I’ve watched in pain as we are all learning about Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ alleged massacre of 16 Afghan civilians, including men, women and children. The murders are horrific. And so, too, is the reminder of the strains of war and how we view and treat American soldiers, one of my own ongoing concerns. We must mobilize ALL Americans to provide more support to them. Some years ago, I wrote about the repeated, incredibly moving experience I had as a season ticket holder of the Washington Capitals hockey team. Each game, a solider would be introduced to the crowd of 19,000 people who would all stand and applaud for minutes on end. I had that same experience last Sunday night; but this time the applause lasted the longest I have ever witnessed. The love for that soldier was palpable.
Staff Sgt. Bales went on four tours of duty, and when he received notice of the last one, he was deeply dismayed given that he had been so badly scarred from previous tours. Moreover, he and his family have been under financial strain, and Bales had been sent to anger management sessions by the Army. I suspect there’s more heartache we’ll learn about along the way.
When it comes to the killings, justice must prevail. But so, too, must we examine how we see and treat our soldiers. We have spent billions upon billions of dollars on the mechanics of war and now have tens of thousands of soldiers returning, the vast majority of whom have served with honor and want nothing more than to re-enter society rather than pursue a long-term military career.
Going out of our way to welcome soldiers home at airports is good and honorable. So, too, is providing care packages. And so, too, is applauding the single solider at Caps games and elsewhere. Moreover, there are good efforts being undertaken by First Lady Michelle Obama, the Corporation for National and Community Service, USO and other service groups.
And yet, as I look around the country, it seems that we have pieced together a chaotic patchwork of efforts that, notwithstanding their good intentions and impact, miss the larger challenge: When we send troops overseas to fight, they come home and often cannot get adequate medical care, psychological services, daily support or jobs.
What we’re missing is a larger strategy to make returning troops a true national priority, and to mobilize people nationally and locally to create a web of support and opportunity for soldiers. To boot, we must keep ourselves accountable for our actions and impact.
Why can’t we do this; why shouldn’t we? We must. It’s an opportunity to do the right thing, and to demonstrate that we Americans can get important stuff done together.
The moving sentiments of those people standing and applauding at the Caps games are real; I believe people not only want to show their love and appreciation for our troops, but want to be part of a nationwide effort to support our troops. Patchwork efforts will not do in this case – we need more; our soldiers need more. They deserve more.