This is the first article of a new dossier on “Outlook for the Future”, which will assess among other themes the next generations’ perception and vision of the defense and security environment.
A New Generation of Vets is Coming
It has been reported that the most dangerous rank in Iraq and Afghanistan combat is a USMC Lance Corporal (E-3). Those wearing that stripe on their Marine Dress Blues have the highest probability of being killed or wounded. A Marine Lance Corporal makes around $1,300 per month.
The Marines’ brothers and sisters in arms serving with the Army, Navy, and Air Force are also paying a heavy price. In the opening engagement the US Naval Academy had the most graduates killed on 9/11 of any institution. West Point graduates have paid the highest price of all US officers serving in combat today.
It is not my intention to dwell on just the sacrifice of all but to send a message to America that a new generation of veterans is coming. This generation of veterans has truly earned the right to lead America into the future.
A few soldiers raising their hands today to support and defend the Constitution will still be making national security decisions in 2060. However, not just for our national security, but throughout America there is now a tremendous force for good in our society. A new generation is with us who believes despite the risk of their own life that their service in a Nation at war is bigger than just a sense of self.
The attributes of this cadre run deep. Student bodies cheering their team at the football games for the Commander in Chief trophy have dedicated four years to get an excellent education following a rigorous honor code – to not lie, cheat, or steal. When they graduate a war is calling them.
Fellow officers will join Service Academy grads. These officers come from the great land grant colleges of America. They make a commitment knowing their ROTC courses will require time and attention away from their chosen degree path. A few Ivy League ROTC Graduates will appear along with other private colleges. State Military institutions like VMI and the Citadel will add to the mix. Let’s not forget that some students after spending their own money on an education volunteer for Officers Candidate School.
They all meld together with unity of purpose to be leaders in a nation at war.
The men and women they lead in the ranks are volunteers out of high school from cities large and small, off farms, and out of factories, office cubicles, and the service industry. Ultimately when bullets are flying and people are dying it comes down to a fundamental truth: no one is in it for the money.
Building a Post 9/11 Safety Net
Since 9/11 a touchstone of service has been forged and a generation bonded. Some will stay in uniform; others will leave; but all have imprinted memories for a lifetime.
However, the biggest surprise I suggest is this generation is not monolithic in thought or deed. They will be Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. They will be deeply religious or not and some will have very significant problems readjusting. More than we suspect.
Family and friends will be the best help for those with combat wounds, physical disables, mental issues like PTSD, and sickness from the environmental factors on the battlefield. There is also a safety net woven by previous generations of warriors and strong VA programs. But the most important safety net will be support from their fellow warriors.
In getting on with their lives, because of decisions made beyond their control they will be facing huge problems. The American economy is in deep recession with significant issues still to come. In these veterans’ future there is an economic tsunami they didn’t create. Raising a family in these hard economic times will be a major challenge.
Nevertheless regardless of significant problems this generation can really drive the entire moral tone of America. At one bright moment these veterans were not greedy. They didn’t posture, or make excuses. These men and women didn’t whine or complain. They just – to use an infantry phrase – put one foot in front of the other and soldiered on to get the mission accomplished.
A lot of shallow posers – individuals who hint that they wished they could have served but didn’t – can be very smart and manipulate ideologues across the left-right political spectrum. These hucksters will reach out to harness this generation’s energy for their own purpose. However, whatever a veteran does, big or small, every American should know that these men and women have a well developed instinct for the truth. They are untouchable on that front.
So unscrupulous politicians, scam artists, hustlers, and parasites be on notice. If a man or a woman can face down the Taliban, come at them at your peril. Same advice goes to criminals and street thugs.
America, as once reported in the great space race, is “A-OK”.
Ed Timperlake, was the first Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Public Affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, he was also Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs.
***Posted January 12th, 2010