Supporting Those Who Serve - All of Them
By Janine Davidson
Last night, as I was flipping through the TV channels I stumbled upon the ABC special, "America United in Support of Our Troops."
This 2-hour prime-time extravaganza, filmed on the beach near Camp Pendleton in California, included such stars as Janet Jackson, Snoop Dog, Toby Keith, and Pamela Anderson (whose cleavage, evidently, was so dramatic it required ABC to use their logo to block the sight from TV viewers as she bounced - literally - around the stage). Comedy and good taste aside, this event highlighted how far we have come as a nation in our respect and support for our troops - both institutionally as well as among the American people. It also highlighted for me, how many others serving in these same combat zones and around the world need and deserve the same support for their patriotic and selfless service.
As Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates has made perfectly clear in speech after speech, the military cannot do this job alone. "One of the most important lessons from our experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere," he says, "has been the decisive role reconstruction, development, and governance plays in any meaningful, long-term success." These decisive non-military tasks require civilian experts from myriad professions and disciplines to deploy right along side our men and women in uniform. Indeed, thousands of civilian civil servants from government agencies like the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of Justice, the Department of Treasury, and the State Department are serving in dangerous theaters along with tens of thousands of contractors. (The vast majority of these contractors, by the way, are not involved in, nor deserving of the negative headlines associated with careless security contractors like Blackwater.)
Unfortunately, our system has yet to catch up to the requirements of this reality. While a few leaders and politicians have highlighted the need to recruit even more civilians into this line of work to balance the over-burdened military, few have recognized the barriers these patriotic professionals face. Civilians deploying to Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere do not share the level of bureaucratic and institutional support their colleagues in uniform enjoy from their organizations - and from the American people. Pre-deployment training is sub-par or non-existent - especially when it comes to personal protection. They are not trained in the use of weapons and if they are killed in the line of duty there is no comparable family notification system or life insurance. Many civilians have even purchased their own body-armor since it is not standard-issue. When they return, there is little to no support for hardships like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, much less, as I discovered recently - a simple "thank you."
The other night I had dinner with a close colleague who works for USAID. This woman is a counterinsurgency expert who is frequently sent abroad to dangerous locations. On returning from her most recent trip, exhausted and in a bit of a daze as she made her way through immigration at Dulles, she could hear the agents saying "welcome home" as they checked passports. But when it was her turn the agent flipped through her documents and said "Ok, next."
"Aren't you going to say, 'welcome home'?" she asked. "No ma'am, we only say that to military folks."
"But, I was over there too." she protested. "I work for the US government, see the official passport."
"Sorry ma'am, you are not in the military."
My friend said, "I know it sounds emotional, but you know, when there is no one there to meet you, that little 'welcome home' really means a lot to me." As she told me this story I was reminded of the time I found myself on a layover at Dallas-Fort Worth when the local opera came out to serenade a plane-load of troops coming back from Iraq. Hundreds of locals were also there to cheer as they deplaned. It was one of the most moving things I have ever seen.
As last night's TV special made perfectly clear, long gone are the days when war-weary vets are greeted with jeers from an unhappy public upon their return from the front - but we still have a long way to go. Getting Congress to allocate the resources and bureaucratic support civilian officials and contractors need to get their jobs done will take time. But in the meantime, the least we regular Americans can do for these patriotic professionals is say, "Welcome Home" and "Thank you for your service."
By washingtonpost.com |
September 8, 2008; 10:19 PM ET
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