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I just saw an announcement that the Army has called for proposals from agencies for its recruiting account because the number of qualified young adults enlisting has been dropping. The fees available for such a new account, currently held by McCann Worldwide is shown to be up to $4 BILLION over a ten year period! That’s a lot of dough for recruiting.

Wouldn’t this be a good time to create a universal draft, which could not only save most of that $4 BILLION tagged for recruitment, but much more importantly, provide a training and service opportunity for all qualified young Americans in both the military and other federal service (such as rebuilding infrastructure throughout the nation)? It would expand employment and training opportunities for young people after high school, and perhaps before college or other technical career training.

One other by-product of a universal draft is that the citizenry, not only those doing federal service but their families, would be more engaged with the federal government, and develop a keener sense of what it takes to be a true American citizen. And, there would also be closer citizen oversight and participation in our federal government, because families across the land would be engaged in serving their nation, as well as benefit from the work of these engaged young Americans.

Yesterday, I met an authentic modern hero. Not the kind of domestic hero, who works as a volunteer at a food bank, or rushes to put out a fire, or adopts a needy child. But a modern military hero, who acted to save lives at the risk of his own in a combat zone, who accepted the role of leadership, even when it meant personal sacrifice. A living oxymoron: a French Algerian, who came to America, renounced his French citizenship to join the U.S. Army, and rose to become the newest and one of the 10 living Medal of Honor winners alive today.

Captain Florence (Flo) Groberg appeared yesterday at a small luncheon hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He brought along his charming girlfriend and his Pentagon handler, a public affairs master sergeant. Groberg described coming to America from a Paris suburb, where his French Algerian mother had married an American businessman. He attended high school and college in the U.S., and after 9/11, and becoming a naturalized American citizen, joined the Army and attended Infantry Officer’s Candidate School and advanced Ranger training.

On Groberg’s second tour in Afghanistan, he was leading a personal security detail for senior American and Afghani officials walking toward a local conference, when an elaborate suicide bomber attack began. Identifying the nearest would be bomber, Groberg pushed down the assailant, taking part of the blast himself, but saving many others in the process. While four died in the attack, Groberg survived, and after 33 surgeries is back on his feet. Two weeks ago President Obama presented him with the Medal Of honor at the White House.

Captain Groberg, now a Pentagon civilian employee,  is an intelligent, personable, modest patriot. When asked to comment on national policy issues, he reminds the audience that, “I am just an Army Captain, not a talking head political commentator.” He believes the U.S. is well prepared and our forces are well trained to fight the asymmetrical battles of the 21st century. Asked what his calling was in Afghanistan, he said, “to help the villagers with their local security issues.”

Asked what military traits he thought would be most beneficial in civilian employment, Groberg smiled and said, “punctuality, and then planning. Punctuality means we should up when, where and as needed, and planning means we approach every situation with a plan of action.”

In today’s era of widespread cynicism about America’s foreign adventures, with which I can heartily relate, it is moving to meet and hear from one of hundreds of thousands  of young people who live to serve and sacrifice in the name of American principles and leadership that they trust and admire.

 

 

On Morning Joe today, they discussed the dichotomy of a new NBC-Maris Poll that shows that 64% of Americans would support moderate to heavy commitment of U.S. ground troops to the middle east, while each guest declared that almost everyone they meet of every political persuasion says that we should NOT again commit ground troops to the middle east.

Here’s my theory of explaining this contradiction. When the majority of those surveyed by NBC said yes, we should commit ground troops, they were referring to our professional military soldiers and sailors, not them or members of their own family. But when you ask people individually, they are thinking of themselves, and don’t think we should go.

The military DRAFT is a dirty word, because most Americans don’t want to risk their own loved ones being compelled to serve the nation, but we are less sensitive when polled and think that others (the professional military) would go on our behalf. I don’t love the idea of a draft. I was subject to the draft when I graduated college in 1966, so enlisted and served 3 years as an officer. But I didn’t like the service, and though I called it “my military MBA,” the truth is that it set me back professionally in relation to my friends who didn’t serve, and it caused family disruptions that changed the course of my life.

But I think a draft is a good thing, because it serves to align the thinking of the people with the decisions of our government, and vice versa, and as we know from the Vietnam experience, public opposition ultimately served to get America out of that war that never should have happened. Our military is thinking in terms of a “long war” in the middle east, that might go on over 40 to 60 years! It’s time that the American people think in terms of themselves (their own families), rather than in terms of “other” Americans (a professional military), serving on the ground in such a long war. Then, and only then, will they express themselves clearly to our political and military leadership, and let democracy, rather than bureaucrats, determine our nation’s future.

May 2017
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