Our Role in the Community Covenant Ceremony

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"Get 'em drunk . . . " “I came from a small town. Four months after we graduated high school, my buddy came home in a body bag. Sam was a world-class bastard, but nobody deserved to come home like that. We couldn’t even figure out what exactly had happened. I’ll tell you that totally changed our viewpoint of Vietnam.” Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but this was part of a conversation I had recently with a local reporter. He had stopped me after a recent Community Covenant ceremony attended by American Legion members, Army and National Guard members, politicians, and other patriotic citizens. After nearly an hour of speeches by politicians promoting their latest outreach programs for GWOT veterans and those currently serving, an explanation and reading of the Community Covenant, this very astute reporter was left with an important question that unfortunately plagued most of the other attendees. “What was this all about?” I grasped for an answer more significant than what I told my eight year-old. I didn’t think, “a way to demonstrate our support for our soldiers” would elicit the inspiration this reporter needed to write a story. “It’s an opportunity for our community and leaders to join together and promise to our soldiers of today and tomorrow that we’ll care for them and their families before, during and after they deploy.” He scribbled it in his notebook so I felt a momentary rush of success. In my mind, I had given a similar question more thought, but it wouldn’t match the 15-second sound bite necessary for media. Everyone who entered the military had that moment where we stood rigidly at attention with our right hand raised and promised to protect and defend the Constitution and United States. For each and every young man or woman who has done this over the years, what has the public done in return? What promise did we make? Some would say we promised to care for them. Maybe that evolved into the variety of programs offered by the Federal and State Governments. Perhaps it became hundreds of hours volunteered at the local VA hospital or the Legion’s latest Heroes to Hometown. Others might offer that we have promised to make sure today’s warriors don’t return to an ungrateful nation they experienced during Vietnam. My reporter related his part in that role. “I was living in a hostel-type housing in the Bay Area, and the Father who ran the place told us that we’d be taking in returning soldiers from Vietnam. It was our job to help the re-acclimate. We told him we didn’t know how to do that, we’d never been soldiers.” “Well, the Father told us our job was easy,” he continued. “Get ‘em drunk, get ‘em laid, and make them feel welcome.” I laughed and asked, “The Father told you this?” “Yep,” he replied, “we told him, we could do that.” “But it just wasn’t that easy,” (as if finding girls willing to “take care” of a returning soldier in the Berkley/San Francisco in the late ‘60’s was easy). “I was waking one guy up one morning only to discover he was aiming a .357-magnum at my nose. Only after he realized he’d be killing his ticket to life’s pleasures did he put the gun back under his pillow.” General Bradley was one of the speakers at the Community Covenant ceremony earlier that day, and he stated, “The Army recruits young men and women, but we retain the families.” He continued on stressing the importance that retention of families was an Army, community, and nationwide challenge. I travel the country and see the success stories of supporting our soldiers and newest veterans. I learn of programs, events, and organizations that epitomize the essence of the Community Covenant. The modern reincarnation of my reporter friend’s role to “get ‘em drunk and laid.” I take pride in what we’re doing in my state and community, and yet I realize we haven’t addressed all their needs. The signing of a legislative bill by the President doesn’t reflect the days, weeks and hours of hard work and negotiation by many to accomplish it’s aims and purposes. The ceremonial signing of the armistice on the U.S.S. Missouri didn’t reflect the effort and sacrifice of the millions who fought throughout the Pacific in World War II. Yet, after each of these “ceremonies” I’m certain not a single reporter or witness asked, “What was that all about?” So when we pause to reflect upon the programs, people, and organizations who stand up to support the members of our Armed Forces, and those who attend walk away to ask, “What was that all about?” Have we really done enough?
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With a nation filled with fewer and fewer veterans, it is hard for most folks to understand why we need a Community Covenant? I think the best answer is to ask another question, how has the global war on terror impacted my life? Most Americans' response will be "not at all."

But for a typical military family, the answer is much different. I am among those who believe the only Americans making a real sacrifice in this war are military families. Please don't try to feed me the old line, "they chose military service." I may be from the old school that believes that there are some who enlist in the military as a "vocational choice" - a vehicle to get out of a lifestyle that isn't very enjoyable.

However, I still believe there are those who see military service as a "calling" -- serving the nation. These are the young men and women who participate in Junior ROTC, then enlist. Or those who attend college and participate in ROTC and are commissioned. Or those who are selected to attend the military academies. There is an underpinning that is hard to explain, but as clear as a bell to those who answer the "call."

I must admit, the Vietnam War lasted longer than my college deferments, so ROTC was a good option for me. I figured if I was going into the military, I wanted to make as many choices as I could about my destiny. It didn't take me long to understand once you raise your hand and take the oath of enlistment, that is the very last choice you make until the end of your enlistment.

There are no guarantees in the Armed Forces except one, you are held to an entirely different standard than the rest of Americans. You dress how you are told to dress. You live where you are told to live. You do what you are told to do. Sacrifices, hardships, separations are as reliable as sunrise and sunset. I remember an old sargeant once told me the secret to a successful military career is to understand that there are no bad military assignments - just some are better than others.

Service before self is a concept most Americans cannot comprehend, but fully understand by those asked to travel halfway around the world, living their families behind, and live in a hostile environment until told to go home. Survival is based on being in right place at the right time. Superior military training is valuable, but "good luck" is priceless.

The very last thing a service member in combat needs to worry about is the status of those he or she left behind. Are they living in good quarters? Do they have timely access to quality health care? Are they financially stable? Do they have access to quality educational experiences? All of these problems should vanish from their minds.

The more we can do as individuals, but more importantly as a community -- is fulfilling our obligation to those who put their life on the line to safeguard the very freedoms we cherish.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.