Last week I got my retired Army pin in the mail. I retired from the Army Reserve in July 2005 but the recent arrival of my retirement pin is not an example of typical, Army, bureaucratic slowness. The idea of sending every retiree a pin was a decision the Army made this year. The pin is modeled on the new Army logo, a yellow-bordered white star on a field of black with "U.S. Army" below and "Retired" above. I also received a retired Army sticker for the window of my car.
I put the sticker on my car and the pin on the lanyard for the identification badges that I wear around my neck every day at work. My Army, your Army, our Army is under a lot of strain right now. Soldiers are not only serving their second, third or even fourth tour in a combat zone, but these tours have been extended to fifteen months. I know from personal experience that twelve months on the ground in Iraq and Kuwait is tough. The living conditions range from primitive to spartan. Working outside in full combat gear in the Iraqi summer desert heat reveals new levels of misery. The ache of separation from home and family gradually numbs but never really goes away. And everywhere and always the war is a steady background noise of explosions, gunfire and death.
Living in a civilian town my biggest link to the Army is the weekly "Army Times." Every week the Times has a page that lists the names and shows the photos of the servicemen and women killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. This week there were a lot of photos. The faces, as always, are predominantly young.
My overwhelming reaction to this news, as I see it, hear it or read it, is guilt. The few, a pitiful few, are carrying the burden for the many. My guilt traces directly to the illogical, but real, feeling that whatever I have done to support the burden of this war, it wasn't enough. I could volunteer to return to active duty in the Army for an assignment that "meets the needs of the service" and the Army, in its current desperate straits, would probably take me. But I can't, or I won't. In actuality, I can but I don't. I have already forced my family to endure one tour in a combat zone. How could I possibly ask them to possibly endure another? I can't. Or I won't.
This burdens of this war, which I deeply believe that we can and must win, must be borne by those younger and stronger than I. I have come to accept that verdict. But I still feel guilty about it.