Four years ago, I tracked down a couple of guys I spent two years with in the Army back in the late 1960s. One (a former New York City slicker) lived in rural Georgia and the other (originally from Columbia, Missouri) lived in Austin, Texas. Since my place was approximately an equal distance from the two guys, I invited them to northern Arkansas for a weekend visit. They've been coming here every year since to participate in our annual reunion. For them, it's an opportunity to get away from the wife and let off some steam. For me, it's a reason to vacuum the rug and hide breakable objects.
This year, due to scheduling problems, they'll be here a bit later in the fall than usual, over the Veterans Day weekend. It's hard to imagine that you could have a scheduling problem with just three guys but we did.
All three of us were drafted during the Vietnam Conflict. The government preferred not to call it a war. They didn't want it to burden the American public with the knowledge that some of our military men and women were dying in swamps halfway across the world for reasons they couldn't easily explain, but it got out anyway.
We spent our two years at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia. Compared to what most had to endure it was easy duty, shuffling paperwork in an air-conditioned building near the golf course.
Now we meet annually and swap tales about our military exploits. Being three northerners in Georgia in the 1960s wasn't exactly a picnic. Some of the locals were still upset about losing the Civil War and didn't care to have a bunch of Yankee carpetbaggers residing in their southern midst.
The New Yorker who now lives in Georgia has three grown sons. The oldest and youngest boys have proven to be levelheaded enough to have found suitable employment and appear to be surviving in the real world. His middle son, Jeff, who seems equally sane, has opted for a career in the military.
Jeff enlisted in the Navy about 12 years ago and is a welder in the Seabees. He was in the initial assault into Iraq. He has also seen duty in Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, Kuwait, San Diego, Seattle and Biloxi, Mississippi.
Life in the military isn't for everyone. Once you've joined, you're locked in for your enlistment period that is anywhere from three to six years depending on various factors. You can't quit and walk away. You wear what they give you, live where they tell you and do whatever task you've been assigned to do.
Nonconformity will be severely discouraged. You're basically a small cog expected to function smoothly within a giant machine. And if you don't function smoothly, you'll be engineered and re-tooled until you do.
On the positive side, there are certain advantages to military life. The pay is reasonable and the job security is unrivaled. You'll get free housing, meals, clothing, medical treatment and so forth. You'll also have the opportunity to travel to foreign lands. And you can retire with full benefits after 20 years.
For better or worse, many of our military people are now presently in the line of fire in Iraq, being targeted by random fanatics in civilian attire. While 115 soldiers died in the fighting to secure Iraq, another 117 have died since the President declared the major hostilities to be over. This is an extremely perilous situation with no immediate end in sight.
November 11 was Veterans Day. Everyone should take a few minutes this week to silently praise our military people for their valiant efforts. It's fine to criticize the leaders who put our forces in harm's way, but our troops have shown remarkable restraint in this latest effort and deserve our support.
Stopping evil by force is a thankless task. Let our troops know we appreciate their sacrifice.