overnight.

About 90% of the men who served in Vietnam never saw any combat but it did not free them from the horrors of the war. No one was ever very far from a medivac hospital where surgery was frequently done in what would be considered unsterile conditions but the surgery being needed in such an immediate fashion, the doctors had no choice. These doctors and nurses suffered greatly as they attempted, too many times in vain, to put back together the wounded soldiers, and to provide some sort of reason and solace for those of his friends when the soldier died. The rock group, Country Joe and the Fish, came out with a song in 1968 which had a line that went “then it’s one two three four, what are we fighting for, don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam.” That was the sentiment of the soldiers in those days. We don’t know why we are here but we will do the best job we can.

While in Vietnam there were phrase such as “back in the world” which meant back at home, and round eyes, which meant American girls. The soldiers had created a language peculiar to their environment which helped them deal with what they were up against. Many of those soldier had never traveled more than 100 miles from home and now they were in a country so alien to them, that fitting in was impossible so they worked hard just to get by. Soldiers received no training about the customs of Vietnam nor what to expect of the general population. It was all on the job training.

Guy did not do marijuana in Vietnam. Why would they when they could get the more potent form of cannabis known as hash, of Thai Stick. Much stronger in content it allowed many troops to escape the horror of the day. And there were those who found solace in the all too prevalent heroin.  And what did the military do about those problems? Virtually nothing. They were too busy fighting a war than to consider the welfare of their men.

Soldier returned to America in large numbers from 1968 to 1972. But they found no welcome mat, no parades, no gestures of kindness. Americans knew the war was ugly and they wanted to distance themselves from it. They did this by ignoring the returning troops. They turned a blind eye to the problems the troops returned with. They did this because of their collected guilt.

It was well-known that the upper middle-class and the upper class did not serve, or if they did, they found comfy jobs in Washington or in Germany. Their service would have been good except that they took extraordinary measures to insure that the Department of Defense would not mistakenly assign them to Vietnam.

If nothing else, the War in Vietnam should have taught us what not to do, which skirmishes to stay away from, and to let people pitted against themselves the space to work out their issues. But we did not do that. Iraq 1 seemed a necessity and I have no issue with it. But Iraq 2 was a pure boondoggle. In Vietnam we said we were preventing the expansion of Communism. In Iraq we were supposedly going after weapons of mass destruction. In each case not only was the premise faulty, but our actions were and are virtually defenseless. But once again, the American soldier has been asked to do far more than is right. Our armed forces have been decimated by repeated reductions in force to where once again soldiers are being asked to do more than their psyche can handle, and it shows in the returning troops.

One thing which has changed for the better, it is common to hear the phrase, “thank you for your service.” But as nice as those words are to hear, they do not heal the injured psyche, and that remains an all too prevalent problem.

All who serve, by the nature of the oath they take, promise to put their life on the line in defense of our Constitution and our country. No other job requires this of a person. A truly grateful nation will take care of all its veterans to whatever extent is needed, but that is not happening. Too many veterans come back to no jobs and no prospects. Too many come back severely broken, are patched up and pushed back into society long before they are ready. If America wants to show how it is truly grateful for the service of all veterans, it will do whatever is necessary to insure a safe and secure future for them. It will find the reasons they turn to drugs and sometime crime and resolve those issues. It will make Veteran’s Day more than just a national holiday, it will treat it with the same respect as Christmas gets, only necessary people work that day and all others take a day to remember those who put their lives in danger so that we can live feeling safe and secure.

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Peace in the Middle East


The largest part of the political dialogue today is over the containment and ultimate elimination of ISIS and other groups like ISIS. I find it scary to hear leading Republican candidates talking about carpet bombing and send large number of troops into the Middle East to resolve this problem. The Democrats seem to have a little more palatable response but still quite imperfect. Is there a perfect response? Yes, but no one knows what it is.

I think it high time we give both Afghanistan and Iraq a 30-day notice of complete removal of all our troops from their respective countries. The United States has overspent in both areas trying to bring about a peace which history shows has never existed for any extended length of time. The bottom line is, and contrary to what both major parties claim, our major interests in Iraq lie entire in its huge oil reserves and nothing else. That is simply irresponsible.

