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Forces are under stress

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POSTED: October 11, 2010 10:50 a.m.
In a speech at Duke University last week, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that most Americans have grown too detached from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and view military service as something for “other people to do.”
He’s not far off the mark.
For all its merits – and it has many – this nation’s reliance on an all-volunteer force since the end of the Vietnam War has meant that about 1 percent of Americans serve in the military. The most immediate fallout from that has been the need to send troops into combat time and time again.  Take, for example, the story of Sgt. 1st Class Lance Vogeler, an Army Ranger stationed at Hunter Army Airfield. Vogelor, 29, served 12 combat tours – eight in Afghanistan and four in Iraq – before being brought home in a coffin Thursday.
His relatives told media that Vogeler was a true warrior who believed his place was in Afghanistan with his fellow Rangers, and it has been reported that Vogeler had been wounded before and worked hard to get back to his unit. It has been noted that Ranger tours of duty are shorter, but come more often. But by any definition, Vogeler is a hero who deserves every tribute that comes his way.
Yet news of his constant deployments should set off a warning light somewhere in our national consciousness, or at least beg the question of whether our fighting men and women should see so much time in combat.
Many say no. There are veterans groups urging the U.S. to stop deploying soldiers who have already been wounded in combat or are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
Further, there are signs that those we honor with parades are showing the strain of so much combat. There were 32 suicides in the Army in June, a record number. And the veteran who in September took hostages  at Wynn Army Community Hospital on Fort Stewart and threatened to kill the president was actually looking for care.
According to the Associated Press, Fort Stewart garrison commander Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Phillips said the former soldier, who had served in Iraq, was seeking help for mental problems that were “connected, I’m quite certain, to his past service.”
“He hadn’t gotten the care that he wanted and he wanted it now,” Phillips said, based on what one of the hostages had told him. “He’d had some experiences that could lead one to believe there were aftereffects to his service.”
It’s not hard to sympathize w ith the hostage taker, who still faces federal charges for what he did. Indeed, most of us respect our servicemen and women and many have bumperstickers to show it.
But there’s a difference between respect and pitching in to do some of the heavy lifting.  A big one, and Gates was right to call Americans out for it.
“Whatever their fond sentiments for men and women in uniform, for most Americans the war remains an abstraction – a distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally,” Gates said, according to the Associated Press.
Even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, for most Americans “service in the military – no matter how laudable – has become something for other people to do,” he added.
That is not usually a problem in the South, nor near military installations where generations have viewed military service as something honorable and necessary. The South is one of the regions where the majority of our nation’s service members come from.
But something is clearly broken. No soldier – no matter how brave – should spend what amounts to a decade at war while the vast majority of Americans see it as something “for someone else to do.”
 

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