Two former soldiers stopped into the newsroom yesterday to talk with Tom, another reporter at the paper, about this ski event they were putting on for wounded soldiers. I didn’t get to sit and talk with them, but I heard a bit of their conversation. It jogged my memory about something I kept hearing about when I was in Iraq.
I’m not from a military family. My dad was drafted during the Vietnam War and was sent to Germany, but he never made a big deal out of it. I had an uncle in the Air Force, and my best friend growing up went into the Army, but it just wasn’t a part of my life. So what effect, aside from the occasional news reports, did the Iraq and Afghan Wars have on me?
That was a question I started asking myself as soon as I met the first New Hampshire soldier I interviewed in Baghdad. What does war mean to us today?
And here’s where it gets weird: if you aren’t an inductee into military culture, military contractors keep it out of sight, out of mind.
Around Fort Bragg, or Fort Hood, or Fort Campbell, where soldiers own all the houses and the employees are military spouses, that isn’t true, but here in the Northeast, where the bases have closed in the wake of defense cuts in the 1990s, there isn’t the concentration of military culture to make people remember.
Remember where soldiers did all the cooking, all the building, all the engine repairs in a war zone? That was Vietnam, or Korea, or World War Two. That was when they needed a draft to fill all those positions. But not today.
Today they contract out to KBR or Blackwater for all sorts of tasks, including security. Instead of filling those voids with soldiers they are filled with TCNs—third country nationals—foreigners.
I got dinners served by Pakistanis and Singaporeans. Those roles used to be filled by Americans called up by Uncle Sam.
What’s the difference? It’s big, and it isn’t just about cost.
The justification for this system is that it saves money. By not providing government retirements for a human wave of American soldiers it saves taxpayers millions. That is hard to dispute, at least with my level of understanding of the system. But there are more insidious implications.
If all those jobs had to be filled you could say goodbye to your all volunteer force. It would be time for a draft. And then, all of the sudden, the idyllic life of people who live outside of the reaches of military culture would be shaken awake by the truth—there is still a war on.
It’s too far away too much of the time. I went to Iraq a month ago, but it’s already fading. But there are still 50,000 Americans there. How can we forget them?
And there are more than twice as many in Afganistan. But where are the daily reminders?
It’s too easy not to notice. The bases, the bodies and the spouses don’t surround us here in the Northeast, so it’s easy to forget. But if a letter came in the mail calling a local man or woman to fight, or even cook, it would suddenly become our war.
I was infinitely impressed with the men and women I met over there. I don’t want to forget them. But when I look at the method the U.S. government is now using to fight wars I think that is inevitable. It only has to be our war if we want it to be. So much for united we stand.