Now I am not suggesting we abandon these countries entirely, that is irresponsible. What I am suggesting is that we provide intelligence support, logistical support and air support. Both the government of Turkey and Saudi Arabia have allowed for our military presence within their boundaries and both countries are quite stable.

During last night’s Democrat debate, I heard exactly one suggestion on how to carry this war to a successful completion. It was that ground military forces fighting ISIS be made up entirely of Moslem troops. In this aspect the United States can play a key role. We can certainly train and arm such armies to a level where their success is at least likely if not probable.

The fly in the ointment is Iran. Claims have been made that Iran sponsors terrorism. President Obama has done a masterful job of getting Iran to open up its nuclear program to inspection. This has given the Middle East, and Israel in particular, a feeling of safety where nuclear arms are involved. In return, the United States has freed up here-to-fore frozen Iranian assets. I suggest that through diplomatic channels a deal can be made with Iran to further reduce existing sanctions by getting Iran to end any state sponsored terrorism which now exists. I think a partnership between Turkey and Iran could help in ending Iran’s isolation from the world by it gaining a powerful and trustworthy trading partner in the Moslem world which Turkey is.

Contrary to what many Americans believe, there are more peaceful countries in the Middle East than there are those suffering civil war and terror. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, Iran, the Emirates, and Kuwait need to enter into a mutual defense coalition. Even though it is experiencing a great deal of unrest, Iraq too needs to be included. This coalition, like NATO, would help preserve the peace in the Middle East from those who would have it otherwise. I have left out Lebanon because it is fairly evenly split between Moslems and Christians, 54 to 46 respectively, and might prove unwise. That is unless the Christians of Lebanon thought it a good idea.

There is no question that many countries in the Middle East need military aid from the United States. The only question is, in what form? A unified Middle Eastern army made up entirely of Moslem soldiers make the most sense in ending the strife that region now endures. The United States will not be shirking its responsibilities to Middle Eastern countries by removing all our ground personnel from Iraq but maintaining military support through other means. Our removing ourselves may actually help bring about a regional peace much sooner than our staying there as we are.

 

 

People You Forget to Remember at Christmas


In December 1968 I was in the United States Army and stationed in Korea. I was a green 19-year-old spending his first Christmas away from home.  Korea, of course, is a Buddhist country and does not celebrate Christmas.  There are Christians there but they are such a small percentage of the population.

I the late 1960s Korea was still a war zone near the DMZ. Even though a truce had been called in 1953 the animosity between the two countries was palpable and armed conflict still erupted from time to time.  Sometimes it was in the form of infantry but mostly it was an exchange of artillery fire.  American soldiers stationed on the DMZ became caught in the crossfire and lost their lives.

That was the first of four Christmas I spent away from home while in service to our country. The next three were while I was station in Italy.  Of course Christmas there, as here, is a big event.  But still, we were away from our families at a time when family togetherness is so important.

Christmas of 2015 will once again see 100s of thousands of soldiers and sailor stationed away from their homes and loved ones. Some will be in the warring countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Their Christmas is particularly tough as has been true throughout our country’s history for every soldier who found himself on a battlefield at Christmastime.  For this part of my little diatribe, I ask that you take a moment to remember the men and women who have donned our countries uniforms and taken post in faraway places, away from their families.  Their gift to us is insured freedom.

While in Korea I was tasked with visiting an orphanage which was support by the military group I was stationed with. We were a small convoy of a couple of trucks with a jeep mounted with a 50 caliber machine gun in the front and rear of the trucks.  Each of us also were require to take our M-16 rifles along, just in case.  But besides the men who were in the trucks we also brought food and presents for the children of the orphanage.  The exact location of the orphanage was kept secret from us for reasons we were never given.  I do know that it sat right on the DMZ in northwestern South Korea.

We arrived at a single story cinder block building which housed the children and who were looked over by Catholic nuns. I do not think there were more than 25 or 30 children present but my memory them is that of expectancy, wonder, and sadness.

