I took the above photo in 2007 in western Baghdad during the first ever joint training session between Iraqi Special Forces and the Iraqi Air Force. I was there to take some photos and provide some common sense guidance to the trainers.
"Tell them to maintain their intervals."
"Tell them to get out of Ranger file when they hit the ground."
"Tell them to shut up and pay attention."
Oddly enough, it was during this deployment that I came across TST. Working overnight in between missions, I needed a place to vent about GM Jay Zygmunt's mismanagement of the team. TST was the perfect landing place, a new community built on a network that was people-powered, a democratic platform that was fueled not by the funneled opinion of a anointed few, but the ongoing conversations of all.
And while SB Nation and Turf Show Times has changed the way the Rams are discussed and thought about, bridging the gap between the fans and the teams they support (as well as the media that covers those teams), the gap between the civilian populace and the military has widened.
In Van's piece on the NFL and their Veterans Day efforts, he noted that less than one percent of today's U.S. population actually serves in the military. That number will drop in the years ahead as WWII and Vietnam vets pass, and the military continues to cut numbers.
We live in an age where we accept the idea that the defense of our country should be left up the unimaginably few who volunteer to bear that responsibility. That in and of itself isn't a horrible thing. But that the bridge between those few and the rest of the population has grown perhaps irreparable is.
I was speaking with a brilliant Army colonel yesterday who described an "epidemic of disconnect." Communities in and around bases (think St. Robert, Missouri which is adjacent to the Army's Ft. Leonard Wood) are not just aware of the culture of the military -- they are part of it. On the other hand, the sheer populations of larger cities exclude the military from daily life.
I can't do the subject justice. I don't write well enough, I don't have enough supporting data to lay out the case, and I'm obviously biased. But it's Veterans Day, so if there's a day for me to ignore those three criteria, today's it.
I'm not asking you to donate any money. I'm not silly enough to think that a call to community service would resonate beyond maybe a few individuals. Instead, I would just ask you to think.
Think about what it means for a society to discard those who have served in the protection of itself. Think about what a dedicated day or yellow bumper magnets actually do for veterans.
As Veterans, we have not only subjugated ourselves to the whims of politicians who can employ their defense mechanisms without any level of personal sacrifice. We also return to an America where because of our low numbers, we lack the public power to remain a viable part of the national conversation, whether it's at the family dinner table or in the halls of Congress.
On the first day of November, two Soldiers died in Afghanistan when an IED hit their convoy, including a 19-year-old mother of one. The AP report rolled off the names of the dead from that week like a someone perusing a football roster.
I get it. The wars are largely forgotten as are the participants, save for a day like today. But if you can actually think about the wars two months from now, if you can spend a moment to think about the level of sacrifice I and other veterans have and continue to make, if you can acknowledge that it's not just the time you spend down range, but the time spent in the field and TDY and the geographic isolation and the career damage done by negating any civilian certification or networking during service, then you've done more than most.
It's true, and it's fucking heartrending.
Happy Veterans Day.