Friday, February 23, 2007

One Percent

Are you ready to have your heart broken? If not then don’t read this post. But our nation needs to pay more attention to this, needs to weep.

I watched an episode of Criminal Minds the other night. It centered on an Army veteran who was changing a tire on the freeway when a building nearby was demolished and the explosion and ground shock sent him into reliving his traumatic experience as a soldier in Somalia. In the course of the episode his wife told police that since his return from that war he had been afraid of loud noises, had been unable to bear the smell of anything burning, like a barbecue or fall leaves, that he had been moody and distant. "Please help him," she pleaded, "I lost him fifteen years ago." At the end of the episode, in a tragic mistake, he was shot to death by law enforcement.

That was fiction, but there are too many of our veterans and their families in similar straights who are not fictional at all. Too many of our soldiers return from the battlefield needing help that they do not receive. Too many of our families need help while their soldiers are at war and do not receive it.

You may need a subscription to read the New York Times piece about the stress on families here.

"And unlike the Vietnam era, when the draft meant that many people were directly touched by the conflict, this period finds military families feeling a keen sense of isolation from the rest of society. Not many Americans have a direct connection to the war or the military. Only 1.4 million people, or less than 1 percent of the American population, serve in the active-duty military."

Less than one percent. And their families isolated.

A soldier's wife, crying in the shower every day so that her children will not know how lonely and afraid she is.

Children misbehaving in schools that do not understand the stress a child experiences with a parent at war because so few children in that school are in that terrible situation.

Parents, fearful for their children in harm’s way. Being strong for their grandchildren’s sake.

Reservists who signed up for a single one-year tour, having their second tour extended to sixteen months and facing the prospect of a third.

Soldiers who return from the battlefield missing limbs and who live in moldy, pest infested quarters for months while rehabilitating. "Standing quarters" at seven in the morning for no reason other than some non-combatant officer’s misbegotten sense of military discipline. Being tended by their family members because there is no staff on hand to do so.

Soldiers who have threatened suicide who are handed a weapon and returned to the battlefield, and who then carry out their threat and turn that weapon on themselves.

Others who go through life afraid of loud noises, moody and distant from those who love them, unable to ask for the help they need and never offered that help by those in authority who should care.

It is more than a national disgrace, it is a national crime, perpetrated by our leadership.

Weep, America, and then demand change.

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