Today is the 234th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. November 10th, 1775 – a date drilled into my head by a bunch of screaming sergeants many years ago. At the age of 17, with the consent of my parents, I signed up for the USMC reserves, going to boot camp that summer after my freshman year of college. I served eight years, two of which were in what they call the “IRR” or inactive ready reserve, about a year and a half of which were on active duty for training, or during the first Gulf war when I was activated. The remainder of that time, I spent doing monthly drills at our reserve base in Waco, TX.
My point here is not to toot my own horn for my small amount of uniformed service. Quite to the contrary, I want to tell you that I spent the first 3 years of my time with a bad attitude. I joined near the end of the Cold War, hoping to “kill a commie for mommy.” I bitched and moaned, broke rules, and learned everything the hard way. I never was deployed into a war zone, though I would have gone if they had asked – and there were times when I thought that was imminent. My job, or “M.O.S.” as it’s called in the Marines was 2145 – Tank Automotive Mechanic. Before I signed up, I had worked in computers, and scored very well on my tests. So they put me to work fixing M-60 main battle tanks. It was a tough job for a skinny twerp like me, carrying a tool box that weighed nearly as much as I did. Everything about tanks is heavy, difficult, and dangerous. And yet I know it could have been worse. I often had wondered what it might be like to do my job while under fire. Would I have been able to leave the relative safety of my M-88 tank retriever vehicle and go rig up a tow bar to evacuate a disabled or shot-up tank?
I learned many life lessons in the Marine Corps, some of which make me swell with pride, and others of which make me shrink back in shame. I made it up to the rank of sergeant, but nearly got busted down a couple of times along the way. But looking back upon my time in service, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
One of the most important things I learned about in my service in the Marine Corps was the concept of sacrifice. Mine was a little one – a couple of years derailed from my college aspirations. I was a young punk who didn’t appreciate it anyway. I needed the time on active duty, even though I resented it.
No, the sacrifice I’m talking about is bigger. What I learned is that it takes a lot for someone to set aside their fears, and their personal aspirations to give singular focus on doing what their commanders order them to do – in service of our nation’s defense and our foreign policy goals. I worked with many people who gave so much, and I am better off having known them.
I think about the extreme amount of sacrifice by our current Marines and soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and God only knows where else on Earth that operations are currently under way that we may not even know about, but that hopefully keep us all a little safer.
I think about the families of those who serve, and who are deployed over and over again to dangerous areas. I think about children who endure the prolonged absence of their fathers or mothers who serve a cause even greater.
I think about the generations of Americans who have answered the call to serve, whether for personal reasons, to prove something, for college money, for patriotism, or just to kick some ass.
I think of those who were black, and served our country in segregated units before desegregation, even though they didn't have the same freedoms as their white counterparts. And I think of those who were and still are gay or lesbian and serving now even while denying their own identity - and even as they still lack the same civil rights as their straight counterparts.
I think about those who signed up in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, knowing they would go in harm’s way. I think of all of those who were drafted in the Vietnam era and sent to fight a war that many of them felt was wrong.
I think about how many of them have been seriously injured or killed, whether in combat, by act of terrorism, by friendly fire, by accident, or as inexplicably as happened this past week in Fort Hood.
I think about those who served in World War II, fighting fascism on two fronts, in many cases sacrificing all. I think about my Uncle Sonny, among those who liberated a Nazi prison camp. I think of the horrible and inhumane things they must have seen, and the triumph of humanity it must have taken to overcome and defeat it.
But one thing I want to point out is this: Whether in war time or peacetime; whether in combat, or in the rear; whether the action was right or wrong; whether the action was in defense or offense; and whether or not our Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen personally agreed or disagreed with how things were done – we are all better off for their service.
What keeps America strong, militarily only has a little to do with technology or economic power. What keeps America’s enemies at bay is that we have people who will serve. We have troops who will go where they are told and follow the orders of our Commander in Chief – whoever that may be at the time. Because of their strength, and their willingness to sacrifice even their lives if asked, we are all better off. Because of our Veterans, who have served as the tool of last resort in the tool chest of our civilian leadership’s arsenal, we are still free.
So, on Veteran’s day this year, I ask you to do two little things: First, take a moment to reflect on how much we have asked of our military over the years, and how much our veterans have given. Second, reach out and thank a veteran for their service and sacrifice. Seriously, it’s the least we can do.
