November 10, 2016
Friday November 11, 2016
A big thank you to all the businesses who show their support and appreciation for us on Veterans Day. As usual, I’ll take fellowship and join my fellow Vets at Texas Roadhouse for a much appreciated steak dinner. They really treat the Vets with open arms.
This time of the year, when Veterans Day rolls around, the memories come flooding back. I had a hard time in high school because of a really bad stuttering problem. It was so embarrassing when I was called on at school and couldn’t even get my first name out that I finally dropped out when I was 16. There were 5 of us kids and my folks struggled to keep us all fed so I went up to Alaska to work after their monster earthquake. I came back and joined the Army at 17.
I caught pneumonia on my first day of basic training at Ft Knox, Kentucky. We went to bed with all the windows wide open and no blankets because it was so hot and then woke up in the morning freezing with frost on the floor. Vague memories of AIT training at Ft Dix in New Jersey, standing on the parade field and freezing your you know what off, and at Ft. Gordon in Augusta, Georgia where we were given free admission to the Sunday finals of the Masters golf tournament, if we wore our uniform. Now, you can’t even buy those tickets. I try to remember all my Army buds but don’t have any photos. It’s not like today, where everyone has a cell phone camera.
When we went overseas, and yes we actually did travel over the seas; we shipped out to Europe (Bremerhaven, Germany) on a troop carrier; an extremely miserable 14 day trip on the USS Upshur. We called it the USS Upchuck because most of the troops were violently sick most of the time. When we went through the English Channel, we encountered the worst storm they had in 25 years. We were up on deck when the storm blew up. When the ship listed, we were staring at what seemed like a hundred foot wall of water. Very scary for all the landlubbers like myself. I was deployed to Giessen but because I had a critical MOS, ended up in a Pershing nuclear missile outfit in Southern Germany. We spent two and a half years mostly in the field with our missiles aimed at the Soviets and theirs aimed at us. I sometimes think I went to sleep for 50 years, just woke up and nothing has changed. We’re still butting heads with the Russians.
And I’d like to give a shout out to the Veterans Administration. When I lost my medical insurance, after surviving four manufacturing plant closings, I used the V.A. clinics for primary care. I had great preventative care from Dr. Lee and Dr. King and their dedicated support staffs through the years. I know there’s been problems with Iraq and Afghanistan Vets getting timely treatment, but the V.A. was put in a untenable situation. After decades of inadequate funding, they had to somehow cope with the enormous influx of active duty and disabled Vets. Since the U.S invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, about 2.5 million members of our Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and Reserve and National Guard have been deployed in those wars. One third of those had multiple deployments. Almost 40,000 were deployed more than 5 times, including more than 10,000 Guard and Reserve members. More than 400,000 troops did 3 or more tours. That’s an incredible burden and sacrifice on those troops and their families.
1.6 Million (1 million active duty and 675,000 Guard and Reserve) of those deployed, have transitioned to Veterans status. And of those, 675,000 have been awarded service connected disability claims, and another 100,000 have claims pending. And those numbers will continue to climb for decades. These two wars have produced a higher percentage of disabilities because of a combination of outstanding critical battlefield care, which produced survivors instead of fatalities, a large number of injuries from improvised bombs and traumatic brain injuries and PTSD and mental health issues. There were more than 32,000 injuries, some of those with catastrophic wounds that will take decades of intensive treatment. As these Veterans age, and their health deteriorates, their disabilities will worsen. Disability claims for WWI Vets reached their peak in 1970 and for WWII Vets in the 1980’s. Almost 1 million Iraq and Afghanistan Vets have used V.A. medical services, which include 270,000 for issues related to PTSD. And of those, 150,000 have been awarded disability. Experts say the cost for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans disability and medical care for their life will far exceed 1 trillion dollars.
Adding the 2 trillion or more to fight the two wars, 1 trillion to pay the interest on the credit card we used to fund the wars and more than 1 trillion to take care of the surviving Vets, we fully realize the enormous 4.5 to 5 trillion dollar cost to prosecute these unnecessary wars. We finally paid off the cost of the Viet Nam war during the Clinton Administration’s second term surplus. I’m guessing our children and grandchildren will still be paying for these wars 20 or 25 years from now.
