Last night the President addressed the nation to discuss his new strategy for Iraq. There has been much analysis, critique and political banter about the number of troops he intends to deploy in support of this mission in Baghdad, many of whom will be returning for second, third or forth deployments. As an Iraq veteran, the part of his speech last night that made my stomach turn was when the President discussed the sacrifices being asked of these soldiers and his families. The following line in his speech showed me how little he understands of the TREMENDOUS burden he is putting on .5% of this population and their families who continue to serve this country in uniform:
They serve far from their families, who make the quiet sacrifices of lonely holidays and empty chairs at the dinner table.
Is that it?
Is the only sacrifice of these men and women, who leave their families for a year or more--many who have gone numerous times--to have an empty place set at the table for them at dinner?
What about the Reserve and National Guard soldiers who are self-employed, such as dentist or plumbers, and loose their entire client base because they are gone for a year? Now they risk having an increased operational tempo that would require them to deal with these "lonely holidays" every other year. How can a plumber keep clients when he misses two years of work out of three?
If this is the only sacrifice families are making during this nearly 4 year-old war, then why is the divorce rate among military enlisted families up over 28% and officer families nearly 70% since the start of the war? The Army has launched programs to try and better support these families, but the idea of the soldiers returning for second, third or fourth rotations is driving loved ones apart.
These are major threats to our all-volunteer military. An increase of 21,000 troops will provide a tremendous strain on our overstretched force. The President is asking for Americans to increase the burden he has placed on our brave and noble soldiers, and he calls it sacrifice.
The father of a Captain from the Army's 101st Airborne Division told me his son, who has been to Iraq on two tours and had planned on previously being a career Officer, said, "I volunteered to serve my country, but I did not volunteer to serve it alone!"
As a soldier who served in Iraq, I want to see peace in that region. I pray for my brothers and sisters in uniform, but also for the millions of Iraqis who have only known war for the last four years. For an Iraqi child who was born in 2000, they have spent over half of their life living in war. Will he or she just forget that once this surge is over?
Will the families of the over 28,000 civilians violently killed in 2005 alone (over 17,000 in the last 6 months) just forget who started this war when the surge is over?
Our soldiers on the streets of Iraq know that the Iraqi people will not so easily forget. That is why they deserve a more comprehensive regional plan that addresses the unconventional warfare we will use to re-win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis. The hearts and minds of those same Iraqis who I sat at dinner tables with all through out the summer of 2003, but whom I later fought in the streets in the summer of 2004.
The President discussed an increase in aid and numbers have been circulating around Washington of about $1 billion. Well Mr. President, we have already spent nearly $18 billion and have little to show. $234 Million was spent to build 20 private clinics--not hospitals--but CLINICS! So what will this $1 billion get us that will bring peace?
Our soldiers and their families, who are being asked to sacrifice many more "lonely holidays," deserve to know.