We were told that all the children were of one of two types: those born to prostitutes who of course could not keep them and those who were Asian-American, born of Korean mothers and American fathers. Theirs was the worst fate of all as they would never be accepted by Korean society simply because of their obvious differences.

We were all gathered into a single room where the children were introduced to us and we to them. As I looked around the room my eyes fell upon this one little girl with blond hair and blue eyes.  Her only language, of course, was Korean, and even if all the other orphans had even a slight chance in Korean society, this little girl certainly had none.  It broke my heart to see her and she haunts me to this day.  I wanted more than anything to get her back to the United States where at least she’d have something of a chance.  I actually looked into it but was inform that a married couple would have to be found and then it would be a prolonged affair to actually have her adopted.

The point is, those Korean orphans were all the result of a war. They are the casualties of war that go unreported, are pushed into the background and out of sight.  As I sit here this evening I have no doubt that similar conditions exist in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Orphans in those countries undoubted outnumber the ability of the country to care for them.  You might ask “what can we do for them?”  There actually is an answer, UNICEF, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.  They have a website at unicef.org and are always in need of donations.

It only seems appropriate at this time of year here in the United States where we have so much that we remember the children who have nothing.

Dealing With ISIS


The terrorist attack on Paris is despicable, to say the least. The group that calls itself ISIS claims responsibility. Those are all the facts, there are no more. Politician in this country, and probably all others, debate what sort of response should be taken. The responses I have heard from politicians in this country have been anywhere from measured to outrageous.

The good thing about this country is we get to say whatever we believe and the government cannot restrict that. That works well until you enter the national and international arena. Once you find yourself on the national stage this wise response is always the measured response. Many of the Republican presidential candidates have made the decision that the best and only response the U.S. can make to terrorist attacks is by sending in the army. Such remarks are not only ill-considered but irresponsible.

Governor Christie has said he would send in the troops. Trump, Rubio and Bush have said as much. It is this kind of thinking that gets the United States into trouble over and over.

The military of the United States, and of any country, is an extension of that country’s political system. The two prime reasons for having a military is first to defend your country against those who attack you and second, to take the battle to those countries which present a real and present danger to your well-being. A secondary reason is going to an ally’s aid and defense.

That ISIS presents a real and present danger in the world is unarguable. ISIS, however, it not presently claimed by any country in particular nor has any country come out in support of ISIS. It is my belief that there is not a country in the middle-east, North Africa, southeastern Europe, the Balkans and probably all of central Asia which does not have a contingent of ISIS living within its borders. This makes attacking ISIS problematic, at the least, because of where it exists. For example, ISIS probably exists substantially in Lebanon and Lebanon borders Syria. Right now, neither of those countries have invited the U.S. inside its borders.

Former President Bush used the pretense of weapons of mass destruction the attack Iraq. We now know for fact that we were fed half-truths and absolute lies when the real motivation was to remove Saddam Hussein from power. I only mention that to pre-empt the idea of entering Syria to eradicate ISIS, and oh by the way, we remove Assad from power.

Right now the only nation that has an iron clad reason to attack ISIS with troops on the ground is France, and so far they have shown no desire to do such. Why? Because they probably realize that their chances of successfully destroying the entire central leadership of ISIS with infantry is minimal at best. And even if France were to decide to use ground troops, I think anything beyond existing NATO agreements and UN agreements is unwise. And anything beyond logistical support would be going too far. And that logistical support would exist only in Iraq in the Middle East.

The greatest threat ISIS is to the world now is mostly peace of mind. It is obvious that Europe has got to figure out a way, quickly, to secure its borders. The U.S. is already doubling down on its security, really the only thing we can do. The next right step the leadership of the world has to figure out is how to contain ISIS. For all the Middle Eastern countries this means they will have to use a combination of civil policing and military actions within their borders. For the U.S. this means we are going to have to secure the borders of both Afghanistan and Iraq. That may require additional infantry troops. Neither country is strong enough by itself to provide for its own security against the likes of ISIS.

The United States has a lot of experience in attempting to deal with an unseen enemy such as ISIS. That enemy was called the Viet Cong and the war, of course, was Vietnam. We failed miserably trying to root out the Vietcong with conventional military. ISIS is no different.

