Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Real Cost of War

Today, I heard about another one.  A family, which has lost their Soldier.  A Soldier, back from deployment and needing services.  A unit, not holding him accountable nor recognizing the true risk.

I remember when I first started college, a friend of mine had a brother-in-law who was a Vietnam vet.  He wore braces on ankles that had been irreversibly injured, and slept on average two hours a night, plagued by nightmares.  He taught me about PTSD, which wasn't something most people had ever heard of at that time.  He was picking himself up and creating a good life for himself-- but it took him 20 years after he returned home from war, to start to be "okay".

Is that what we want for our Soldiers today?  Have we learned nothing at all?  Do we want 20 years to pass before they can regain their lives?

A church in a New Jersey town recently memorialized the 6,358 American servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by planting a small American flag for each of them.  The visual is a stunning reminder of our loss as a nation, and of the true cost of war.

I think the loss is far, far greater than 6,358.  I don't think there are enough flags to show the true cost.  Every week, I hear about another marriage that hasn't made it.  Suicide rates skyrocketed until the Army realized something had to be done and implemented new programs to forcefully address the issue.  Child abuse?  Spouse abuse?  How many partially healed bruises and stolen childhoods are as a result of Soldiers coming home to units that are incapable, ill-equipped, or unwilling to make sure they get the services they need?

Then there is the horrifying story of a Staff Sergeant who is charged in the murders of 16 Afghani citizens.  How much of what happened is personal and how much of it is a systemic breaking-down, we won't know for a long time.  But I pray it's a wake up call.

They say war is hell.  But the aftermath of war, when the Soldiers come home broken in every way they can be broken, can be just as devastating.  I hope it doesn't take this generation's military 20 years to find healing.

Field Of Flags Memorial -- More than 6, 358 flags would be necessary to show the true cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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