By Paul Evans of Monmouth, Oregon. Paul is an Air Force veteran who served in Afghanistan. He is also a former mayor of Monmouth. Previously, he contributed "Re-assessing and re-thinking our military structure"
Today is Veterans' Day. A day each year that our country at least attempts to recognize the sacrifice and selflessness of the men and women that defend our freedom.
Upon return from Afghanistan and Iraq our troops are treated relatively well; Americans have worked hard to separate the soldiers sent to fight our wars - from any feelings they might hold about the wars.
This is not accident: the hard-earned lesson of Vietnam is that it takes a nation to fight a war - blaming the troops is neither just, nor worthy of our better angels.
For good or ill, during Vietnam everyone had an opinion about the war - draftees, dodgers, family members, veterans - people were passionate because it mattered.
Today, few even remember that we are at war - or care.
An unfortunate reality of an "All Volunteer" military is that the few, shoulder the burden for the many; people can now avoid service with a clear conscience. The lack of a national service requirement diminishes expectations for all.
Like it or not, a draft guarantees the attention of the country. But in 2001, our nation sent our volunteer military to war - the rest of America to the mall.
This has made veterans almost invisible in the vastness of an America that has blissfully forgotten the daily slog that is Afghanistan and Iraq.
Most have adjusted their lives and forgotten the struggle in far off distant lands because so few have any real connection with the troops standing a post.
The reality in today's America is that a car accident is more likely to harm someone they care about than an enemy Improvised Explosive Device.
This is not inherently wrong, but it is different than wars of ages past. The nation used to go to war - now we send the nation's military. It is a subtle and powerful change.
Whether you know it or not, 2009 is an important year for veterans. This Veterans' Day small groups will huddle together in the shadow of another soon-to-be-shattered illusion. In hushed whispers frustrated veterans will begin to ask each other what happened to the promise of past visions.
Veterans understand the circumstances for what they are. Veterans know that soon enough our adventure - their adventure - in Iraq will end. After what is anticipated to become a hurried departure, Iraq will exist – indeed, it will likely even prosper under the umbrella of a greater Shiite regime.
Its resources are ripe for exploitation when the sound of mortar and rifle shot subsides. And in the absence of US troops an enforced "peace" will most assuredly envelope the country - even if over a quarter of its citizens find themselves living in fear.
Iraq will continue and in time its people will adjust to the new shackles of its new masters.
But Our America will not be the same - ever. The labyrinth at the bottom of the rabbit hole stole our spirit; our swagger is gone - and in its place a sense of wonder at the loss of nearly a decade of blood, sweat, and tears.
We will depart Iraq a lesser power than we entered - and that is a hard pill to swallow for those of us that did our duty in the name of our country. None of us joined the military to fail. We came of age in the post-Vietnam military and believed that our leaders understood the meaning of necessary war.
Like the hubris-filled empires of ages past we spent the promise of our youth - our time, talent, and treasure attempting to win a war in a place our leaders never understood.
The lessons my dairy farmer philosopher grandfather have been relearned on an international scale: "someone, somewhere always pays a price" he told me - especially for war. And for the past eight years the same people have been asked to pay it - we have asked too much of too few.
Ironically, our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq have not quelled our challenges elsewhere. The sad truth is that our military operations may have made some of them worse. And sadder still, is that most people are far more concerned about these other issues than either of our ongoing military conflicts.
Most people are worried about the rise of China - our new overseer. People are frustrated by a "jobless" economic recovery - something that has proven less of a recovery than an induced coma. And our neighbors are weary of the changing world - a place where America is no longer a dominant hegemony.
Some long forgotten general once argued that the only good war is the war never fought. His name is lost, but his message is as important now as then. We must remember that in the future. However, in the present we must keep faith with those we sent in our name.
Since the wars began we have made progress in our care and support for veterans; most of this has been accomplished in the last thirty-six months.
Veterans today receive better medical care than any previous era; we have sought modern solutions for evolving problems. But we have far more work to accomplish.
Today, I am asking you to make Veterans' Day your own personal day of action. Spend a few hours today and honor the service of the troops by using your time to improve their lives.
One person can accomplish little; a nation of persons can transform the universe. It is time we begin that transformation. Consider the following actions and make a difference.
First, we need Senator Ron Wyden to pass his “soft-landing package” for our National Guard and Reservists. It is a solid agenda and he needs to hear you tell him that. Call him, write him - let your voice be heard.
Second, call, email, text, and write all our other members of Congress: then do the same for all the Congressional members you can reach. Tell them - tell them that the Congress must act - that We the People can and We the People must do right by our troops and their families.
Congress will not act unless your voices ring from every neighborhood from coast to coast; together we can make that happen.
After you contact Congress, contact your legislator. Tell them that Oregon needs to maximize the progress made in the 2009 Legislative Session. Tell them that you want our veterans' given the advantages necessary for a good life. And tell them that implementation of good veterans' policy is more than politics - that it is the fair and just thing to do.
Ask them to support the work of the veterans' task forces on reintegration, transportation, and women veterans' healthcare. Remind them that you care about these issues; remind them why they wanted to serve in Salem in the first place.
Finally, seek out information about what is going on in your community. Right now we need you to reach out to your neighborhood association, your congregation, and your service clubs.
There are things we can do this next year that do not require legislation. We can make ending homelessness among veterans' a reality. We can develop tailored local solutions that link needed healthcare services, spaces for living, and hunger initiatives.
Tonight - this Veterans' Day - somewhere between 7,000 and 15,000 homeless veterans' will seek shelter from the cold. What does it say about a community when it allows the men and women that served on our behalf - to seek shelter from the wind under bridges, in forests, or on the streets?
It says we have forgotten what matters; we have forgotten that our nation survives through the willingness of men and women to risk life and limb for our benefit. And it says we have work to do.
Today you have an opportunity to make a conscious choice. You can shrug and move along with your holiday - or you can stand up for those that stood for you - each of us must make our decisions, we must live with our own demons.
If you want to help - we need you. If you know of a successful program - no matter how small - that helps our homeless - especially homeless veterans - email me and share what you know.
If you are unsure of how to help veterans - but want to help - email me. We will link you up with appropriate partnerships in your neighborhood.
Email me at [email protected] or call me at 503.949.6378.
We need your ideas – we need your personal involvement. And even though we cannot help every veteran we most certainly can help some veterans.
Let us renew the meaning of Veterans’ Day in 2009.
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