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On July 4th, Avoid the Steele Trap: Separate the War from the Warriors

07/02/2010 06:32 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Republican Michael Steele's advice for federal candidates - paint Afghanistan as a war of Obama's choosing that the US hasn't prosecuted and cannot be won - is the worst Independence Day message I can imagine. Indeed, mere seconds after posting a link to Steele's remarks this morning, I heard from veterans steamed at the statement that Afghanistan "is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in."

These veterans are justifiably outraged: with over 1000 troops killed, over tens of thousands injured, some of them permanently, and over a million military families affected by deployments, what in the world has the United States done if not actively prosecuted the war in Afghanistan? A number of troops enlisted after 9/11 precisely because of the terrorist attacks - they say the war in Afghanistan is not of Obama's choosing, but al qaeda's.

I know the Republicans elected Steele to go after President Obama, but it was senseless of Steele to slight our precious blood and treasure. Instead, he - and we - we should be taking steps to bridge the civilian/military divide that persists in America. On the eve of Independence Day, while 97% of Americans are at barbecues and swimming pools, our military families will be acutely mindful of the missing seat at the table or dreading the call that could signal the loss of a loved one. It is hard for most of us to fathom the sacrifice because most of us don't make it: only 3 percent of Americans eligible to serve actually do serve in our armed forces.

The Pentagon's fiscal year 2008 demographics study places the total number of military personnel at over 3.5 million strong, with 1,426,036 DoD Active Duty and DHS Coast Guard Service members.

"This includes: Active Duty military personnel (1,387,674); DHS's Active Duty Coast Guard members (41,362); DoD Ready Reserve and DHS Coast Guard Reserve members (1,080,617); and DoD appropriated and nonappropriated-fund civilian personnel (835,739). DoD's Active Duty and DHS's Coast Guard Active Duty members comprise the largest portion of the military force (40.3%), supplemented by Ready Reserve members (30.4%) and DoD civilian personnel (23.5%). The Army has the largest number of Active Duty members (539,675) followed by the Navy (326,684), the Air Force (322,900) and the Marine Corps (198,415). There are also 41,362 Active Duty members of the DHS's Coast Guard."

Support or oppose continued US deployment, no one - not even Michael Steele - can honestly say that our troops have not done everything we have asked them to do in Afghanistan.

This Independence Day, let's avoid the Steele trap of lumping our troops in with the politics of who's commander in chief and "separate the war from the warriors" as the late Jack Murtha used to counsel. We can easily take a minute between rolling our eyes at the latest Steele speech and planning our holiday parties to do something concrete to bridge the U.S. civilian/military divide. Advocacy opportunities abound from transition and employment services, PTSD support, freedom to serve, and military kids organizations. Hop on a link -- it's as easy as tweeting and far less fleeting.

Imagine the impact we could create this 4th of July if we invested the same amount of energy spent snarking at Steele into fighting for the troops, veterans, and military families he slighted. Steele's senseless speech told us something about him; our reaction to it will say something about us. Activism to bridge our civilian-military divide would be the best birthday present we can give our country.