Memorial Day in the U.S. is a day to remember those who have fallen in the service of their country, but inevitably also reminds us of those who are risking everything in that service at the present moment. If one does not have a close relative or friend in the military, bearing such burdens, it’s easy to forget that those sacrifices continue to be made. The war in Afghanistan is winding down, right? Imagine how that sounds to someone about to get on a plane and leave his or her family for a tour of duty there, where the threat of attack by suicide bombers and what we could politely call “rogue Afghani security personnel” is more deadly than ever.
Deploying to a war zone is always an act of bravery in itself, but imagine the added challenge of doing it when the mission is so difficult to define. Oh, I have no doubt that those paid to do so have come up with catchphrases for it, both diplomatic and military, but in all honesty, what is it? It is at best something like this: “Complete the drawdown under fire while preserving as much dignity for the U.S. military as possible.” Is that an objective one is prepared to die for? The soldiers must have to reach deep down and see their mission on a broader level and remember somehow that what they’re doing is worthwhile and tell themselves that it contributes to a better future for their kids. But you’d surely like something more sturdy to cling to than an “orderly drawdown.”
The suicide rate among active-duty personnel hit a record high last year of almost one per day. The reasons for this must be complex, but it cannot help anyone’s state of mind when one’s fundamental reason for putting oneself under fire or under threat is so vague, and when, due to contingencies, an order to deploy into that scenario might come at any time and might be of undeterminable duration.
So, these few paragraphs are just in the name of remembering that while the war in Afghanistan is at its least glamorous and potentially most deadly stage, those who are currently in it or heading into it are decidedly among the bravest. The U.S. has been blessed to have an incredibly deep and (I would say) unexpected reserve of brave and talented men and women willing to risk all as volunteers in the military ever since September 11th, 2001. Those doing it right now deserve special acknowledgment.
The Taliban and their fellows don’t lack for simplicity of mission. It’s “kill the infidels,” as always, and the more they can kill as the drawdown goes on, the better it serves their goal of making it appear that the U.S. is withdrawing in disgrace and defeat. For the U.S. military then, it’s no longer so much “defeat the Taliban,” as it is “minimize the Taliban’s ability to make us appear defeated.” It is not exactly an inspiring mission. But those willing to take it on, leaving family, friends and peace behind, are very inspiring indeed.
Among those leaving for that zone are 147 reservists from Wisconsin in the 372nd Engineering Company. They are departing in early June to literally deconstruct U.S. military installations, a deployment expected to last nearly a year. A short clip of a farewell cermony for that group is linked below, via Wisconsin’s TMJ4. It just provides some faces: of those leaving, and those who will miss them and fear for their wellbeing every day and every night of that time. They obviously deserve all the support and prayers that the rest of us can muster.