My cousin graduated from the Seattle University this weekend, completing a masters degree in nursing. I attended her graduation party after through a mostly chance encounter with her aunt, also a cousin, that resulted from a weekend bicycle ride
with my brother, Neil, and about 3,000 others in Redmond, Washington. All of which was within about 75 miles of here. For the record, my brother rode the century (100 miles) route on a fixed gear road bicycle, probably the only rider who did so. I rode 25 miles on an 18 speed mountain bike, quite enough for one day and my first ever organized ride with lots of other people.
Meeting my cousin, her friends and other family members was fun. Lots of grandkids and other young children were about. The graduate was one of my cousin Pat’s three daughters and a son, born mid to late 60’s. Among the other guests were father, grandparents, fellow graduates and a member of the Washington National Guard 81st Brigade
, on orders to deploy in Iraq for his second tour. He said he was infantry, a reality that always gives me a start. Someone asked “what is infantry?” another startling thought. His answer was “we chase the bad guys”. I wanted to ask how he would know the bad guys but did not want to use this occasion to initiate a serious discussion of the psychological and moral issues involved in “chasing the bad guys”, which I understand involves exercising brute and lethal force against other human beings. (I would very much like to have that discussion with an active duty combat soldier who has deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan previously and now faces a second or third tour.)
Instead, I offered the classic infantry mantra of “stay low” and my own “Godspeed”. On the drive home, I realized how lame “stay low” is as a strategy when you travel in large, mechanized fighting vehicles or charge into someone’s home at night. I also came up with a better definition of the infantry mission: to close with and destroy a designated target using a combination of maneuver, and lethal force delivered by individual and crew-served weapons
Of course, infantry soldiers do not designate targets; they capture, repulse, destroy or otherwise neutralize those targets. That’s their job. Someone higher up—“above my pay grade”—designates targets. That “someone” is the chain of command and is fully responsible for all the violence inflicted by soldiers under their direction—all the way to the very top. (I’m talking to you, Dick Cheney. And you’re little sidekick, too.)
The soldier is also responsible for that violence, if only to answer to himself or herself (yes, some women do pull the trigger
on a human target). Given the nature of America’s volunteer military and swelling patriotism after 9-11, I can understand why soldiers were reluctant to even think about questioning the wisdom of their missions. Maybe that’s the difference between me and these soldiers; I don’t think sacrifice for one’s country should be unlimited. The nation must offer a valid reason for that sacrifice; soldiers and their families have every right to ask why?.
The young soldier I met also said something very true. I listened in as he told my cousin, whose husband (an Afghanistan veteran) departed that very morning for two weeks of Navy reserve duty, about his active and National Guard experience, all infantry. He went on to think out loud about changing his military career because infantry deployment is not good if you are thinking about starting a family. I couldn’t agree more.
Labels: military families, olympia