Monday, July 14, 2008

A Harsh Reminder

When this "war" in Iraq began way back in 2003, I was acutely aware of America's presence there. CNN and other news channels were filling the airwaves for seemingly 24 hours a day with news and images of the violence there. American flags and yellow ribbons were prominent. My baby brother was in the US Marine Corps, and he subsequently served two tours there. I was sending care packages to him, as well as to troops whom I knew weren't receiving packages of their own. I had a yellow ribbon magnet on my car that read "Protect My Brother". I could not get enough news about the what was happening there...I was watching CNN constantly. I eventually had to take a break from CNN because I found myself becoming agitated, depressed, and suffering from nightmares as a result of Iraq news overload. How could I not be caught up in the "support the troops" fervor?

As this conflict now drags into its sixth year, I find that my thoughts and attention are rarely focused on Iraq. My brother has since then been transferred to a training squadron---a non-deploying squadron. My family has a temporary reprieve from the constant threat of his return to Iraq. My yellow ribbon magnet was removed in a celebratory nature when my brother came home; I think it might be somewhere in my trunk right now...? CNN no longer gives Iraq their full attention. I haven't sent a care package in about a year now. Embarrassingly, I must confess that I have become entirely too accustomed to the situation in Iraq...and the troops who remain there have been drifting further and further from my mind.

I received a subtle yet powerful reminder last weekend when I traveled to Jacksonville NC to visit my brother, who is now stationed at Camp Lejeune, and his wife. I'm a history buff, and I love to visit monuments and statues. My sister-in-law knows this about me, and she offered to take me to see the Beirut Memorial in Jacksonville. Up until the moment she asked me, I had no idea that such a memorial even existed. I eagerly accepted her invitation. The monument consists primarily of a wall, referred to as "The Other Wall", in which the names of each of the troops who died in Beirut in 1983-84 are etched. There is also a beautiful statue of a Marine in his combat gear.

Also on display at this same park is something that I was completely unprepared to see---a steel beam from one of the NYC twin towers that crumbled to the ground on 9/11/01. As I drew closer to it, suddenly all my memories of that horrible day came flooding back in full force---the moment I realized that the plane crashes were part of some sinister plot rather than freakish accidents...watching live feed from CNN and watching the two towers collapse and wondering how many people just died right in front of my eyes...wondering where the next plane would fall. I examined the beam closely, and the extent of the impact and damage that had obviously been inflicted upon it was mind blowing. As I was taking photographs from various angles, my sister-in-law discovered two sets of military dog tags that were hanging from one of the warped rivets. We were initially perplexed as we bemoaned how foolish it was to leave your dog tags in a public place since they clearly contain your social security number, and wouldn't it be easy to steal this person's identity, yada yada yada...and then the sad realization dawned upon both of us at the same time----the owners of these dog tags were probably dead. We looked at each other sadly and wondered aloud about the intended meaning of hanging the tags at this particular site.

Though no discernible connection has been established between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein, I think that 9/11 does serve as a symbol of our troops' presence in Iraq. I suspect that these dog tags belonged to a couple of Marines who died there, and someone quietly memorialized them by hanging the tags from the WTC beam.

This was a sobering moment for me, and I felt ashamed for having all but forgotten about the men and women who continue to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Regardless of how we might feel about the "war" itself, it is imperative that we remember the men and women who are serving there. They are there out of a sense of pride and duty; but they are also hot, exhausted, homesick, and witnessing violence that most of us could not imagine even in our worst nightmares. We must also remember the military families who are left behind and who, in my opinion, make just as big of a sacrifice as the troops themselves. We must remember the troops who are coming home with horrible injuries, disfigurements, and scars---not only the physical ones, but the emotional ones as well.

Here are some ideas about how we can put "support the troops" into practice:

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