Thank You Soldiers

I don't see as many "Support the Troops" bumper stickers and ribbons now that election season has passed. To be perfectly honest, I was annoyed by people who stuck these things on just-washed SUVs bristling with child seats, soccer balls, and other assorted middle-class carapace padding, not because I do not want to support those who fight the battles our leaders declare, but because I always thought that the gesture of buying and tilting ribbons so that others could read your slogan was a cheap contradiction. It always felt like the "political patriots" thought that their $2 was enough to not only feel one was supporting the troops, but also that there was enough change left over to rub a convenience store mantra into the nose of those who preferred quieter, or more substantive, support of our fighting women and men (or, heaven forbid, didn't agree with their particular mission).

Ah well, thank you to every one of you who fight and risk for our vision of freedom. I especially want to thank my brother-in-law, who is participating in this most recent conflict. I also want to thank my father and father-in-law for serving, my uncles, friends (men and women) who have and are serving. I also want to say "thank you" to soldiers and families who have sacrificed their safety and sanity, limbs and lives for my country's cause. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Thank you.


Mike said...

Thank you, too.

I always want to tell the folks with the $2 magnetic ribbon: Hey, that's great. It's the least you could do.

No, really and literally: it is the absolute least you could do.

I had a Cadet come back into class today after having been on emergency leave because his older brother, also a grad ('06), had just been killed in Iraq. He goes back on emergency leave tomorrow because the body finally arrived home and they can have the funeral. He asked me what I wanted him to do for his essay.

What the fuck do you say to such a question?

Go home, I wanted to say. Mourn. You've got that glazed look and I know the loss hasn't even fully hit you yet, and you're asking me about homework? When you're carrying a casket at your brother's funeral, and you know you're going over to Iraq as well as soon as you get commissioned, a year and a few months from now? And you're asking me about homework?

But I couldn't say that, not in class, not to him, not like that. And I couldn't give the kid a hug, as much as I might have wanted to.

So I played my given role: I was the teacher. Contact me when you return, and we'll talk about how to get you caught up. Send me what you're able to get done.

The quotidian busyness that I know, from when I lost my mom, slowly helps to inch one away from grief's ongoing terror at absence.

Doc Mara said...

Wow, Mike. That is really hard. I have had to comfort students who are dealing with accidents, injuries, and death, but I have never had to deal with what you describe. As I tell my students who volunteer for Junior High and High School teaching--YOU do God's work. I mean that poetically and on many levels.

What we do in the class can seem rather trite, as we train mostly middle-class kids to hold onto their middle-class status, and, oh by the way, make the world a better place. Meanwhile, you are trying to shape young women and men into sharpened tools of foreign policy and sometimes domestic aid--and, by the way, isn't this a great way to use language in its many manifestations?

To be honest, I wrote this post because I watched Tears of the Sun and then heard a NPR StoryCorps feature. The film was pretty insipid in its filmic treatment of man's inhumanity to man and in its rewriting of our non-intervention in various African conflicts (in this film, the F-18s perfectly place their ordinance on the "baddies," while Captain Tom Skeritt makes a special trip to let the "goodies" get over the border to Cameroon). Nevermind the complicity of different sides in civil wars and all that. Still, my memories of the sacrifices made by my friends and relatives in the military (not the least of which is the mind-numbing banality of 90% of what the military makes you wait for or do) drove me to think about what I have not signed up to do, yet what I freely consent to when I call myself an American. Those thoughts, along with today's NPR StoryCorps feature of two sisters tale of the loss of their little brother in the current conflict made me break my silence on this subject. I have not lost nearly as much as others (only relatives of friends), and I certainly have not sacrificed like I think we ALL should, so it has been a pitched silence.

Thanks for sharing your story (as well as all of your stories of teaching at West Point, with all of the inherent contradictions). You do God's work.