Sunday, October 14, 2012

End Times

The Washington Post story about an Army unit winding down the Afghan war sounds much like an updated version of my unit's experience during 1971 in Vietnam.  Updated in that:  1) today's soldiers, unlike conscripts, may actually want to fight, 2) the combat outpost base in Afghanistan appears more substantial than Vietnam fire support bases, and 3) soldiers can maintain direct and sometimes frequent contact with family in the States. No doubt there are other differences.

But the differences don't obscure the fact that these soldiers aren't aren't sure that their efforts do much by way of contributing to their country's safety and national interest.  Or maybe it's that serving the national interest as articulated by American strategy is a limited, boring job that can turn deadly.  Either way, it doesn't offer much relief for the sacrifices made. 

My experience in Vietnam showed me that soldiers can be brave, dedicated and determined even as their efforts are marginalized.  But I also knew coming in-country that I would be marking time, paying for a "graceful" American exit with my body.  When a bunch of us newbies joined Alpha Company, the commander spoke of "troop withdrawals and none of us being among "the last to die" in Vietnam.  But in the meantime, we ran weeks'-long patrols, got wounded, had accidents and a few died.  All while marking time.

Winding down.  Marking time.  It makes do difference if you're dead.

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