by Austin Bay
December 26, 2002
This December, "the Christmas rush" means something differentfor American military personnel.
Troops beef up units in the Persian Gulf. Sailors and marinesface prolonged deployments as destroyers examine curious cargoes, andcarrier groups maintain station in the Arabian Sea. At home, a slew ofreservists know January may well mean an extended active tour.
Christmas? Soft peddle the Merry. New Years? 2003 will not be aparty.
2002 ends in crisis, but name a recent year that hasn't? Peaceon Earth is a great, empowering hope, but it's a dim and distant prospect.In our broken world, the uneasy quiet that passes for peace anywhere on theplanet is usually a lucky concoction, a mix of genuine goodwill, complexself-interest, mutual economic interest and armed vigilance.
Like it or not, at this point in world history American economicvitality, military vigilance and diplomatic engagement remain central tostabilizing the most threatening geopolitical conflicts and promotingpeaceful resolution. There are many people who will say -- with callousaccuracy -- that for servicemen and servicewomen hard duty is their job.They signed up to go whenever and wherever they are sent.
That's true. But consider the persistent demands we have made onservice members and their families over the last 13 years, the baker's dozensince the end of the Cold War.
Christmas 1989: Operation Just Cause in Panama. Christmas 1990:Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield, prelude toOperation Desert Storm. Christmas 1992: Somalia is on the horizon. Christmas1993: Somalia, again, and new worries about North Korea. Christmas 1994: Thepace of air and naval deployments to the Balkans increases. USAF, Marine andArmy reservists reinforce regulars in Panama and Guantanamo to work theCuban migrant camps. Troops deploy to Kuwait, responding to saber-rattlingby Saddam. U.S. troops are also assigned to Macedonia.
Christmas 1995: the Bosnia occupation, which was to last a yearbut still remains an American duty post. In the background, the Navycontinues to enforce the U.N. embargo against Iraq and patrol the PersianGulf. Fall 1998: the Hurricane Mitch relief operation in Central America,with U.S. forces playing a major role in the relief and recovery effort.Spring 1999: the Kosovo War, which by Christmas 1999 becomes occupationduty. Fall 2001: Afghanistan, the duty station in December 2002 for the 82ndAirborne Division. December 2002: uncertainty on the Korean DMZ, as the rampup for action against Saddam continues.
This list, though incomplete, makes the point.
Anyone who has ever worn a uniform and spent the Christmasholidays guarding the motor pool, flying a mission or dodging bullets cannothelp but recognize our soldiers' sacrifice and applaud their commitment.
The personal burden is real. At the moment, two friends of mineare deployed in Kuwait. Another recently completed a tour in Afghanistan. Acouple of Decembers ago, I received a letter from a friend who mentionedthat her brother-in-law, an Air Force air rescue pilot, was on his way backto the Balkans. She wrote, "My brother-in-law spends probably 70 percent ofthe year away from home."
That's a commanding example of service -- service above allelse. And it is more than the pilot's service, for his family's sacrifice isan integral part of a war -- or peacekeeping -- effort.
When the holidays roll around, so many soldiers feel forgotten.Many of their families feel not only the pain of separation but also wonderif others care. Since 9-11, the American public is more aware and moreappreciative. The "Vietnam syndrome," where the military took the blame forthe Johnson and Nixon administrations' Southeast Asian failures, has largelyfaded, but separation is still separation. There are many Americans spendingthe holidays flying missions, clearing mines, doing the tough tasks in thehard corners. This Christmas and New Years, let us salute their dedication.