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Wednesday, 12 November 2014

"Supporting" the Troops

Remembrance day is always tricky. 

For the week or two prior, up to and including November 11th citizens across the nation are at their most patriotic, everyone for those 11 days is a supporter of Vets. Everyone wants to say thank-you and take a "Selfie" with a man or woman in uniform. It's one of my favourite times of year for this reason, as a civilian supporter it fills me with hope for the human race, it feels very genuinely like people do care, they do want to help, and they do truly appreciate the sacrifices made by our veterans. 

It's also awkward though. 

There are better qualified people on the team that can talk about the Veteran perspective, I want to discuss the civilian side of things. As a civilian I find there are a few things that we struggle with on Remembrance Day (And frankly at a lot of Veteran events) and the issues seem to spring from a knowledge gap and experience gap. The knowledge gap is around what it means to "Support" veterans and the experience gap is, frankly, experience being around these people. 

What does it mean to "Support" Veterans?
It's a difficult thing for some people to wrap their head around because "Support" and "Remember" are different things. I always think about this shirt I saw from RangerUp that sums it pretty well, support means this:

1.     Sending the troops to war should be the LAST option. 
2.     If you send them, give them what they NEED to win. 
3.     The path to victory is bloody and cruel. War ISN'T Hollywood. 
4.     Let them WIN.
5.     Treat them FAIRLY when they return.
And that's pretty succinct, some of the verbiage above is a little soft but it gets the point across, i'll cover them in reverse order.

One of the things we hear a lot of is that veterans have a difficult time when they get home because the media and society loves to run its mouth about such and such conflict being unjustified, and talking about how it was just about greed. Imagine, for a moment, that your blood brother and best friend died at war, you were wounded, and you came home to someone that wasn't on the battlefield but instead spent their time partying and drinking who looks at you and says, effectively, you fought for nothing, you were wounded for no reason, and your brother died because the government wanted money. Now imagine you hear that a couple times a week or more, you hear it on the news, you hear it from politicians and other friends, what would that do to you? How would you feel? How much of that could you take?

Espousing such views is not "Supporting" the troops, it is literally and in a very real way jeopardizing their lives. This trendy notion of "I support the troops but not the war" is no form of support. It's a feel good measure for ourselves without any accountability for our own actions and decisions. We are blessed to have a volunteer army, those that go overseas to fight CHOOSE to go, they volunteer and in some cases, like in reserve units, often compete for the privilege. They volunteer to go so we don't have to face the ugly reality of conflict on the home-front. It's an honor to go to war in the military, not something most are ashamed of.

Even if we think wars are fought for greed we have to ask whose greed, exactly, is it that is driving that decision? The "Government" isn't the one using 2.2 million barrels of oil a year, they aren't the ones running their mouths about oil being too expensive at the pumps and the 'Evils' of the tar sands. It's us. It's the citizens. It's our greed. So if we espouse that view, and it's not a great one by the way, we need to understand that the blame lies on us directly. So is it really treating them fairly to have those views? and lay that at their feet? Is it really fair to condemn the work they do (War) as something to be ashamed of? no. No it's not.

Four and three are related, let's talk the reality of wars for a minute. This ugly monster usually rears its head in the form of discussions about civilian casualties and conduct at war. Here's something you can do to get an understanding, ask one of your friends who served about their "Rules of Engagement" and sit down and listen to what they have to say. Short version is this. The length that allied forces (Canadian, American, Australian, Israeli, etc.) go to in order to minimize civilian casualties is extreme. Often described as limiting the effectiveness of operations. So when we go off about how the military is careless because some civilians were killed and it made the news, we're not supporting the troops, we're betraying them. When we protest and put pressure on politicians to further tighten up those operations the effect is often tighter rules of engagement that put our own men and women in service at greater risk. People like to look at WWII as the last "Morally Righteous War" so let's look at some numbers. 

Total Military deaths in WWII: 22 Million
Total Civilian Deaths in WWII due to military activity: 19 Million

It's often cited that approximately 11 million were killed in the concentration camps, which still leaves 8 Million civilians killed from military operations 1 civilian for every 2.75 military. The loss of life, civilian and enlisted is tragic and horrendous, but in war it happens. We like to act self-righteous from the comfort of our homes whenever we hear reports that civilians got killed in Afghanistan, or Iraq or wherever we happen to be, and it's not right and it's a betrayal of our men and women in uniform. You think they "WANT" to kill civilians? Imagine if at your work every time there was an error an innocent person died. Every time that presentation is sent back to you for revision? Civilians died, and every time you were late? One of your buddies died. Now imagine you come home and your "Friends" grieve for all the times you were late and condemn you for not spending enough time editing. You want to talk about putting mental strain on someone, because that's what it's like.

If we support the troops it's our duty to support them when mistakes happen as well, support them even when they made a mistake and people got killed. They have to live with that already, they don't need us raining more criticism on them, trust me, they do it to themselves enough. Our job, our duty as a "Supporter" is to do that, support them even when it's not popular or easy to do so. 

