The country's top military officer praised the public's outward support of U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan on Monday, while lamenting the increasing gap between the U.S. military and the American public.
"America doesn't know its military and the United States military doesn't know America," said Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
As the father of a dead soldier, this statement hits home.
It is sad. It is scary. It needs examination.
Why is there such a disconnect between civilian America and military America?
There was a time when that wasn't so.
And sadly, I believe that time was everything prior to Vietnam.
The Vietnam War was a mess. And it was a mess from the top down.
And as a result, it created distrust of our elected leaders. It created distrust of our military. It created a disconnect between civilian America and military America.
Those young men and women who served in Vietnam did so as their government directed them to do.
The young men and women who have served in our military since have one distinct difference from the folks that served before them.
They have all volunteered.
And, the leadership of our country has not properly or adequately enrolled the soul of America to fight as one.
I remember Vietnam and the impact on lives.
My older brother was 18 at the time of the first draft. I remember the night of the great ping pong ball drop and the dread and fear of it coming.
I remember my brother and several of his friends gathering at our house to watch it. I remember them bringing Jack Daniels to the house as they watched the U.S. government play Russian Roulette with their lives.
I remember my mom objecting to the sight of alcohol. I remember my dad intervening and telling her it was time for her to go down the hall and let these boys turn into men.
I remember the angst of those with low numbers and the relief of those with high numbers.
I remember Mike Jones being called out of class when news of his brother's fall came.
We all shared in that experience.
Since that war, there has been no draft.
We have had an all volunteer military. Not that there weren't many volunteers before. But in wars before, the country was as one in a willingness to fight those that would destroy us.
And because of the horrendously bad decisions made by our elected leaders during the Vietnam War, families that had for generations shared in the honor of sacrifice and service to our country began to counsel their young men and women to steer clear of wearing the Cloth of the Nation.
The disconnect between civilian America and military America started then, and continues to this day.
There is a book that needs reading by a much wider audience today.
AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service-and How it Hurts Our Country by Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer. Published May, 9 2006.
Publisher's Weekly had this recap.
"In this impassioned, convincing manifesto, Schaffer and Roth-Douquet, a former Clinton White House and Department of Defense staffer, call for class integration of the military. Their arguments are personal: Roth-Douquet is a military wife and Schaffer's son is a marine, and the authors fall within the demographic they critique. Alternately narrating, they relate their experiences with the military and detail the liabilities of the present all-volunteer "corporate" force: the hindered policy-making ability of a civilian leadership without significant ties to the military, the weakening of the armed forces themselves, and "the sense of lost community and the threat to democracy that results when a society accepts a situation that is inherently unfair." While Schaffer proposes a lottery draft and Roth-Douquet suggests the military "convince" people to sign up, they both call for all young people to submit to some form of national civilian service. Though the authors occasionally exaggerate ("we are fast approaching the day when no one in Congress and no president will have served or have any children serving"), they make a clarion call in the face of increasingly controversial foreign policy and a military stretched thin."
America, when did it become someone else's job to defend our country?
America, when did it become patriotic to guide our best and brightest away from the most fundamental and important jobs our country has?
America, when did it become smart to not put our best and brightest on the front lines against those that would destroy America?
It is time to correct this.
We need to reconnect civilian America and military America.
For those currently being served by those who have chosen to serve.
But more importantly, for our future, we need all of us connected to our military.
They are our sons and daughters. Our neighbors. Our friends.
They protect our freedoms.
They are paid for by our tax dollars.
They wear not some strange uniform with which we have no connection.
They wear The Cloth of the Nation.
The one you enjoy.
The one you have the freedom to complain about.
The one you don't have the freedom to not support.
Shake a hand in the airport.
Stop by a recruiting station and say thanks.
Find a base, a VA hospital, an ROTC unit, a military family and see how you can help.
We are disconnected because we have chosen to be disconnected.
The wars we fight are your wars. Not someone else's. Not "theirs".
Get involved. Get connected.
Show some love for America and those that defend us all.
And most importantly, controversially, and honestly, what will you do?
Will you encourage your sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, neighbors, students, employees, and friends to do their part?
Will all of America take part or is it a job beneath you and your family? Is it a responsibility your family isn't responsible for? Is it not part of a life plan you have in mind? Why not?
Be challenged. Be angry if you wish.
But know this.
Your grandparents knew whose job it was. Your great-grandparents knew whose job it was.
And you and I know too. But, it is just too easy to pass the hard task to someone else.
I was 18 in 1972. I got called by the Selective Service and registered. I was never called to serve.
And to this day, I regret that I didn't serve. I didn't have to, it was unpopular, it wasn't cool, I wasn't encouraged to do so, so I didn't.
I missed a great opportunity. I failed my country. I failed myself.
E pluribus unum.
Our country's motto.
We need to relearn it.
If not, this divide will never be bridged.