Remember Afghanistan? For that matter, remember Iraq?
When the Iraq war ended, and I use the term loosely, there was no ticker tape 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 political divides caused by the Iraq war were as strong as powerful as the invasion that started it. The toll on the American fighting force was immense, overseas and at home.
Iraq being fought, sometimes it appeared in vain, whilst 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 no more be a ticker tape parade for those returning from Afghanistan than there was for those returning from Iraq, in many one in the same. There will be no article on the front page of every newspaper from coast-to-coast declaring “Victory in Afghanistan! Troops come home.”
These have, after all, been our longest wars. The hallowed grounds of freedom were threatened 12 years ago and the American fighting force responded with a punctuated message that dared anyone ever to challenge us again. Flags flew from every household across the nation and the American people were galvanized in our resolve to defeat those who attacked us.
Why, then, are not the presses burning the midnight oil to print the early edition declaring “VICTORY”?
The answer is simple and understandable. 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; they had occasional headlines leaving those back home starving to know what was going on. They returned en masse, where we return unit by unit. A parade is what they well deserved, but they deserved still more even.
A parade is not what we seek now. Recognition is not what we need. The wars we fought and the Great War are not comparable. The challenges we face now, however, are very much the same as the Great 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 we now face 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 of who fought those wars, what of us? Those of us with the images of battle ever scarred in our thoughts, and the pain of unemployment stinging our skin, what of us?
I do not offer 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 us as we swore our allegiance to defend the constitution without pause, what of us? To those civilian employers who was proud to “Support the Troops”, what of us?
What of us, 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 what craft we did learn transition into employment? Or will we have to start over? Will we be competing for college with those fresh out of high school, with no deference from our government? What will come of us? Will our country learn from those who faced these same challenges a half a decade ago and since, or will we simply become a statistic? Will we too be forgotten?
Remember Iraq? Remember Afghanistan?