Bridging the gap
By Anita Susan Brenner
Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel of New York, a longtime proponent of reinstatement of the draft, explains his position this way: “Decision-makers who support the war would more readily feel the pain of conflict and appreciate the sacrifice of those on the front lines if their children were there too.”
But this column is not about the draft. President-elect Barack Obama is not in favor of reviving the draft. (Although he does favor requiring females to register for selective service at the age of 18.)
Rep. Rangel is also pointing to the gulf between American civilians and our military. There are studies and articles about the “civil-military gap.” Many have noted the make-up of Congress. Even Michael Moore has noted that few children of elected officials serve on active duty, while many of their offspring are employed to lobby elected officials.
In the “blue” states, like California, few of us have any direct connection to the military.
The numbers are stunning. Approximately 1.4 million men and women serve on active duty in the American military. They make up less than 0.4% of our general population of 305 million and less than 0.9% of those eligible to serve (men and women in good health between the ages of 18 and 49).
One result is a generational disconnect. Last Friday, I attended a Veteran’s Day service at one synagogue and the week before, we volunteered for Operation Gratitude at another. Both communities have lots of World War II veterans, less from Korea and very few veterans of Vietnam, the Gulf War or Operation Freedom.
Another result is ignorance. Here in the Foothills, we pride ourselves on being an educated community, yet most of us are ignorant of the youthful demographics of today’s military. If your sole contact with the American military is through television and the movies, you might incorrectly assume that wars are fought by the elderly, such as Sean Connery, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson — 50-, 60- and 70-year-olds. This is not the case.
The enlisted soldiers and Marines fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are mostly 18-25. They are led by Army and Marine lieutenants under the age of 26, who are supervised by captains in their mid-to-late 20s.
If you look at the plaques in La Cañada’s Memorial Park, at the time of their deaths, 1st Lt. Todd Bryant was 23 and 2nd Lt. J. P. Blecksmith had just turned 24.
Sorry Harrison, Sean and Kevin. You guys are just too old. Real life Army generals and Navy admirals are in their mid 50s to early 60s. The current Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James T. Conway, is only 61. The current Air Force Chief of Staff, General Norton A. Schwartz, is just 56.
Without a direct connection, it is easy to forget those deployed are mostly young. Behind each of them is a mom or dad who send care packages. Or perhaps a spouse and young children who must depend on a food pantry to get by. For the unmarried, there may be a dog or cat at risk of ending up in a shelter, unless friends and relatives step in on short notice.
They work long hours. They work hard when they are stateside and harder still when deployed. When they are wounded, they contend with the mess at Walter Reed. When they leave active duty, they contend with minimal educational benefits.
Is gap healthy for our country? Is it healthy for 99% of the country to expect others to deploy on their behalf? Is it healthy for our country to let one percent suffer, while life goes on as normal for the rest?
During the campaign, soon-to-be First Lady Michelle Obama promised to take up the cause of military families. I hope she honors that promise.
In the meantime, you can connect by contacting Operation Gratitude (www.operationgratitude.com), a grass roots, volunteer organization which has enlisted thousands of school children, boy scouts, girl scouts and church groups to send over 500,000 care packages.
Call Operation Gratitude at (818) 909-0039. Ask your troop leaders to get involved. Ask your church or synagogue. Operation Gratitude, 16444 Refugio Road, Encino, CA 91436.
ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. 11-14-08 FULL ARTICLE La Cañada Valley Sun: La Cañada Flintridge, California