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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Actually, they are heroes, Mr. Rooney.

I saw this yesterday, and nearly composed a profanity-laced tirade. As in paint-peeling, f-bomb heavy, hide-the-children-he's-at-it-again material.

It will remain in my head. Fortunately. Apart from the title, it's actually not the worst thing I've read on the subject.

So, instead I'll post a gentler rebuttal.

My brother Doug is a hero.

Period. And so are his buddies.

He joined the Army National Guard for reasons that were never completely clear to anyone but himself. But he remained in it until early 2001, getting an honorable discharge. He was married then, and it cut into his time with his wife and two young children.

Then 19 men hijacked four airliners and killed 3000 Americans. My brother re-upped. He spent six months "guarding" the Blue Water Bridge at Port Huron with his Michigan National Guard unit until the Customs Service had new personnel in place. Mostly, he took (and occasionally returned) verbal abuse from Quebecois truckers, and was speechless at the amount of porn coming over from the Great White North. That, and it was tedious.

But at least it kept him away from his family for all but a weekend a month. [Note for the sarcasm-impaired--that was sarcasm.]

However, it provided the opportunity to make contacts with the local head of Customs in Port Huron, who was impressed with his performance and recommended he apply to become an inspector.

Doug applied and was accepted.

He almost didn't go. You see, he would have to be away--completely, as in phone contact only--from his family for four months. First, he had to go to his future duty station in Tacoma, Washington, for an initial orientation, and then down to Georgia for federal law enforcement training.

He called his big brother for advice. I told him to go for it. Yes, it would be hard, but it was a great opportunity to have the law enforcement career he'd always wanted, and the promotion opportunities were second to none.

I don't know if my advice was any kind of cincher, but he went. I really hope not, because as a result of his new career, Doug had to transfer to a unit of the Washington National Guard--the 81st Armored Brigade, based out of Ft. Lewis. The long and short of it is, Doug's former Michigan unit is going to Cuba, and the 81st is in Iraq.

Doug didn't have long to acclimate to his Washington company, but he did with flying colors--antagonizing the REMFs and making friends with the good guys. It was like he'd been with them the whole time. We spent three hours talking about the guys, and there isn't an obvious Audie Murphy in the bunch (then again, Audie wasn't obviously hero material, either). There are shirkers and sticklers, braggers and doers, sharpshooters and guys who are lucky to have feet--pretty much the template of every American army since the Revolution--albeit probably a lot more multi-hued than the guys at Valley Forge could ever have imagined. There's a "big" Samoan (read "big even by Samoan standards") who can one-hand sixty-pound rucksacks long after everyone else is in traction. There's a quiet black NCO who's Sgt. Rock with more melanin (that's a good thing, for those of you not raised on "GI Combat" comics), and the white company prankster who hasn't been fragged because he's consistently hilarious--and good at what he does, to boot.

Did any of them want to go to Iraq? Well, Doug didn't. I can't imagine more than a fistful were actually eager for the opportunity. He certainly didn't mention any. That's what being a citizen soldier is all about--they have jobs and lives outside of Fort Lewis, after all. But not one of them imagined high-tailing it up to British Columbia, either. That's just not what a man does.

Do they understand the ins and outs of the situation in which they have found themselves? Probably not, and certainly not fully--who does? If they do, they'd be the first American army to do so. Lt. Ulysses Grant hated the Mexican War--flatly called it unjust--but went anyway. The Civil War found Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs grousing about "Mr. Lincoln's War" or "Mr. Davis' War." The war with Spain--why do we need the Phillipines? World War I? Let Europe solve its own problems. World War II--why are we fighting the Germans again? Where is Korea? Vietnam and dominoes? Kuwait--fighting for a sandbar? What's a "Bosnia," anyway?

So Mr. Rooney's five questions would have gotten exactly the same responses in every war America has fought. Remember that Bill Mauldin's "Willie and Joe" emerged in World War II despite a heavy rotation of Capra's "Why We Fight." ["Gimme th' aspirin--I've already got a Purple Heart."]

But, like those who went overseas before them, they went anyway. They serve. They work hard. They live in crappy conditions (just got working AC two weeks ago). They even get along OK with the locals--more or less.

Most importantly, they are in harm's way.

They are no different from any other American army to embark from our shores. All of that is why, just like the troops before them, they are heroes, Mr. Rooney. If Doug and his comrades are not heroes, then none of their predecessors were, either.

And I won't buy that--not at any price.

[Remember these men and their families in your prayers tonight. And pray that the rest come home safely.]

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