One and two are straightforward. If we have to send the troops, give them what they need. Is your MP proposing military cuts and war is on the horizon? Don’t vote for that guy. Simple. You want to talk about how the military can save money? Awesome, conversations about inefficiencies in procurement are fine, but simply holding the view that the military doesn't need it's "Toys” is silly, and again dangerous to our men and women in uniform. These aren't toys, this is like saying a hospital doesn't need lifesaving equipment because that is what these "Toys" are used for, to save lives. We skimp on money and get cut rate rifles? When they jam, and Johnny Canuck gets shot, it's on us.  It's that simple. 

Support for the military can be tough, I get It, they do the often ugly work of 'Killing Bad guys and breaking their shit" but if you go to remembrance ceremonies, you wear a poppy, you rock a yellow ribbon magnet on your car and consider yourself a supporter then support them. 

Support them when it's hard.

Support them when it's bloody.

Support them when it's unpopular. 

Not just when support comes with poppies and a band.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Hero defined: An Open Letter to Mr Dreschel

he·ro noun \ˈhir-(ˌ)ō\
: a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities
: a person who is greatly admired
: the chief male character in a story, play, movie, etc.

Pronunciation: /ˈhɪərəʊ
NOUN (plural heroes)
1. A person, typically a man, who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities

             “By definition, a hero is someone singled out from the rest of us by their outstanding courage.”  First of all I would say that by definition, you are wrong and that’s just going off of what two respected dictionaries say versus the agenda you are pushing in your latest attempt at journalism. You have taken a fragment of a definition and twisted it to suit the needs of your opinion on paper.  In a time when children idolize celebrities and athletes with a laundry list of substance abuse problems and criminal charges, I find it disturbing that you have deemed a single father and countryman such as Corporal Cirillo unworthy of the title.  So then, Mr. Dreschel, how can you claim that Corporal Cirillo is not a hero? Who are your heroes?

         Before and after serving overseas, I have struggled with the definition and the labeling of soldiers, marines, airmen, sailors, etc. as heroes and the displays of appreciation that come with the territory.  I never accepted free coffee and I never felt quite right about shaking someone’s hand as they thanked me for my service.  I would get especially uncomfortable when a World War, Korean or Vietnam veteran would shake my hand and try to downplay their role in the conflicts fought before mine, often stating that we had it harder than they did.  Given the equipment and tactical advantages that we have had against the enemies faced over the last decade, I cannot fathom what would make these brave warfighters think that we were even close to being on their level.  Over the summer, I spoke to a D-Day survivor who brought everything into perspective for me without even trying.  As I shook HIS hand and thanked HIM for HIS service, he looked at my friends and I who had just marched from Hamilton to Parry Sound over the course of a week in memory of the 158 Canadian Forces soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan.  With eyes that welled up as he inspected us, he said, “You remind me of me and my boys.”  It all made sense to me; we were not on their level because we had stormed beaches, littered with pillboxes and tanks, they admired us as we admired them because they could relate to us on a level that most cannot relate to other human beings.  They knew the path we walked as volunteers in a time of war, as they had been faced with the same decision all those years ago.  I am no longer made uncomfortable by these type of men thanking me for my “service” because I understand better why they see us in the light that they do. I digress.

         It is because these men have done what they have done and still see us as they do that validates what my generation has done in Iraq and Afghanistan.  To say that they paid their dues for the right to determine what validates service, sacrifice, duty, honor, courage and other rare qualities is an understatement.  They have earned the right to be the judge of that, as we will for future generations.  Where were you the last decade, Mr. Dreschel?  What part of your resume allows you to determine who is a hero and who is not?  When did you last look down the barrel of a loaded firearm while guarding a monument that embodied your life’s ambitions to serve your country?  I don’t have answers to these questions but I have the answer to the next one.  When did you last piss on the memory of a young soldier in an attempt to troll hits for your lowly column?

         Corporal Nathan died while performing the duty that was assigned to him in Canada’s all volunteer army.  He put on his uniform and went to work to stand his post just days after an attack in Quebec that took the life of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and injured another.  He stood guard without live ammunition, knowing that he was a target and that he was at risk of the same fate but also that his duty held importance that he so clearly felt outweighed that risk.  Since we are both just throwing around opinions, I feel that Corporal Nathan Cirillo is singled out from the rest of us by his outstanding courage.  The reason that countries like Canada do not have conscription is that there are enough brave men and women, standing ready to defend this great nation.  Mr. Dreschel, are you part of that percentage?  It seems as though the hardest part of your career most recently was not being allowed to run with your freedom of expression because it disrespected the memory of someone who volunteered to defend your right to do so.

         Even if your headline (which has since been changed but still leaves a bad taste in the mouth of many) and your claim held any water, you would be the last person most would ever listen to because as far as I can tell, the closest you have ever come to civil service is the articles you’ve written covering local elections.  Do you have children?  Do you have parents?  If you were killed while serving your country (obviously hypothetical, given your occupation and your character) would you like a newspaper delivered to their door with a similar headline?

“Cirillo's death was tragic and senseless, but in no way was it heroic.”  Trying to make your your readers believe that you think the death of Corporal Cirillo was a “tragedy” is patronizing at best.  Growing up, I was told that if I didn’t have anything nice to say not to say anything at all as most of us were; that was a lesson.  Keep in mind, I didn’t need to be told to shut my mouth if I didn’t know anything about what I was talking about.