Dear Ms. Starr,
We are writing to let you in on a secret. It's a big one -- so get to a fresh page in your reporter notebook and have your pen poised and ready.
You told your viewers last Thursday that there was "no question" that the military could afford to go into Syria and that you "don't think it's really going to affect military families at all."
Here's some inside information for you: There is no such thing as a person-less war. Our military cannot afford for Americans to forget that wars and battles and military strikes are fought by troops, that troops are people, and that those people have families.
In our military communities this summer we couldn't even afford to pay federal employees for a five-day work week. Military families can't get doctors' appointments and can't get the counseling services needed to grapple with the problems we already have, problems largely created by almost 12 years of war. And while Congress was busy sending a warning letter to the president to ensure they get to sign off on whether or not we go to war, they managed to ignore military families when the sequester hit. Today clinic hours are being slashed -- along with pretty much every other service military families need. Walking around our communities lately, it doesn't look like we can afford much of anything -- and certainly not a whole new war.
And that's just taking 'afford' literally.
Figuratively, the picture is even grimmer. An entire generation of military kids have grown up with a parent they know primarily through Skype. Couples are trying to piece together marriages that have been badly fractured by more years spent apart than together. We grew hopeful that better days were coming as we watched the end of the Iraq war, and we're thrilled that the end of our involvement in Afghanistan is nigh, and yet now all of cable news is breathless and giddy with talk of war in Syria.
You boast, in your bio, that you have exclusive access to Lt. Gen. Russel Honore and you've interviewed several secretaries of defense and other important people at the CIA. You may very well have Sec. Hagel on speed dial -- but that doesn't give you the right to toss around your thoughts on how military families may or may not be affected by military action. Not until you've stood in our shoes for longer than a three-minute live shot.
You see, Barbara, there's no such thing as 'no boots on the ground.' We in the military community sigh and shake our heads when we hear talk like that from the people on TV. Perhaps you consider a relatively small number of troops to be the same as zero -- but we don't. We know that each of those service members is somebody's somebody.
As journalists, we like show both sides of the story. So we would like to also voice our thanks. For your careless words have aimed a giant floodlight on the military-civilian divide. Blue Star Families Director of Research and Policy, Vivian Greentree said it best:
We hear a sense of angst in our membership and throughout the military community. How can we be in the middle of the fall out of sequestration - furloughs, program cuts, loss of mission readiness - we have families who can't get medical appointments. They are all wondering how they will manage if the situation in Syria continues to escalate. They wonder how will it affect them. Not, if it will affect them. But, how.
"That statement, in all its small-minded glory, captures the civilian-military divide more clearly than any survey ever could."
And maybe someday we will be able to fight whole wars without using a single human ... And Rosie the Robot will clean our kitchens while we tackle our morning commutes in flying cars. But today, in 2013, we can't have a 'surgical strike' without someone saying where to drop the bombs or where to aim those missiles. And those planes that drop the bombs? The destroyers that carry the missiles? They have pilots, captains and crews. All humans. Even the "unmanned" drones have human pilots, and the psychological wear and tear on them is staggering. Planes take off from airfields in foreign lands or from aircraft carriers, both of which are staffed by thousands of American somebodies, just like those destroyer ships. At every turn in a military operation you will find people. Intel analysts, linguists, flight crews, and cooks. Even war plans, regardless of whether they were, as you stated, "on deployment anyway" rely on thousands of people who will be pulled to a new duty, which causes reshuffling far and wide in the military community.
And this, most definitely, affects military families.
The big question is, as you said, "will it work?" and, as we learned from the most recent wars, it bears recalling that things don't always go as planned. But that's not the only question. Do not kid yourself, Barbara, and don't you dare kid the viewers who trust your reporting.
Rebekah Sanderlin and Molly Blake