The bottom line is simple: we are already stronger than ISIS, we just need to be smarter than them to defeat them.

 

Reflections of a Veteran on Veterans Day


As United States holidays go, Veteran’s Day is one of the newest. As a holiday by this name, it came into being in 1954. Prior to that, Veterans Day was known as Armistice Day commemorating the end of World War 1. World War 1 officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Shortly afterward President Wilson declared November 11th a national holiday. Then World War 2 happened followed by the Korean War. As a veteran, President Eisenhower decided that rather than remembering a peace treaty for a single war, the day would be better served by recognizing the service of everyone who had ever served in the Armed Forces of the United States. But there are two additional groups of veterans who did not serve within the Defense Department who are also veterans and they are the members of the Coast Guard and the Merchant Marines. The Merchant Marines were a vital force during World War 2 transporting goods and troops to the European Theater of War. And the Coast Guard, whose primary mission is the protection of the U.S. Coast lines, was deployed to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam among other missions.

I entered the U.S. Army on February 19, 1968 and served on active duty until November 10, 1979. After that I served in the Massachusetts National Guard for several years. My years of service in the U.S. Army are many of my proudest moments in life. I am the son of a World War 2 veteran, my father served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in North Africa, Italy, and France. Two of my daughters are veterans as well. My eldest served as a U.S. Army Nurse in Kosovo and my next daughter has served in the U.S. Air Force in both active and reserve duty. She is still serving.

I am of the Vietnam era which many view as a low point of the U.S. history in war. But this needs to be put into perspective. All military forces, not just American, are a natural extension of a country’s political system and honors the decisions of the country’s political leadership. My experience in the Army is that we never discussed politics except maybe to criticize what we viewed a lack of support from time-to-time.   But I never once knew nor discussed the political persuasions of any of my brothers in arms. Such discussion served no purpose. I know from experience that at the highest levels of the military establishment, politics is very much a part of a soldier’s daily life but below the level of flag officers, generals and admirals, politics was generally non-existent. That was always a good thing.

All soldiers are required to complete basic combat training. Basic training is the great leveler. That is, regardless of a person’s background or appearance, the most important thing is learning how to be a soldier and what it means to serve with pride. It is a unique system found nowhere else in society, not even the police forces which copy many of the training techniques of the military. All members of the military are instilled with the concept of “duty, honor, and country.” That means that each member of the military has sworn to put his life on the line to protect his country from those who would do harm to it. This oath of allegiance has been in place since the Revolutionary War. It is an absolute and cannot be compromised.

Only the Civil War divided this country more than the war in Vietnam. When I volunteered to join the Army I did not say that I would only join if I would not be sent to Vietnam. There is no such option nor has there ever been one. Most veterans never saw combat duty but every veteran was eligible for it. I was sent to Korea in 1968 which was a war zone in those days. It was certainly not as hot as Vietnam but U.S. soldiers were still dying there. Why? Because they were doing their duty.

War does funny things to men. Greatness arises out of some of the most unexpected places. During the Civil War at the battle of Gettysburg, a former college professor from Maine, a very humble man, so distinguished himself that he became one of the first recipients of the Medal of Honor. He was Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. During World War 1, a former blacksmith and pacifist from Tennessee distinguished himself in battle to become a Medal of Honor recipient. Most recently a young man from Long Island, Lt. Michael Murphy, distinguished himself in Afghanistan to receive the Medal of Honor. Each of these men had one thing in common, they joined the service out of a sense of duty and in the worst of conditions their concern was completion of the mission and protection of their comrades. And I can assure you that none saw themselves as heroes. To a man they would tell you if asked that they were just doing their job. And in that sentiment is the common thread for all veterans. We did our job in difficult situations because it was the right thing to do and our sense of honor and patriotism were driving forces.

