Two words need to be repeated throughout this country in dedication to our troops: Thank you.
In our busy lives, we may forget the sacrifices our troops have made during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the barrage of day-to-day media coverage and hyper-analysis about the war, we may lose sight of our troops' efforts. As wartime shifts to a transition of peace-keeping in Iraq, our attention may waver.
Here are some down-to-earth questions that can cause us to reflect and re-establish our concern for the troops:
When is the last time any of us went three weeks in 90-degree heat without a shower?
When is the last time any of us entered a foreign land and functioned on a few hours of sleep a night in a dangerous environment?
When is the last time any of us watched our backs and felt the constant pressure to make the right decision at the risk of death - ours or someone else's?
When was the last time any of us experienced the worst nightmare of any person and faced death, bloody and gruesome, in all of its ugly manifestations.
When was the last time that we did our job exceptionally well and still experienced a nagging suspicion that our efforts were the source of contempt, not praise, in our native country and in other, allied countries?
These questions provide a needed jolt to our sensibilities. We may have witnessed the campaign to free Iraq in the comfort of our homes. Our troops didn't.
In this same spirit, let's not confuse reckless anti-military and anti-American rhetoric with sincere antiwar pacifism. The latter is an honored right of conscientious Americans; the former serves no purpose other than to undermine our troops and besmirch the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech.
On the other end of the spectrum, jingoism should not be any more welcome. No American should ignore the harsh realities and consequences of war and gloss over its costs.
War is not an arcade game. War is not Reality TV.
War does not heed antiwar demonstrators halting traffic in Portland or San Francisco any more than it follows the glib, painless scripts of political opportunists and smug pundits who treat lightly or dismissively the sacrifices made by our troops in the interest of a greater cause.
War veterans know what it's like to fight for their country. The largest war veterans' organization in the world, the American Legion, wants to make sure that the traumatic experience of going to war is not followed by another traumatic experience, the experience of returning home to an ungrateful or even hostile country.
Grant County is doing its part to make sure our military receives recognition and thanks. A March for the Troops on Saturday in downtown John Day provided a powerful and emotional statement in support of our servicemen and women. Gradually, more flags have come unfurled. Porch lights have lit up at night (thanks to an idea from local veteran Dave Traylor). In private, prayers and letter-writing efforts have given much-needed, behind-the-scenes support to American troops overseas.
So far, a grateful nation has not allowed discord to drown out expressions of appreciation. In March, citizens offered such a huge outpouring of letters to our troops that the Department of Defense mail system could not handle the burden. Many letters from Grant County joined that torrent. Let's keep up the support.
American Legion National Commander Ronald F. Conley wrote, "It seems few truly understand how precious this type of support is to our men and women in uniform. As veterans of past wars, we remember the letters, care packages and cards of encouragement that kept us going as we fought thousands of miles from home. Now is the time for every American, veteran or not, to play a role in boosting the spirits of those who defend our Constitution and our way of life - even at the expense of theirs. May it never be said we are an ungrateful nation."
The American Legion's Web site, www.legion.org, offers information about how citizens back home can reach out to U.S. servicemembers and their families through other ways, such as volunteer opportunities, blood donations and scholarship contributions. We should heed the opportunity to keep the troops in our thoughts and prayers and thank them, both publicly and privately. They deserve no less.