My war, the first war against Saddam Hussein, was probably the easiest war to have taken part in, but mostly because we’d spent fifteen years training for it. I remarked at the time that it was exactly like a Table VIII run at Graffenwoer without the trees. We didn’t have to kick doors in or any of that stuff that the folks in the recent war had to do, well, except that COB6 and his platoon briefly did some door-kicking in Iraq a few days before the ground war portion began. But all we had to do was drive and shoot the occasional Iraqi BTR-50, BMP or T55 which popped up like targets on the range.
But I write all of that to segue into this NBC article sent to us by one of the folks at The Duffel Blog about the dick-measuring some veterans are doing comparing their service in combat to others. Personally, I think the article was written to divide us, but I think it’s off-base.
It is, quite likely, a tradition that hearkens back to the Civil War or possibly the Revolutionary War, according to some ex-service members. But many post-9/11 veterans who have chatted with older veterans revealed the sentiment they’ve often heard carry the same note: “We just came home, put our heads down and got to work — without any whining.”
Buried, not so subtly, in that message is that the current crop is a tad less tough and lot more needy. Some of that cultural gap may have to do with how aging veterans were taught not to talk about combat stress whereas today’s military members are constantly urged to open up about any symptoms of anxiety they’re feeling. It’s a battle of Macho circa 1945 or 1970 versus Macho 2012.
I recognize that veterans of previous wars had it tougher than I did. I got to call my son on his birthday, that was probably not something previous war vets would have had the chance to do. But then, this generation emailed home often, however, I recognize that was more a function of the technology than the nature of war. In any case, folks were trying to kill us. I huddled with my troops in our Bradley during an Iraqi artillery barrage for a night. It wasn’t like sitting through an NVA mortar attack, or a Taliban rocket attack for days, but I share the feeling and experience with those who have.
Many of the casualties of my war were friendly fire, but they are no less casualties than anyone else in any other war. My battalion had the highest casualty rate of any other infantry unit in that war, but that’s because both sides were shooting at us since we led the whole rest of the Army into Iraq and then Kuwait.
After my war, I sought solace with those who shared my experiences. first with those with whom I served, and later, when our unit was broken up, in the books of Civil War veterans. That’s when I learned that many of our experiences are shared across generations. Despite the nature of our wars, and although my war could be measured in hours rather than years, much of what I experienced was experienced a hundred years before.
I’m pretty sure that Civil War veterans poked fun at the Spanish-American War veterans for their brief skirmishes which won the war in Cuba. But war is war.
I made a trip to the Yorktown battlefield when I was at school at Fort Monroe once. It amazed me that the whole US Army was crammed into an area the today a single infantry platoon could defend today. Huge siege cannons were pointed at the British lines a mere 25 meters away. The horror of all of that must have been great. I stood on Redoubts 9 and 10 that American Rangers had seized at night on October 14, 1781, and even two hundred years later they still looked imposing without a single gun pointed at the opposing lines.
I know the Vietnam veterans had trouble joining the American legion and VFW during their war because of the dick-measuring that went on between generations of veterans. But we can all understand how inappropriate that was. In fact much credit can be given to Vietnam veterans for the way the current crop of veterans have been treated at home. Because they wanted to insure that what happened to them wouldn’t happen to this generation. Large numbers of Vietnam veterans reached across the generations to offer a hand up, so this article is way off base by looking at a few incidents instead of looking at the entire picture.
We’re all veterans, we all answered the call when so many other Americans never even considered it. We all share that moment.