During my time in Korea we came under the threat of attack many times. The attack never came but maybe that was because we were there. We were enough of a deterrent. I seldom talk of my time in Korea mostly because I do not remember most of the details. But those who served in Vietnam are even more guarded in their speech. If you find a vet who served in Vietnam, the Gulf Wars or Afghanistan you will probably get a lot of resistance from them in the telling of their experiences. Why? Because war is and always has been an ugly affair. People at home hear of the deaths of soldiers and grieve them. Soldiers see the deaths of non-combatants, women and children, and mourn that. My personal experience with that came in the form of a visit to a Korean orphanage where the casualties of the ongoing conflict resided. To say it was heartbreaking is to minimalize the reality.

For 20 years following the Vietnam War the experience of veterans was something no one wanted to discuss. But the Gulf War changed that and the phrase “thank you for your service” came into being. I hope that such sentiment never goes out of fashion because as a veteran I am grateful whenever I hear it expressed. If you know a vet, give him or her a call on this Veterans Day and thank them for their service. When you see someone in uniform on the street where you are walking, thank that person for their service, after all, they have sworn to put their life on the line for you. Finally, most cities and towns in the United States have a war memorial. Take the time to visit it, look at the names listed, because they are the ones who gave their life for you.

Freedom Isn’t Free


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On July 5 1776, one day after the Declaration of Independence was made public, our new-born nation was a mess.  Mostly, we had been clashing with the British since April 19 1775.  The Battle of Bunker Hill was the one exception where large numbers of men on both sides lost their lives.  But in truth, neither side was yet prepared for a full out war.  The British troops were the best trained, best armed, and had the best leadership by far.  England had the ability to fund a short war and defeat almost any enemy she desired.  That British confidence of an impending American defeat was high was understandable.  The single thing that kept America viable over the next 7 years was its dogged desire to prevail.  The be sure, the Continental Congress was bankrupt, unable to pay its soldiers as promised.  The new American army suffered through a very high rate of desertion.  Conversely, the British Army suffered virtually no desertions.  Gen. Washington looked upon the British commander, Gen. Howe, with envy.  His troops were well fed, well armed, well trained, and supremely confident.  While the Battle of Yorktown was the finality of the war, it had truly ended long before by greatly diminishing the English war coffers and the distance at which the war was fought.  Also, sentiment in England was of a country weary of a civil war, that being that Americans had previously been viewed by the English public as brethren who had previously been an integral part of their country.  But the cost of that war, on both sides, lingered for decades after 1783.  For the first time, America had to deal with its war veterans and the promises it had made to them.  Some of those promises were not fulfilled until well into the 19th century.

When Thomas Jefferson took office he took offence to the large standing army he inherited and did his level best to entirely disband it, claiming that such an army was entirely unnecessary.  And although his feeling about the American Navy was not quite so draconian, he still reduced its size as well.  But then came the War of 1812.  The war was started over the impressment of American sailors in the British Navy.  And even though the war was started at sea, it was entirely completed on land.  Britain had entertained the idea that it could recapture this country that had slipped its rule only 30 years prior, well within the memory of most in government and power.  But again, the cost of a protracted war at a great distance proved too much.  Britain had actually conceded the war prior to the Battle of New Orleans because of that reason.  But America had quickly reassembled its army but not before the British army lay waste to the new American capitol at Washington and ran with impunity for well over a year.

 

The American army was relatively stable, well trained, and well equipped until the end of World War 1.  Many called that war, “the war to end all wars.”  It was believed that after WW1, a war which counted its casualties in the 10s of millions, there would never again rise the desire of any country to war upon any other country at such a scale.  The allies, America, Britain, and France agreed upon the size of the world’s navies.  It was believed that only a navy could transport large armies to other countries and by limiting those navies would necessarily limit any country’s desire to do war.  That, of course, proved hugely fallacious  By Americans, gripped by isolationist ideas, reduced its army by such large numbers that had the Japanese attacked the US mainland 1940 with its marines and armies using it large naval fleet, we would have been in serious trouble.  Couple that with its ally, Germany, and an invasion by Germany, American’s 458,000 men in uniform would have been severely tested and, in many cases, eliminated owing to poor training, being poorly equipped, and marginally led.  I mention that number because it was only due to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s belief that the US entry into the European war being eminent, he increased the size of the military to 1.8 million in 1941.  Even so, that military was not particularly well trained or well equipped.