I was totally against the war in Iraq and was looking into being a human shield when the Bush Administration, was not only ignoring the U.N. inspectors claims that there were most likely no WMD still in Iraq but was threatening a “Shock and Awe” bombing campaign. I can remember their mad rush to war and them saying they had to hurry and invade before the approaching hot summer temperatures. But as it turned out, we spent more than a dozen summers in that god forsaken inhospitable climate. I was against the invasion because war impacts poor people most, the folks that don’t have the resources to escape the carnage. We’re rightfully troubled over the handful of terrorist attacks in this country and in Europe but can we even comprehend trying to protect family members against more than 36,500 terrorist attacks in Iraq during the last decade. A little more than 3,000 folks died on 9-11. Can we even imagine the 200,000 or 250,000 dead in Iraq? Translating that loss to America’s population, it’s the equivalent of 2,500,000 deaths. War is Hell! And war is the ultimate failure.
My family didn’t have a lot of money, and even though I was a sergeant, I didn’t make enough money for airfare. So I was away from home for 3 years. I missed a lot when my younger siblings were growing up. But even I can only guess the sacrifices most of these military men and women and their families have endured, especially those with catastrophic injuries.
I’m sure they and their families sometimes wonder if those sacrifices were ultimately worth it, especially when the military and political stability in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the middle east in general spirals into chaos. But they should remember that, in spite of suspect and faulty reasoning for the war and incompetent leadership of those who dragged us into that unnecessary war, the men and women of our military served their country honorably. They did their duty in one of the most inhospitable environments on the face of the earth, often enduring temperatures approaching 120 degrees in full combat gear. They endured thousands of improvised bombs. But they persevered through all that, conducted the successful surge and then handed over the keys of a burgeoning democracy to politicians who then squandered that hard fought opportunity.
Maybe 5, 10 or 15 years from now these soldiers can look back and say that the middle east is a better place and that they played a major role in that success. And the world will be able to say that thanks to these soldiers, the support of their families and to the notion and idea that America was willing to, send 2.5 million troops and billions of tons of arms and material half way around the world, spend 5 trillion dollars and sacrifice thousands of young men and women’s lives and health, the folks in these countries have a better future.
I know President Obama and Michele, and Joe and Jill Biden highly regard your service and sacrifice. I don’t think any administration has done more for Veterans issues since Presidents Truman and Eisenhower. I can remember not long after President Obama took office in 2009 when he reversed the eighteen year ban, continued by President Bush, on the media covering the arrival of flag draped military coffins of fallen soldiers. I remember President Obama and Joe Biden standing in the early morning rain on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, saluting the flag draped coffins as they came off the cargo planes. They strongly believed that America needed to see the full cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We have to elect politicians who understand that cost, who walk the walk and not just talk the talk. And we have to do our homework when Veterans issues come before Congress. See who actually votes for these issues instead of just spouting about them. A lot of politicians say they support the troops but then when it come time to cast their vote, they somehow just can’t justify the funding. The Republican’s now control the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. If funding for Veterans and the V.A. aren’t fully supported in the next 4 years, there will only be one group to blame. And I think we should take this opportunity to post on the White House Facebook page our thanks to President Obama, Michele and Jill and Joe Biden for their unwavering support over the last eight years.
So on this Veterans day, you have a lot to be proud of. And if you’re having trouble dealing with physical or mental health issues, please reach out to the V.A. for help. And if one of your military buds is struggling, get them to some help. The V.A always has someone ready to talk to or refer you to. And if there isn’t someone available where you live you can go into a room at a V.A. Clinic and talk to a counselor over a monitor. I also know Vets who have spent many years in V.A. assisted care and that care has been great. The V.A. is also building new SRO and dormitory units. No Vet should be homeless. Please reach out to someone if you’re having trouble finding shelter, especially with winter coming. Asking for help is standing strong for yourself and for your family.
There are lists all over the Internet of restaurants and businesses who look forward to showing their appreciation for your sacrifices on Veterans day, so please take advantage, and enjoy the fellowship of other Veterans. Happy Veterans Day!
John Hanno, www.tarbabys.com