May 17, 2011

Name: Charlie Sherpa
Unit: Deployed to Afghanistan
Hometown: Boone, Iowa
Milblog: Red Bull Rising

During his children's sermon earlier this week, our pastor asked those present to name those places in the world that seem to need an extra portion of God's love. Each time someone called out a location--adults were encouraged to participate, too -- he'd place a pink construction-paper heart on a world map held between two acolytes.

Here's what people came up with:

  • Australia (floods)
  • Brazil (rainforests)
  • China
  • Canada (eh?)
  • Haiti (Cholera, earthquake, flood)
  • Japan (earthquake, meltdown)
  • Libya (revolution, U.S. military involvement)
  • Washington, D.C.

I'm all about crowdsourcing the word of God, but I couldn't help notice two places apparently no longer on our radar of good intentions: Afghanistan and Iraq.

Framed Red Bull Don't You Know cover Maybe it's war fatigue. Maybe it's a political climate, here in the homeland, that encourages demonization over democracy. Maybe it's a national media that's too easily distracted by squirrels. Maybe it's the fact that so few U.S. citizens seem to be or know people in uniform.

Whatever the reasons, good people sleeping peaceably in their beds at night are glazing over the so-called Global War on Terror.

Even the ones that are paying attention might be in danger of getting the wrong idea. Take, for example, the current deployment of the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division to Afghanistan. There are roughly 3,000 citizen-soldiers on the deployment, and all have their own stories. Some directly engage both friends and enemies on a regular basis. Others might spend most of their year-long deployments "safely" behind the walls of a friendly military base.

Arguments over who's got it worse or who's more important miss an important target: Every soldier serves. Every soldier misses out on a year or more of life at home. Every soldier is daily sacrificing something by walking in those boots.

There are also 3,000 different stories told to friends and family. Some buddies of mine, for example, won't tell their spouses if and when they've gone "outside the wire" -- left the relative safety of a military fortification. What they don't know won't hurt 'em, they say, and if the wife thinks I'm safely behind a desk, everybody's a winner. Other friends, on the other hand, go out of their way to talk about being at the "tip of the spear."

(There are so many self-nominated "tips of the spear" downrange, one has to hope that someone is actually holding that figurative weapon, and pointing it in the right direction.)

I've recently heard from other Red Bull friends, both downrange and here at home, who are frustrated with the apparent lack of understanding that an Army deployment isn't all puppies and candy.

"I think it is that they want to be informed but they don't want to hear bad stuff," one Red Bull recently wrote via Facebook. "It's like our families think that we just sit around, relax, and just enjoy the air. Every time I talk to anyone back home they act like this is some sort of vacation for me."

To their respective organizations' credits, recent reports from Midwestern newspapers have begun to crack potential mis-conceptions here at home, offering people a clearer-eyed and closer view of a conflict otherwise too easily forgotten.

An Omaha World-Herald team, for example, recently encountered a couple of concrete reminders of how soldiers live daily at risk. First, there were the blast-marked walls of a Combat Outpost ("COP"). Then, there was a padlock on the "Morale, Welfare, and Recreation" Internet café.

A Des Moines (Iowa) Register team recently noted the effects of an Improved Explosive Device (I.E.D.) attack on a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP, "em-rap") vehicle.

It's not a vacation. It's a war of some sort, conducted on our behalf.

Pay attention. And pray for an extra portion of providence.

Image used in this post: Cover of "Don't You Know There's a War On: Wartime Slogans and Sayings" by Nigel Rees, to be published July 2011.



Multiple wars on, every single day. But, most Americans do not have any connection with service members. All they know is what they see and hear quite by accident. Yes, everybody gets all patriotic once in a while, but mostly the wars fought in our names have no more reality for the general population than current reality tv fare. Mostly less.

In some ways this is the legacy of the all volunteer military. Easy for people to just not pay attention. Even Vietnam, with its very selective Selective Service, touched a fairly small swath of the population. It was an ugly business and the wounds have not healed.

If we ever leave Iraq and Afghanistan, who knows what the following generations will learn of these wars. We have created a small country count of dead and wounded. One of my hopes is that NFL concussion worries will lead to better diagnosis and care of TBI for military personnel.

I watch reporters in Libya, acting like it is nothing to get in and out of a country in free fall and broadcast a story. There was a false sense of security created when journalists were embedded with troops. It makes it sound like there is a safety cocoon to share.

I wish I had a more positive outlook, but war is too real for me to take it lightly. Thank you for this post and thank you for doing what you are doing.

A Beautiful Song speaking of the sacrifice of our U.S. Military Families. Check out the new single "Timberline" and the video here:

ya Every soldier misses out on a year or more of life at home. Every soldier is daily sacrificing something by walking in those boots.

Some of us don't forget. My prayers are with all of you.

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