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That 1940 number is worthy of note because it is the number at which today’s Army stands.  The total number in today’s military, all branches and both active and reserve, stands at about 1.3 million but declining.  Since 1988 the US Congress has been hell bent on reducing the size of the military, and the number of its installations when there were about 2.1 million men in uniform.  People viewed, and still do, our defense budget as out of control, over-burdening, and unnecessary.  The present day public has this view that we can somehow conduct a war at a distance and with a “World of Warcraft” mentality.  We have smart bombs, high tech aircraft, and cutting edge equipment at every point.  But what the American public forgets is that in the end, it is the individual soldier would fights and wins, or God help us, loses the war.  High tech equipment is rendered useless without men to operate and maintain it.  But even more importantly, and something we all should be intimately aware of right now, is that today’s war, today’s battles, are largely fought and won by the rifleman.  We fight large numbers of enemies who do not wear any uniform, are terrorists who blend in with the local population.  We should have learned that lesson back in the 1970s when in Vietnam we had to fight the Viet Cong who did the same.  But it seems we have forgotten and so we have doomed ourselves to repeating our past mistakes.

Today, the US Army has a total of 13 divisions, 1 armored, 1o infantry of various sorts, and only 2 reserve/national guard.  During the conduct of the Vietnam War, the Defense Department guaranteed each soldier that he would be required to serve in a war zone for only one 12-month period in his career.  Today, soldiers are required to serve 2, 3 and even 4 tours in our present-day war zones.  We have known since World War 1 the hugely negative effects of war upon soldiers and we strived for 50 years to protect our soldiers against such circumstances.  What in World War 2 and Korea was called “battle fatigue” is today known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Most, if not all, our soldiers today who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer for some degree of PTSD.  This too is a cost of war.

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We have two choices right now, as I see it.  We can either withdraw all our troops for the worlds battle grounds or greatly increase the size of our military.  Our military is extremely stressed and stretched far too thinly for the mission it has been given today.  Too few are being asked to do too much.  And since I do not see us withdrawing from the world’s battlefields at any time in the near future, it is our duty, an imperative, to adjust the size of our military to fill those needs.  And as distasteful as the American public may find it, the best deterrent to terrorist and like activities in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan is the presence of a large infantry force until that country is capable of defending itself.  Clearly neither Iraq nor Afghanistan is ready to defend itself.  This is exactly what we did at the end of World War 2 in Germany and Japan, and it worked extremely well.  Why is it we cannot commit ourselves in the same manner today?

Americans really need to consider its mindset towards our military and those we serve.  While it has become common practice to thank those who serve, those words ring rather hollow when we do not back them up with actions that show our support.  Americans should insist that soldiers not be forced into harms way more than once in their military service and back that promise up with the dollars it takes to keep that promise.  Americans need to suck it up, bite the bullet, or whatever cliché you care to use, and commit to a force that not only serves our country in general, but those who serve within it as well.  Right now we are asking too few to do too much.

Remember Service Members At Christmas


We have today an all volunteer military.  Every single member chose to be in uniform with the understanding that it would mean being away from their family, and being stationed in places that require their presence through the Christmas season.  Many of them will being working on Christmas Day.  I have a lot of experience with this as I was away from home, my place of birth, for 10 Christmases.  It can be a very lonely time.

Most people know someone who is in the military and serving away from.  We tend to think of those serving in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan but we should also remember those who are serving in Germany, Korea, Japan, and many other locations including at sea.  For them, it has little to do with where they are serving but the fact that they are not at home at a time when families traditionally get together.  That can bring on a profound loneliness for the individual service member.

Most people know someone who is serving on active duty and is away from home right now.  I can tell you from personal experience, having served 10 Christmases in the military and away from home, that one of the best Christmas presents I got was a letter from home.  And that is not just from my family, but from anyone who cared to write.  This is particularly true for the unmarried soldiers but of course not limited to them.

My recommendation is that if you know of such a person get his address and send him a card.  Even if the only thing you can say in the card is that you are thinking of them at this time of year, that will mean more to them than you can know.  Being remembered is always a wonderful thing, and it really costs you nothing more than a few minutes of your time.