This “Veteran’s Story” is dedicated to all our veterans, to the men and women still in uniform, and to our fellow countrymen striving to grasp the true cost of freedom. Freedom never has been free, and the cost will be much higher for future generations.
Time is running out. Our nation is in peril. The time is overdue for all of us to sound a voice against the wolves at the gate. Timidity is no longer a charming quirk of a fainthearted personality. If you’re fed up, get up, stand up, and speak up. And the next time a party-political pawn of any affiliation tries to defend or discard the “War on Women,” interrupt to demand they discuss an authentic domestic-spawned crusade: the War on our Military.
Our men and women in uniform are literally being bled to death. If not physically shattered, they become psychologically overwhelmed by an uncaring, unprofessional, and self-preserving bureaucracy prepared to sacrifice America’s best on distant battlefields. Identical to the ‘police action’ or ‘limited war’ methodology in Korea and Vietnam, our present military is encumbered by idealistic Rules of Engagement manufactured by politically conscious ‘think tankers’ who never served a single day in boot camp.
What is expected today of our military personnel? They wear an 8 pound Kevlar helmet, hump a 65-plus pound backpack, and don a 45 pound flak vest for extra protection, plus weapons and ammunition. The enemy, as in Korea and Vietnam, can be standing next to you with a smirk on his face before he opens fire and guns you down. In addition, the total “days of combat” is horrendous. The phrase “a day of combat” implies you don’t know if you will live or die by the end of that day.
The math: A World War II combatant participated in approximately 40 days of actual combat. Korea upped the ante, about 180 days of life or death. Vietnam generated a troubling 240 days of combat per tour. Now let’s examine Iraq and Afghanistan: an incredible 310 days of combat, and that’s not the worst of it.
Early on, the combat experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan generated the following statistics: Being ambushed, Iraq vs. Afghanistan, 89% to 58%; Dodging incoming, 86% to 84%; Being shot at, 93% to 66%; Witnessing bodies or remains, 95% to 40%; Knowing the person seriously injured or killed, 85% to 43%.
These are scary indicators. A military stretched so thin in the middle of a global war and forced to undertake repeated combat is a receipt for disaster.
I respectfully offer the example of one soldier, one brave warrior. Sgt. 1st Class Kristoffer Komeij lost his life in Kandahar Province on Oct. 22, 2011 when the assault force triggered an improvised explosive device. He was 29 years old, survived by his wife and two daughters. Sgt. Komeij joined the Army after high school graduation, completed basic training, fire support advanced individual training, and basic airborne. He went on to join the elite of the elite: the Army Rangers.
A list of some of his decorations and awards: two Bronze Stars, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, five Army Commendation Medals, Ranger Tab, Combat Action Badge, Expert Infantry Badge, Army Expert Marksmanship Badge, Joint Commendation Medal, a War on Terrorism Service Medal, five Overseas Ribbons, the Senior Parachutist Badge, Iraq and Afghanistan Campaign Medals, the Pathfinder Badge, Purple Heart, three Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbons, the Army Achievement Medal, a third Bronze Star Medal, and Meritorious Conduct Medal. Sgt. Komeij was also a part of the team that rescued Army Private Jessica Lynch from her captivity in an Iraqi hospital during the Gulf War.
This outstanding American soldier was on his 14th deployment. Allow me to repeat that: his 14th deployment. Sgt. Kristoffer Komeij survived 4 deployments to Iraq, survived nine deployments to Afghanistan, and lost his life on his 14th deployment in the country dubbed “The Destroyer of Nations.” Another Army Ranger, Sgt. Lance Vogeler, was killed the year before Komeij on his 12th deployment.
America’s best is being used as cannon fodder by America’s worst. The powers that be cannot even comprehend the straightforward military logic of General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s suggestion, “Get there first with the most men,” then once in position, as General Dwight David Eisenhower stated in a letter to his wife, Mamie Doud Eisenhower, on August 2, 1944, “In war there is no substitute for victory.” MacArthur utilized the same phrase in a speech before Congress in 1951.
PTSD and brain injuries traumatize around 40% of the men and women serving in harm’s way. From ‘trench disease’ during the Civil War, the ‘shell shock’ of World War I and ‘combat fatigue’ of World War II, the catchall phrase of PTSD still means the same: Repeated exposure to combat leaves the scars of war engrained for a lifetime. Many of us come home just fine; others eventually shake the bad memories, while others live each and every day suffering from the invisible wounds of war.
Left out in the cold with invisible wounds are the National Guardsmen. Many have served more multiple tours than the regular Army, heaping upon the Guardsmen the additional stress of leaving home and family for months or longer, not to mention dumping lucrative careers in the dust. The end result for many of our overburdened warriors is a lethal combination of resentment, depression, guilt, trouble adjusting back to civilian life, shame, and self-medication with drugs or alcohol. Suicidal thoughts dwell in the darkest of memories.
There are enough veterans of the War on Terror living in Rockdale and Newton counties whose stories could fill hundreds of newspapers, yet, like the Vietnam veterans, recalling recent conflict too soon can trigger too many complications. For most, now is not the time to reopen those ‘invisible wounds.’ We who have lived long enough to relate our stories understand the hesitancy of the newer generation of American warriors who have served more time in combat than any other generation. You have, and still are, doing your duty without complaint because you too understand the frustration of needing to talk while realizing your story will fall upon unconcerned ears that lead all the way up to Washington, D.C.
The first time I discussed Vietnam was with another brother of that far off war. We had graduated from the same high school, joined the same branch of service, and did what we were trained to do. Bobby and I sat in his apartment discussing the war and our hateful reception coming home. He was downhearted to the point of needing professional help. I recall his glum statement, “I feel like a warrior without worth.”
I disagreed then and I disagree now. Bobby and I and our brothers and sisters are not warriors without worth, but our great country is gravely infected by politicians without principle. The United States of America is still the best hope for the rest of the world. And our men and women in uniform have paid a heavy price for the rest of the world as indicated by the thousands upon thousands of graves from 14,246 headstones at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial in France to the 17,202 markers at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines.
So many innocent lives cut short so that others can live out their lives to the fullest. We can never repay the debt, but we can defend what they have earned for all of us. War veterans hate war. We’ve witnessed its brutal ugly nature, the inhumanity of man, and we remember the baby faced boys who never experienced their first shave. Yet, we’d do it all over again if necessary, even knowing there are already too many boys beneath the headstones, too many grieving parents, and far too many MIAs. Let us all hope and pray that these brave souls have not died in vain.
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.