On Sept. 29, I stood on the flight line of the Army Aviation Support Facility in Rochester and said goodbye to my oldest son. He is a helicopter pilot in the National Guard, and his unit has been activated for a year-long deployment that will ultimately take him to Afghanistan. Watching the helicopters form up and fly away was very hard for me. My son is 39 and the father of three young children, the youngest being just 4 months old.
I realize that I am not the first parent to find myself in this situation, but it is the first time this has happened to me, and I don’t like it one bit. In the past, I have always been the one leaving in service for our country. I never seriously considered the people who were left behind while I was off in some faraway place.
My emotions on this have been off the chart, but they have given me a real insight as to what my parents must have felt in the ’60s when my brother Stuart and I left for Vietnam. My mother, spouses and other relatives have also had to watch when I left for Iraq, and my brother Evan left for Afghanistan, and as sons and daughters, grandchildren, nieces and nephews served in harm’s way.
My nephew, who was a naval flight officer, was killed five years ago when his plane crashed taking off from a carrier in the middle of the night. Our family is still dealing with his loss.
I am proud of my son for his service to our country. I am less than thrilled with our government, which is still involved in a war that after 12 years shows no sign of a positive ending. I am also not thrilled with the politicians, many of whom avoided service due to multiple deferments. These individuals see nothing wrong with sending others off to harm’s way, but it never seems to be their own children who are going. It is the responsibility of the sons and daughters of the poor or middle class.
In 2003, my Guard unit was notified that we would possibly be going to Afghanistan. During our briefing, we were told many things about the country. Two things that were mentioned that I have no problem relating were that the warlords were better armed and had more power than the government, and that 60 percent of the world’s opium was produced there. We were told that it was not our mission to interfere in either of these areas. Mission accomplished. Today the warlords still control the country, and now more than 90 percent of the world’s opium comes from Afghanistan.
We are sending our most precious resources to prop up a corrupt government where they stand a chance of getting killed by Afghan security forces. We are also spending billions that could be put to much better use in our country. None of this makes any sense.
My family has a very long and proud record of military service to our country. I see no signs of this changing in the future. I simply wish our government would learn from history and not send our troops on missions that are essentially jousting at windmills. Have we really accomplished anything worthwhile compared to the lives of the soldiers who have been lost in our forays into nation-building over the last 50 years?
I will think a great deal over the next year about my son. I will spend time with my grandchildren and help where I can. I realize that it cannot always be someone else’s son or daughter going, but there is a segment of our population that will never go. I guess the upper middle class and rich have better things to do than to serve our country.