Fighting Our War All Alone
By Stephen Tuttle 11/9/09
Kristopher D. Rodgers.
Does that name ring a bell? No? Thats a shame.
Staff Sergeant Kristopher D. Rodgers, 29, of Sturgis, was killed in Afghanistan on August 16, 2008, when a roadside improvised explosive device (IED) detonated and destroyed his Humvee. He left behind a family, including his wife Selina and his then 3 1?2 year-old son, Kaden. Staff Sergeant Rodgers was the last Michigan resident killed in the conflicts in the Middle East at the time this column was written. It is unlikely he will be the last.
Its not especially surprising we dont remember those who have died in our name in Iraq or Afghanistan. As the local death toll rises Michigan now accounts for 155 of our war dead and more than 1,000 of our wounded we become less and less connected to the men and women we send to a part of the world most of us couldnt find on a map.
In fact, unless a family member or close friend is in harms way, we have almost no connection to this war at all. Unique among all American wars, our government has asked absolutely nothing of us.
Historically, the United States fights wars with a certain determined collectivism. We cant all answer the call to arms, but we all almost always have been asked to play some role. In World War II there was rationing, civil defense squads, rubber drives, cloth drives, metal drives and blackouts. Yes, that was a different kind of conflict. But even during our adventure into Vietnam, our most politically contentious modern war, the much-hated draft served the unintended purpose of uniting us; we all shared the same uncertainty as to whether or not our sons (young women were not drafted during that war) would receive the much-feared and reviled notification from the Selective Service. Whether we abhorred that war or supported it, we all shared the same dread. With a death toll in excess 54,000, it was also a pretty good bet our community also shared some of the grief.
In the Iran/Afghanistan wars, our government has asked virtually nothing of us. We arent drafted, we dont ration, we havent been asked to pay higher taxes... nothing.
Weve gone off to war and put out the home fires. More than 6,000 of our sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters have now perished. The ripples of anguish expand outward impacting thousands more, but not most of us.
The injury totals move inexorably past 32,000. Those injured warriors will struggle in isolation as the rest of us go about our daily lives while we lose contact with the realities of warfare. Not our son or our daughter or our husband or our wife so we dont much care. We dutifully lower our flags when told by the government to do so and we shake our heads in sad recognition when the rare news story about some lost hometown hero flickers across our television sets. Then we go back to Wheel of Fortune.
The signature injury of this war is traumatic brain injury. It is an injury that too often requires weeks or months of rehabilitation. Just re-learning the most mundane activities walking, talking, reading, etc. can be an almost endlessly frustrating ordeal. For those not so lucky, years will not help achieve even a shadow of normalcy.
But volunteerism at neuro-recovery centers is down, not up. Contributions are down, not up. Nobody is asking us to do anything. The best rehabilitation center for traumatic brain injuries and amputations, the other signature injury of this war, is a privately-funded operation in Texas. Weve not even been asked to pay higher taxes to assist and improve the herculean efforts being made by Veterans Administration (VA) doctors and nurses to put our young men and women back together.
Those who do make it back in one piece often experience their own relentless and personal hells in the form of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the gift of war that keeps on giving. But VA counseling centers are understaffed and overworked. The very real psychological demons caused by PTSD are ever-present as counseling is delayed.
Homelessness, unemployment, addiction, divorce and suicide among returning vets are all above the norms for the rest of us. But there is no demand from our leaders that we do much of anything to help. After all, were in the midst of an economic crisis. For the politicians there is electoral advantage to be found in this fiscal mess they no longer gain by talking about the war or our warriors. With no leadership to follow we do nothing.
Bryan K. Burgess, 35, of Garden City. Minhee Kim, 20, of Ann Arbor.
Do those names ring a bell? No? Thats a shame.
Stephen Tuttle is a political consultant specializing in campaign communications. A Traverse City native, he recently returned to the area after 35 years in Phoenix.