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The war belongs to all of us

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Matt Gallagher is a former U.S. Army cavalry officer who served in Iraq from 2007 to 2009. He is also author of the war memoir, "Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War," published on April 1.

One of the benefits of publishing a war memoir, and then speaking at various events across the country, has been the opportunity to meet a group of Americans who genuinely care about the troops and veterans. Frankly, it's a segment of the population I didn't know existed in any real numbers during my deployment - self-righteousness is a common sin among soldiers and veterans alike - and it's been both humbling and gratifying. As a result, I'm often placed in the unique position of answering the simple question: "How can we help?"

I'm usually able to ignore the impulse to grab them by the shirt collar and yell, "Be engaged in what's happening! That's all we ask, that you are aware!" Since they've already asked me the question, it's clear that they do care, and are looking for more specific guidance. Usually, I point them in the direction of two incredible organizations, Soldiers' Angels (http://www.soldiersangels.org) and The Wounded Warrior Project (http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org). But occasionally, if I'm feeling particularly pontifical, I bust out my soapbox (don't leave home without it!) and relay a far more metaphysical message.

It's the military's job to serve and protect the greater American population. Concurrently, it's the greater population's duty to serve and protect the military. (Checks and balances and all that jazz, you dig?) But because so little of the society as a whole serves in the Armed Forces - most statistics hover around the 1% mark - the gulf between warrior and citizen has widened with every passing year of the GWOT-era. Consequently, this limits the amount of family and friends directly connected to the wars. I don't believe this is anyone's fault, just an unforeseen consequence of an all-volunteer force.

However, none of that changes the truth that we all own Afghanistan and Iraq, whether we've been there or not, whether we know anyone who has been there or not, and whether we like it or not. It's up to the populace as a whole to demand accountability from political leaders, and to ensure that they are using the military responsibly. In theory and in practice, if the political masters ordered the military to invade the Arctic Circle, the military would execute accordingly, and good men and women could die in the process. They can't ask why. That's the job of the citizenry.

I'm not trying to dredge up the past through outlandish analogy. Iraq happened, and is still happening. But we must learn from it. People much smarter than me have forecasted protracted guerilla warfare as a recurring occurrence in the 21st century. Undeniably, be it in the next decade or beyond, the drums of war will bang anew. Only an engaged, educated, and vocal society can ensure that those going to war in our country's name will do so for the right reasons.

What's your view? Is it essential for people with no connection to the military to be more actively involved in shaping the politics of war? What can be done to bring ordinary Americans closer to the realities and issues that military families are exposed to every day? The comment boards below are open--let's hear your views.

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By Matt Gallagher  |  May 5, 2010; 10:09 AM ET
 | Tags: Iraq War, Kaboom: A Soldier's War Journal, Kaboom: Embracing the SUck in a Savage Little War; War Memoir, Matt Gallagher, United States Army, citizen army, kaboom book, volunteer military  
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Comments

Matt, thank you for writing this blog and book, you are doing important work.Our American public needs an increase in awareness about the sacrifices of our soldiers and their families.We have over 300, 000 soldiers with Traumatic Brain injuries and hundreds of thousands with PTSD.Every day 8 or more soldiers have a suicide attempt.Since less than half of 1 percent of Amercians served, those who served had very long and multiple deployments.Many loved ones have felt alone in the pain of deployments and re intergration.I have friends whose loved ones will never come home.As a nation we need an increase in compassion and understanding for soldiers and their families.

Posted by: MnGuardmother | May 5, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

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