“Congress designated May as National Military Appreciation Month in 1999 to ensure the nation was given the opportunity to publicly demonstrate their appreciation for the sacrifices and successes made by our servicemembers - past and present. Each year the president makes a proclamation, reminding Americans of the important role the U.S. Armed Forces have played in the history and development of our country.”
That is the official explanation of the purpose of May as National Military Appreciation Month. My question is, how many of you actually knew about this? And what exactly does Military Appreciation mean in America? Does it mean we have some rhetorical declarations from the president – gotta tell y’all, President Obama just threatened to veto the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act last week. Is that part of his proclamation of military appreciation? Threatening the NDAA because there is an issue with funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) - you know we don’t call it combat or war anymore.
Why would President Obama threaten to veto the NDAA, in Military Appreciation Month, over the issue of GITMO unlawful enemy combatant release? If the president truly appreciated our men and women in the military, then what makes those who would kill them more important?
It is National Military Appreciation Month. However, consider what it means to our men and women in uniform when our own Secretary of State expresses his appreciation to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, a designated terrorist organization, for their care of ten US Navy Sailors. You remember, those Sailors who had their Riverine assault boats seized and were forced to their knees at gunpoint by the Iranians. Or how appreciative are we of our men and women in uniform when we deploy them into combat zones, but tell them it is not a combat zone and they are not there for combat – regardless of the enemy shooting at them. And how immensely appreciative are we when our rules of engagement are so adversarial and confusing that it allows the enemy to seize the initiative?
I am sure our servicemen and women feel appreciated when a Russian fighter jet can “buzz” them in open international waters, coming within 30 feet, and they are restricted from doing anything.
National Military Appreciation Month ends with Memorial Day, but what has this day truly become in America? Do we stop and take our children and grandchildren to a National Cemetery so that they can express their appreciation? Do we spend a week prior in our schools having surviving veterans come and tell the stories of their fallen comrades who gave the “last full measure of devotion”? Or are we just busting tail to get to the beach or swimming pools? After all, it is the official beginning of summer. Or are we heading out to get those Memorial Day sales that are incessantly advertised?
I do find it odd that folks go around wishing each other a happy Memorial Day. For me, that is very confusing. Then again, we have seen many who have confused Memorial Day and its meaning. Take for instance President Obama, who as a candidate back on May 26, 2008 in Las Cruces, New Mexico said, “On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes — and I see many of them in the audience here today — our sense of patriotism is particularly strong.” Perhaps he was like that kid in the movie that saw dead people? But oddly enough, four years later, President Obama was still evidently confused about Memorial Day, stating, “Our economy is making progress as we recover from the worst crisis in three generations, but far too many families are still struggling to find work or make the mortgage, pay for college, or, in some cases, even buy food. Our men and women in uniform have made us safer and more secure, and we were eternally grateful to them, but war and suffering and hardship still remain in too many corners of the globe. And a lot of those men and women who we celebrate on Veterans Day and Memorial Day come back and find that, when it comes to finding a job or getting the kind of care that they need, we’re not always there the way we need to be.”
I agree that we are not where we should be. So for starters, let’s stop saying “Happy Memorial Day” and say instead, “Honor Memorial Day.” That would put things into a whole new perspective. Let’s be honest: if President Obama and his speech writers are confused about Memorial Day, in National Military Appreciation Month, then how many more Americans are as well?
We say we appreciate our military, but many are suffering from the stresses of multiple deployments as we continue to shrink our force to some abysmally small numbers. But it is not just the effects these deployments have on the servicemembers; what about the families? We say we appreciate our military and love our Veterans, but how can you explain the horrific situation with Veterans healthcare and the exorbitantly high number of Vet suicides – yet no one is held accountable or responsible. We have folks screaming about a $15 minimum wage to work at McDonald’s, yet we have men and women in uniform utilizing food stamps to feed their families?
Is this how we express our appreciation to those who are truly the best and greatest amongst us?
Yes, it is National Military Appreciation Month. But ask yourself: how do we define military appreciation? Does it all boil down to empty rhetoric and meaningless proclamations, ending with a one day remembrance called Memorial Day? Every day – including Memorial Day – should be military appreciation day. We can start by ending the practice of Memorial Day sales; what they have given to us in their sacrifice deserves our true appreciation, not cheap retail gimmicks.
Our military serves us every day of the year, not just a month here or a day there. They do so without any fanfare, so should we honor them with an earnest heart and let our actions, not words, be the testimony of such.
National Center for Policy Analysis Executive Director Allen West was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia in the same neighborhood where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once preached. He is the third of four generations of military servicemen in his family.