font-family: 'Arizonia', cursive; Michael Stichauf - "As I understand it now...'til it changes": Our American Soldiers

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Our American Soldiers

I haven't written anything for a while. I'm not sure whether it was that I had nothing to say or whether nothing grabbed my fancy. Maybe it's just the mood I've been in. Summer can't get here soon enough. Maybe, winter can't end soon enough. Spring would be nice. Any hint of anything over 50 degrees would be great! For me, it's these simple things that are required for my "winter hibernation depression" (I put this condition in parenthesis because I decided that I've just coined the name for said condition) to finally end. I'm lucky, or I should say, when I choose to realize that these are simple things that I'm going through, then I realize that I'm lucky. Unfortunately, our brave American service men/women don't have these "simple" changes to rely upon for their moods to change. Their's is quite a different existence than what it is that I have to "stuggle" through.

Consequently, I've been thinking about our service people lately. I've just finished watching a "Frontline" episode from PBS. It was entitled, "Bad Voodoo's War". "Bad Voodoo's War"- Frontline It was a terrific episode about a group of soldiers, a platoon, who were going back to Irag in 2007, some of these guys were doing their fourth, fifth, seventh tour of duty.

"Bad Voodoo" is the name that they coined for themselves because their Sergeant's nickname is "Voodoo".The producers gave three or four of the men small hand-held cameras to capture their whole tour. That meant that when these guys where in their Humvees or their Strykers, they had one of these cameras on their dashboards. They also used the cameras to do interviews with eachother about how they were feeling during the tour. 
"...getting spit on and called "baby killers" wasn't what should have been happening to them." 

You know, when I think about it, I'm not a hawk. At the least, I don't feel that I'm a hawk. Yes, I understand that there are times when we need to send our soldiers off to do our country's bidding but all in all, my first thought isn't, "Bomb the hell out of them". I didn't think that we needed to be in Iraq. Afghanistan...ya, probably. Either way, no matter how you feel about our country's decision to go to war, it shouldn't affect they way you feel about our soldiers. America hasn't done a very good job with this particular issue over the years. Vietnam was the perfect example. The stories of soldiers getting off the airplanes, after they just finished their one year tour of duty and simply wanting to get home to their families, getting spit on and called "baby killers" wasn't what should have been happening to them. Most of these men were just doing what our government forced them to do when they were drafted. They fought for Uncle Sam.
They witnessed brutal, horrible things happen to their friends and the last thing that they needed was to be treated the way they were treated. Also, most of these soldiers came home with "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder", something our military really knew nothing about. Astounding, actually, considering it was only twenty to twenty-five years prior that we had come out of WW2 and Korea. In any event, the way our public treats our soldiers now, coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan is so much better that it used to be. 

I started to wonder though, why these men/women actually joined the armed services over the last forty years then. What was their motivation? We don't have a draft. No one's forcing them to go. Watching this and other documentaries about our two wars, you hear differing stories from these soldiers. Basically though, it's one of a couple reasons that they choose to join. They usually need the job. A lot of soldiers seem to come from small towns and the best way for them to get work, something that's going to actually give them a living, is the military. For a while, the military offered bonuses when a soldier signed. For some of these kids, coming out of high school, with no hope for a decent living in the town that they were from, this was their best option. The military knew that too. 

"Other soldiers joined as a way of getting out of trouble, starting their lives over because they realized that their lives weren't going the way that they finally figured out that they should go."

Another reason was to pay for college when they got out. College has gotten to be so expensive that so many of these kids can't afford to pay for it. They don't come from rich suburban families. Yes, there are grants and financial aid but most of the time those things still don't cover the cost. Everybody knows, too, how hard it is to get a job in whatever city or town the college of their choice is in. If you are going to a college with even 10,000- 15,000 students, you tell me how easy it would be to find a job, especially with the economy the way it is. Other soldiers joined as a way of getting out of trouble, starting their lives over because they realized that their lives weren't going the way that they finally figured out that they should go. The military would give them some structure. Some, some just wanted the adventure. 

When I think about these soldiers, these kids mostly, they simply surprise me. In the 80s and 90s, aside from that little blip on the radar, Gulf War 1, there really wasn't any reason to worry about having to go and die in some God-forsaken country. They'd sign-up, do their four years and get out and go to college.
World Trade Center Attack
But ever since the attack on "The Towers", we've had eighteen year old kids joining the military, knowing that they would eventually have to go to one of the two theaters of war and fight, and maybe even die. Just think about that for a minute. How many of us, as we live our lives right now, would put ourselves in harm's way, just for a few bucks. Ya, we've got police and firemen who do it but that's also a kind of special breed. I'm talking about every person who is sitting in their livingroom right now, maybe sipping a cold beer, having just eaten a filling meal. If someone said to you, here's a hundred bucks for the day, you can keep that if you go (I'll use my hometown of "Chiraq" as an example) to the westside of Chiraq (the nickname that the gangs have given to the west and southsides of Chicago) and just hangout for eight hours. I doubt that there would be many takers. Yet, when you think about it, this is exactly what these eighteen year old kids are signing up for and to be honest with you, "Chiraq" still doesn't match the danger that our newest warzones have to offer. I'm not sure if they really understand the seriousness of the situation when they sign on the dotted line.

