Operation Homecoming

Posted: Nov 10, 2006 12:01 AM
Operation Homecoming

Charles Rangel is now destined to be chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee -- which means we can expect higher taxes, more government waste, and perhaps most devastating of all, the possible defunding of our troops in Iraq and maybe even a call for the reinstatement of the draft. Happy Veterans’ Day!

When The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress in detail, asked Rangel about defunding the troops, he coyly responded, “You’ve got to be able to pay for the war, don’t you?” He co-founded the “Out of Iraq” caucus of the U.S. House, and his cohort and caucus buddy Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) said recently, “Personally, I wouldn’t spend another dime on the war.”

If your stomach churned at John Kerry’s recent slap at our warriors, it’s even more difficult to come to grips with Rangel’s ignorance of the men and women who sacrificially serve so others can enjoy freedom.

John Kerry would have America believe that those who fight for our freedom are uneducated -- folks who didn’t do well in school. Charlie Rangel would have us believe that those who serve are poor -- folks with no other options. Rangel has said, “A disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority groups make up the enlisted ranks of the military, while most privileged Americans are underrepresented or absent.” His solution to a problem that doesn’t exist? Reinstate the draft.

I fear we can expect more of these condescending attitudes toward our military now that liberals control Congress.

We need to shout far and wide that Kerry and Rangel and company are wrong -- hideously wrong.

Just ask Donald Rumsfeld, who is stepping down as Defense Secretary. Hailed by President Bush as “a superb leader during a time of change,” Rumsfeld knows that our nation fields one of the finest militaries in history.

It’s time for the American public to know the truth about who our soldiers, airmen and seamen are. They are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers -- the best and the brightest -- the finest Americans you’ll ever meet. They serve because they choose to serve. They serve because they love America. And now, more than ever, they need for you to know who they are and to call for a national appreciation of all they do.

First, the facts of their education and socio-economic status: Thanks to a study by The Heritage Foundation's Tim Kane, we know that today’s military is composed of intelligent, talented recruits. Here are a few highlights:

  • Recruits from wealthy families are actually overrepresented in today’s military. The only income group whose participation in the military is declining is the poor. The percentage of recruits from the poorest American neighborhoods (with one-fifth of the U.S. population) declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 14.6 percent in 2003, 14.1 percent in 2004, and 13.7 percent in 2005.
  • And for information on who they are, you can hear from the soldiers themselves. Accurately capturing their hearts and souls isn’t easy. As the soldiers themselves will tell you, even the most well-crafted accounts fall short of the actual experience. But a landmark project of the National Endowment for the Arts in the form of a new book and DVD, “Operation Homecoming,” gives us a glimpse of these wonderful Americans.

    Operation Homecoming” is a treasure trove of eyewitness accounts, private journal entries, letters and other writings assembled to convey the unique blend of tragedy and triumph that is war and provide a glimpse into the soul of the soldier. Subtitled “Iraq, Afghanistan and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families,” it has certainly added to my appreciation of the troops this Veterans’ Day.

    The project came out of a series of writing workshops for returning troops taught by some of America’s most distinguished novelists, poets, historians and journalists. The aim was to record these experiences while they were still fresh -- and collect them for the benefit of today’s Americans and tomorrow’s historians.

    Readers meet soldiers getting ready to ship out, wondering what fate will befall them. Soldiers on Medevac missions, transporting critically wounded soldiers. Soldiers in the midst of deadly firefights, forced to make life-or-death decisions in a split second, despite the noise and strife all around them. Their stories reveal the humanity, courage and selflessness of our troops.

    Take the account by Marine Lt. Col. Michael R. Strobl, who volunteered to escort home the remains of Marines killed in Iraq. It begins:

    “Chance Phelps was wearing his Saint Christopher medal when he was killed on Good Friday. Eight days later, I handed the medallion to his mother. I didn’t know Chance before he died. Today, I miss him.”

    Through Strobl’s words, we learn what it’s like to travel with the flag-draped coffin of a brave, fallen warrior. We attend a memorial service held in Phelps’ hometown, where the letters he sent to his family were read. We join a huge funeral procession filled with friends, family members and veterans. Most importantly, we learn about the man:

    “Chance was an artillery cannoneer and his unit was acting as provisional military police outside of Baghdad. Chance had volunteered to man a .50-caliber machine gun in the turret of the leading vehicle in a convoy. The convoy came under intense fire but Chance stayed true to his post and returned fire with the big gun, covering the rest of the convoy, until he was fatally wounded.”

    Fortunately, not everything recorded in “Operation Homecoming” is sad. There are small moments that bring a smile, such as pick-up baseball games and humorous inspection snafus. There are also stories that remind us of how blessed we are to live in America. One female soldier describes meeting a group of Iraqi children and noticing a timid girl of about eight or nine on the edge of the crowd:

    “We finally made eye contact. As she was looking at me, I pointed to the blond hair pulled up into a small bun at the back of my head, trying to make her realize that I too was a girl. A smile came suddenly to her face. In that moment I remembered that females of this culture do not have the freedoms that we American women possess.”

    The next time you hear a politician criticizing our military, or threatening to cut them off, or belittling their efforts abroad, make sure you speak up for those who serve. Tragically, I’m afraid you won’t be able to count on the liberals who now lead Congress to do the same.