VETERANS DAY 2007 |
November 11, 2007
VETERANS DAY 2007
Name: CAPT Benjamin Tupper
Posting date: 11/11/07
Returned from: Afghanistan
Veterans Day 2007 marks the six month anniversary of my return to the United States. A week doesn't go by but that I repeatedly catch myself saying I "just got back". My internal fact checker buzzes in and reminds me that this is not an accurate thing to be telling people, but I rarely correct myself. It feels accurate. It feels honest. It still feels like I got home last week.
The reasons why I still feel like I'm shaking Afghan dust out of my hair are twofold. Internally, I wake up most mornings happy to have survived a torturous visit into an Afghan Dreamscape of tension, stress, fear, and an impending sense of doom. Externally, and more to the point of this Veterans Day reflection, I'm physically in a country that seems to have no sense of personal sacrifice, and no national emotional consciousness of the fact that American soldiers are dying daily in two wars that are complex, long term (multi-generational), being fought half-assed, and unfortunately seem to be slipping away from our intended objectives.
The sense of sacrifice, urgency, and commitment at home is practically non-existent, save for those who literally have skin in the game (soldiers and their families), and a handful of motivated activists on the right and left who sincerely love the warrior no matter what battlefield they are bleeding on. The rest of America is marching to the drum of consumption, entertainment, immediate gratification, and ignorance, that drowns out the importance of Veterans Day.
However, there are brief moments when I feel like I'm home. When the stars align I can sense that the people around me understand what their country, right or wrong, has committed its youth and its patriots to wrestle with. In these moments I feel comfortable here, and I feel like the sacrifices of my comrades are at least being recognized.
Last week I had one of these moments. I attended a large sports-related event, and I felt this familiar sense of American ignorance about life outside our borders. Thousands of carefree people were gulping down beers and Cokes, chatting on about their daily lives and significant events. The cotton candy man strolled through the aisle in front of me, just like he did before I went to war. I sat there, equally amazed and disgusted that if you eavesdropped on the thousands of conversations going on, save one or two you would never know we were a country at war.
And then the National Anthem was played. The arena fell silent. I looked around at the faces surrounding me, and I saw, for the first time since I've been home, what I can only describe as a look of collective fear, and concern, and sorrow. For these short moments, as the familiar notes played, everyone was firmly reminded of what is going on. They couldn't escape it. They couldn't distract themselves with some factoid about work or the kids. They were confronted with the enormity of the mission, and its sacrifices.
I was glad to see the pained discomfort on their faces. While the man with the trumpet expertly played the final notes of the anthem, I choked back an emotional tide rising from my gut. Seeing these Americans share in this collective grief finally made me feel like I was home.