Chicago's Nightmare

As I watched the "Frontline" documentary, I got a picture, from the soldiers who were interviewed, as to why they continue to fight. Why, once they've been through the firefights, the IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) explosions or one of their friends dying, why they continue on. Why is it that so many of them keep "re-upping' or simply just persevere. I understand that, once they're "in country", they have no other option. They can't tell their superiors, "Hey, OK, this isn't the adventure I signed up for, I'll just be getting on the next 'bird' flying out." No, so many of these guys continue on because now, after all these months of living with these other guys, training with them, fighting side by side and sometimes dying, side by side with them, they continue on because they won't leave their friends. They've been trained to be a team and now they are that team. Now, that guy who grew up fifteen hundred miles from the other one in a culture that's totally foreign to him is his buddy. He's become his brother. That's a bond that's hard to explain. I'm not sure you can explain it. It's something though, that psychologists, social scientists and psychiatrists have been studying since around the time of the Civil War- probably even further back.

In every war that I've studied and read about, there is this bond that develops between soldiers that's really something special. It's a bond that makes soldiers do things that they wouldn't normally do. My last post was about this very bond. Michael Stichauf- "As I understand it now... 'til it changes"- An Incredible Act of Courage It's a bond that makes soldiers not leave an injured brother behind. It's a bond that makes soldiers die protecting their brothers when it would have been easier to just take cover.

In the "Frontline" piece, Sgt. Nunn, the lead character in the piece, tells a story of courage that cost another Sgt./friend of his, his life. This Sgt. took eighteen rounds in his body in order to protect his soldiers and help them all get into cover in the Stryker that they were driving. This Hero ended up dying because he lost too much blood. So now, these soldiers who signed up to get money for college or maybe defend America from terrorists will tell you, "Hey, I'm fighting now for this guy next to me." That's good for America though. Sure, these soldiers are no longer fighting for "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and chevrolet. The reason they're fighting is because their brother is fighting and they've been taught that you fight for your brother. When you hear letters that are read from the Civil War and the other wars that we've had, invariably, they get around to talking about being afraid of letting down their buddies. The letters that are written by soldiers before their first combat tell of guys "not wanting to let the platoon down." They've grown to love the other soldiers in their group and are willing to die for them. In the long run, that's what matters to these guys and that's what benefits America. In the "Frontline" special, Sergeant Nunn tells another story of how one of the soldiers from his platoon was left off the list to go back to Irag. He couldn't stand not being there with his buddies and it was so bad that he called the Sgt. and asked him if he could get him on the list to go. He wanted to be with his buddies, didn't like the thought of them being in danger without him there to help. That's the kind of bond that develops between soldiers.

"Unless you're standing on a street corner in "Chiraq" yelling, "Rocks and Blows", you don't have to live your life like that."

Nowadays, when you watch the news, you don't see too many stories that end all too well. In Chicago here, as I said earlier, the gangs have started referring to the city as "Chiraq". We've got a lot of killing going on here. Yet, when I think of my problems, my coming out of winter depression, I think about the life that our soldiers are enduring in whichever theater of war that they happen to be serving in. Everyday, in the "Frontline" special, these guys go out on what they refer to as "Convoy Protection". The "rules of engagement" have changed. Now, if they feel that they are in danger, they can't go on the offensive to protect themselves. Everyday and night they are in a convoy where, at any point on the road, an IED could explode and kill any of their guys. Every moment is one of tension. Unless you're standing on a street corner in "Chiraq" yelling, "Rocks and Blows", you don't have to live your live like that. I remember watching another documentary about the aircraft carrier, "Ronald Reagan". The one thing that has stuck in my head, from the moment that I heard it, was a comment that a commanding officer made. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, "Don't tell me that we have a problem with the young people in America. This ship is run, from start to finish, day to night, by 4,500 eighteen and nineteen year old Americans." If we just gave our young, high school graduates the help they need, we'd really see a change in how we think about our young Americans.

I've been wanting to write something in support of "Our American Soldiers" and here it is. Unfortunately, there is another problem that so many of them have to deal with when they come home, whether they are physically injured or mentally and emotionally injured. The V.A. and their treatment of our soldiers is pitiful. Just last week we heard about a scandal with how they were jockeying the patients on their waiting lists to make it look like none of them had to wait longer than two weeks or so. Well, everyone knows that this is totally wrong. Our soldiers are waiting months and months to get treated. Please contact your Congressman and tell them that something needs to be done about the V.A. and their treatment of our soldiers.

And that's "As I understand it now...'til it changes.
Michael K. Stichauf- Writer.