On December 1st, at the 2nd Military Family Caucus Briefing, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who was in attendance, made the statement that she wanted to ensure that we as a Nation “…make a future worthy of your [military families’] sacrifice!”
Up until that point I had been dutifully taking notes from the senior enlisted advisors to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for the Army Reserve, and for the Air and Army National Guard. They said all the right things about military families and were concerned about the 10 years of war and the burden that placed on military families and the resulting issues around health care, military children, overall wellness and mental health, and the soldier to citizen transitions and accompanying spousal employment.
One of the generals discussed the importance of strong military families for a strong national defense, while another discussed the continuum of service needed to ensure service members could easily transition from active duty to guard or reserve, and how family readiness was crucial to the strength of our Nation. Representative Bishop (D-GA) along with his Co-Chair of the Military Family Caucus, Representative McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) both made strong statements about how the priorities of military families will remain a top priority for Congress.
It was nice to hear, but with only 84 members of the House as part of the Caucus, and with major cuts coming to the Department of Defense, one has to wonder where those cuts will be made. Will we cut spending on new weapons systems, the staffs of our seemingly ever increasing number of flag officers, or on social programs for family readiness? As one individual pointed out, you cannot fund raise for Family Readiness Groups (FRG) off the post or take outside donations. This means that military families literally sell cookies to each other to raise funds for the FRG. The speakers gave a nice show of support, but I wonder how substantive it really can be. Don’t get me wrong America is stepping up to the challenge slowly but surely but sometimes you wonder.
Then, they brought on Nancy Pelosi who shared a quote from one of her grandchildren who joined her in serving at a soup kitchen this past Thanksgiving. “Meme,” she said, “Why are there so many veterans here? I thought our country took care of its veterans?” It was then that Nancy told us that as a Congress, as a Nation, we needed to “…make a future worthy of your sacrifice.” My pen stopped moving.
I was transported to two places in my mind. The first, a veterinarian assistance convoy for sheep farmers in Western Baghdad that I was not on, but should have been and the second was just east of Davis, West Virginia. Like all deployed soldiers, I had friends, colleagues, and brothers in arms die in the war. I would witness death at a later date, but at the time I did not know it. At the time, I had been incountry just eight short weeks when we heard over the radio that one HMMWV had been destroyed. Five KIA. The doc was one of them. A long list of tasks stretched out before me, hours of paperwork to be filled in, letters to write home to Doc’s family, but still, I was a staff officer, I had a power point presentation due in 20 minutes.
After three days of backpacking in the Dolly Sods in Monongahela National Forest, my girlfriend and I were returning to DC when just past Davis, I saw for the first time, mountains that were not mountains any longer. We had driven in late Thursday night, so I missed the scene earlier. It was a Sunday and large machines stood silent on grades that had once been slopes leading to mountain tops. I was sick to my stomach. Is this what Doc had died for? Is this what I had fought for? Did I really go serve in a war, thousands of miles from home that many of my countrymen and women could not point to on a map? That many of my countrymen and women would think to thank me for my service? My service for what? To protect the right for people to tear down the mountains I grew up dreaming about so I could see neon beer signs on the side of the road?
If there is to be a future worthy of my sacrifice, worthy of Doc’s and the other four men who were killed in an instant, or for any number of men and women who died in Iraq, Afghanistan, or for those who have missed countless birthdays, sporting events, anniversaries, and piano recitals, I would think that future would require clean air, clean water, and ample opportunities to enjoy the freedom of the land we defended.
If we want better health care for our military families, how about honoring our service by ensuring we have clean air and clean water? Maybe that means we invest in ensuring there are energy alternatives to fracking for natural gas and mountain top removal for coal. If we want better wellness for our military families, maybe that means, as the Sierra Club is trying to do, we ensure our public lands are well funded and accessible for all levels of ability. Maybe it means keeping our state parks open and adding on to cities’ parks and green space. If we want healthier, stronger, better educated military children, maybe it means we need to invest in education, recess, and youth outdoors programs. And if we want better jobs for our military spouses and returning veterans? Well, maybe that means we can tie it all together by ensuring our veterans and their families receive the jobs skills training and education needed for an economy that creates the future worth our sacrifice.
Then again, maybe it just means we restructure Tri-Care, clean up an old VA hospital, and make it easier for FRGs to fund raise outside of on base bake sales. These are important, necessary things, but I’m an American Soldier and I know we can do more. We’ve got a couple of hundred years of evidence that backs me up.
Meanwhile, I’ll just keep working to get you outside. After all, why not enjoy the freedom of the land we defended? While we can anyway.
OIF Veteran and Military Families and Veterans Representative to the Sierra Club