Steve -- Today, on Veterans Day, my message to you is simple: Thank you. Thank you for your selfless service, for your valor, and for your strength of purpose that make all of us proud to be Americans.
Today, Americans will pause amidst a great conversation about the future of our nation to take a moment and recognize your service to our democracy -- a service that guarantees us all the liberty to engage freely in that conversation, no matter what our views may be.
We know that we owe you a debt that cannot be repaid. But we can and will fulfill our nation's promise to stand by you and your loved ones. That is why we've worked hard for better care for our veterans, and why we provided the largest increase in Veterans Administration funding in history.
Today, we honor those Americans past and present who've served on battlefields from Lexington to Antietam, Normandy to Manila, Inchon to Khe Sanh, Ramadi to Kandahar. You have defended our freedom on land, and at sea, and in the air.
You reflect the diversity that makes this America. You share a patriotism beyond question. And you share the same unflinching courage, selfless compassion, and uncommon camaraderie that -- when faced with the tragedy of a despicable and heartbreaking attack last Thursday -- the soldiers and civilians of Ft. Hood humbly revealed to the world.
You and your loved ones are the patriotic men and women we honor today, Veterans Day. And you are the men and women we shall honor every day, in times of war and times of peace, so long as our nation endures.
Really? You want to use the occasion of Veterans day to make your political point and take a jab at the President? That's pretty classless, but I'll answer you anyway.
I know that President Obama may not be moving with the haste and bravado that the chicken hawks would like, but committing troops to Afghanistan or any theater is unwise without first having a defined mission, a strategy, a compelling national interest, and a payoff that outweighs the risk.
Afghanistan is a mess of a region that will NEVER, despite our greatest attempts, EVER be capable of being centrally governed in a democratic manner. That's not our mission. Our mission is to root out al Qaeda and stomp out any threat to our country and our allies. Right now, al Qaeda is mostly in Pakistan.
What is asinine about your comment is that you would imply that our President is holding out on support to our own troops. Our troops are being supplied and cared for and paid. The generals on the ground may think they can do more with more troops, but that is FAR from saying that our guys are just going to give up if they can't have everything the generals want.
The primary mission of the U.S. Military is to defend the United States. The Commander in Chief has to weigh not only the Afghanistan situation, but all of the other threats to our security.
If it bothers you so much that the President is taking some time to do this, then I have a suggestion for you: Take yourself down to the Army recruiter's office and sign yourself up for the infantry. While you're at it, bring your kids if you have any, and sign them up too. It's worth it to you, right? You're dead sure that it's the right thing to do right? Tell us how you're going to maintain the strength of our armed forces to deter threats from Iran and North Korea and keep our shores safe from terrorism at the same time.
In closing, if you think you can boil down the whole argument about troop levels to a snarky little sentence about "fending for themselves" and comparing it to Vietnam, and you fail to see the irony in comparing it to Vietnam, then I hope you NEVER ever have any authority whatsoever in decisions relating to our nation's defense. Go rent some war movies or play a video game. I'm glad to have a President who takes this stuff seriously.
Steve, I did not intend to upset you. I did think about waiting until the next day, after I sent it... First off, I am a military brat, and have come from a long line of military relatives. We were living in Guam in 1976/77, so the end of Vietnam was very fresh, and yes I was old enough at the time to realize what was going on...Vietnam was a bad war taken haphazardly. My knowledge does not come from movies. I do NOT agree w/the President and the lack of support he is giving our troops, plain and simple.
You are still stating an opinion as fact without any evidence or even an explanation. On what are you basing your opinion that Obama is not supporting the troops? If you believe this so strongly, then explain your reasons.
This may be the best brief explanation of the president's dilemma on Afghanistan that I have read.
You're right. It is a mess. And there is no good way out of it. He has to choose what is hopefully the best among bad options. (Like with the economy, the president will never get much credit for making the decisions that avoid worse possible outcomes.)
While tens of thousands of brave men and women continue to fight for and defend our freedoms, today we pause to remember the sacrifices made by our veterans. This nation is truly blessed to have had such fine men and women answer the call to duty, and we owe a tremendous debt to all of those who have worn the uniform.
Recognizing November 11th as Veterans Day, as well as yesterday’s memorial service at Fort Hood, serve as symbols of that appreciation. Our nation’s veterans are men and women of outstanding character, embodying the spirit of dedication and patriotism.
Today I join the residents of Texas’ 26th Congressional District, and all Americans, in thanking our veterans for their service to the United States of America, and honoring their devotion to God and country.