by Pa Rock
Veterans' Day in a time of war.
While many of us doubt the wisdom or necessity of the wars in the Middle East, few will disparage the courage and commitment of our brave young men and women who have carried weapons and risked their lives in the meat grinder that is Iraq and Afghanistan. They are all heroes. Each and every one did something that Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfield, Paul Wolfowitz, Mitt Romney, Bill Clinton, and even George Bush failed to do - they took up arms and answered the call of a grateful nation. Tonight I would like to recognize five of these heroes - five among thousands and thousands!
Tammy Duckworth was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in Iraq who lost both legs and suffered a serious arm injury when her helicopter was shot down. After a lengthy recovery period at Walter Reed Army Hospital, she returned home to Illinois where she remained active in the Illinois National Guard. Duckworth ran as a Democrat for Congress in 2006, and was roundly trashed by Republicans and the stodgy old Veterans of Foreign Wars because she was suspected of having liberal tendencies. (Duckworth describes herself as a social conservative.) Duckworth lost that election by a scant two percent. She went on to become the Illinois Director of Veterans' Affairs, and currently is an under-secretary in the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs. Of her unsuccessful foray into politics, Duckworth has this to say:
"I am sick and tired of the Republicans saying 'Either you agree with us on national security or you are not patriotic.' It is total baloney – in fact I have a better army word, but I can't use it. We must never forget that it is patriotic and it is American to question people in power."Amen, Major Duckworth, amen!
Everyone knows the story of Pat Tillman, the young man who gave up a professional football career in order to serve his country in time of war. Tillman joined the U.S. Army just months after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. He had been in the military less than two years when he was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. The death of Pat Tillman, originally reported by Army General Stanley McCrystal as a death due to enemy fire, has been the subject of controversy since it occurred in April of 2004. It was subsequently revealed that Tillman had serious doubts about the way the war was being executed and the necessity of the war, and that he had an appointment to meet with pacifist author Noam Chomsky upon his return to the U.S. Tillman was not a man of God, but he was exceedingly well read on the concept of religion. He had read a number of religious texts including the Bible, Qur’an and Book of Mormon as well as transcendentalist authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
Kevin Tillman was a professional baseball player when he joined the Army with his more famous brother, Pat, in 2002. Both of the Tillman men went on to complete the rigorous Army Ranger School before deploying to Afghanistan. Kevin was outraged over the cover-up of his brother's friendly-fire death, and has gone on to become a major critic of American war policy in the Middle East. He had this to say about the way the government handled the reporting of Pat's death:
"The deception surrounding this case was an insult to the family: but more importantly, its primary purpose was to deceive a whole nation. We say these things with disappointment and sadness for our country. Once again, we have been used as props in a Pentagon public relations exercise."
Paul Rieckhoff was an infantry rifle platoon leader in Iraq who came back to America after his service and helped to found the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the largest group of veterans from these two wars. Rieckhoff and his group are focused on the medical, legal, and social treatment of veterans and their families, and he has been outspoken in support of health care initiatives. Rieckhoff is the media's go-to guy on stories involving America's newest crop of war veterans.
Darren Manzella served two tours with the Army in Iraq, one as a combat medic. He performed his duties well, and eventually achieved the rank of sergeant. After six years of solid service to the Army, some of which were in extremely dangerous circumstances, the military saw fit to discharge Sgt. Manzella because of who he was - a gay man in uniform. (The Ramble will have much more to say about the Army's abuse of Sgt. Manzella in a future posting.)
Our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been and continue to be a brave and honorable group of individuals, worthy of the admiration and gratitude of all of us. The policies that brought about these wars may be questioned, but not the bravery and dedication of these fine young people charged with being America's boots on the ground in a hostile environment. You are our heroes!