Before he addressed the crowd that had assembled in the St. Louis Hyatt Regency ballroom last November, Lt. Gen. John F. Kelly had one request. “Please don’t mention my son,” he asked the Marine Corps officer introducing him.
Without once referring to his son’s death, the general delivered a passionate and at times angry speech about the military’s sacrifices and its troops’ growing sense of isolation from society.
“Their struggle is your struggle,” he told the ballroom crowd of former Marines and local business people. “If anyone thinks you can somehow thank them for their service, and not support the cause for which they fight – our country – these people are lying to themselves. . . . More important, they are slighting our warriors and mocking their commitment to this nation.”
Kelly is the most senior U.S. military officer to lose a son or daughter in Iraq or Afghanistan. He was giving voice to a growing concern among soldiers and Marines: The American public is largely unaware of the price its military pays to fight the United States’ distant conflicts. Less than 1 percent of the population serves in uniform at a time when the country is engaged in one of the longest periods of sustained combat in its history.
I started this blog two and a half years ago because I was surrounded by people who had no idea what military service was like. Their conceptions of service were provided to them by the news and movies and television shows. And it was wrong.
But I’m utterly incapable of talking about what it is like to lose a family member to war. I don’t even know what the fear of that is like. I was far too young to remember my father’s wartime service, and never even realized just how stressed my folks were during my own modest service in Desert Storm.
And I do worry about the disconnect between the services and the population they serve. I’m a little uncomfortable when people say “Thank you for your service.” After all, I didn’t really do it for you. I did it for me. I had my own motivations for enlisting. And I also worry that when people say that, as sincere as it is, they think that is the sum of their obligations as citizens. I don’t expect the population as a whole to understand the military or defense strategy in depth. That’s not realistic. But I hope most people can take a little time to read outside the mainstream media reporting of the wars we are fighting, and delve into some of the more focused blogs and journals that do describe the challenges and issues troops face. At this point, why they are fighting is almost beside the point. How they are fighting, the challenges they face, and the successes and failures are more on point.
I don’t know the pain of losing a loved one to war, and almost certainly never will, thank God. But do please keep in mind those that have.