SA Radio - Thoughts From a Soldier

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WTMA commentary broadcast 2/12/08:

After being contacted by an old friend a few days ago whose brother is currently serving in the Army in Iraq, I was asked if I could send this soldier a brief message, as he was a Southern Avenger fan from his time spent in Charleston. As humbled as I was flattered, I gladly emailed the soldier a brief message thanking him for his service, with no politics or viewpoints included. His initial response contained a simple thank you and he wrote “I can’t wait to get out of Iraq.” I wrote back a funny little story about how in talk radio, the so-called conservative hosts make it sound like every last soldier is solidly behind President Bush and the current mission, yet somehow he didn’t seem too enthused. His second response revealed a man with many things he wanted to get off his chest, which I will read verbatim with his permission:

“I've learned quite a bit about military people since I became one myself. I learned that the stereotype about military peeps being gung-ho for war and willing to fight anybody at any time is just that - a stereotype. Almost every single soldier I've engaged in conversation about this subject thinks that we have no business being in Iraq. Almost every single one would end the war if it was their choice.

And Bush is not popular at all in these parts. I remember when Rumsfeld was fired - it was the happiest day of our lives. Nobody would ever say that in front of a camera though because of the huge expectation for us to be motivated all the time about what we're doing in Iraq.I know one guy in my unit who was stop-lossed by 14 days for this deployment. That means he was supposed to get out of the Army 14 days after our unit received stop-loss orders, and now he's stuck in the Army until 90 days after we get back for a total of 21 additional months in the Army. He's beside himself with resentment. In fact there are quite a few guys in my unit whose contracts will expire or have expired at some point in this deployment, but they can't legally be discharged. The President won't allow it.”

The letter continued with the same frustrated tone, but also included some language born of frustration not fit for broadcast. Regardless, when I asked for permission to read his letter, this soldier, who will remain anonymous, followed with this response:

“I don't mind at all! I'd appreciate the focus on this issue; I always hate hearing people say ‘at least there's no draft yet,’ as if holding soldiers for almost two years past the expiration of their enlistments doesn't qualify as a draft!”

This soldier’s thoughts are instructive for a number of reasons. First, the idea of signing up for duty for an agreed upon amount of time, yet being held against your will for an indefinite amount of time, certainly is no different than a draft, and could even be considered borderline slavery.

Imagine it this way. Most Americans consider professional athletes to be overpaid, prima donnas – even the ones they like. What if Eli Manning had only two years left on his contract with the New York Giants, yet at the end of his two years, the Giants simply decided to keep him for another year without his permission and with no new contract. It’s little doubt that the entire sports world would be up in arms over such an injustice, yet this is exactly what is happening to thousands of our soldiers overseas, who have much more to lose than a football game.

This soldier’s thoughts also remind us that just like the civilian population here at home, there is a diversity of opinion on America’s foreign policy amongst our military. When South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham insisted on Meet the Press last July that our soldiers were in complete unison behind the Bush strategy, Virginia Senator, and Purple Heart recipient and Vietnam Veteran Jim Webb angrily told Graham that he should stop putting words in our soldiers mouths.

Yet as men like Graham, Bush, Cheney and their allies to continue to put words in soldier’s mouths to suit their own political needs, I certainly didn’t see any harm in sharing with you today the views of at least one soldier in Iraq who has a slightly different perspective than the politicians who usually speak in his name.

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