(Editor's note: When pasting text from the email file to our word processing system we accidentally lost the first two paragraphs of this My Turn column. This revision restores those paragraphs.)
Two bipartisan letters — one from the House and one from the Senate — were sent by Congressmen to the President last week to get our troops out of Afghanistan in an accelerated withdrawal as violence there escalates. Sadly, not one of our Alaskan delegation signed the letters.
Senator Begich recently told the Legislature that the 9,000 Alaska-based troops in Afghanistan are "proof of Alaska's ability to train and deploy exceptional soldiers and airmen," so defense spending cuts should be directed elsewhere. Our delegation knows that the state will likely see a reduction of defense funds for the military bases here. But is it moral to place jobs and votes before the life and limbs of our soldiers on the ground by prolonging the war?
When we invaded Iraq, President George W. Bush and war supporters said, “This is not another Vietnam.” President George W. Bush expected the war to end quickly. But as it dragged on, another difference became apparent. Unlike Vietnam, where most soldiers did one tour of duty, today’s soldiers are commonly doing three, four, five, or more tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I met a friend at the store whose son was in a high school home building class I helped teach. He’s now a Navy Seal. Like many Juneau soldiers, he’s served multiple tours in the Middle East conflicts. Two tours in Iraq and now a tour in Afghanistan. We have never asked so much of our youth — or their families.
Earlier this week, a soldier who had already served multiple Iraq and Afghanistan tours and incurred a brain injury went on a rampage in Afghanistan. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she was “shocked and disturbed and stressed that this is not indicative of our troops’ training, discipline or mission to build a sustainable peace in Afghanistan.” An Anchorage Afghanistan veteran, with no history of violence and suffering from PTSD, killed his wife and daughter in January. Neither of these veterans may even remember what they did. Our legislators somehow don’t connect these veteran’s actions as a result of the wars they’ve sent them to. They treat our soldiers like machines. They are not machines. War can make good people do tragic things.
The most advanced country in the world should not be sending its high school graduates to war, providing them monetary incentives to stay in tour after tour, and then not giving them the support they need when they return home. We know PTSD was bad during Vietnam when soldiers primarily served one tour. How bad will PTSD be for our soldiers who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan? Are we fiscally and socially prepared to take care of these veterans when in need of help and services — both now and 30 years from now? Only if we’re willing to revisit the mistakes we made with our Vietnam Veterans.
Although President Barack Obama and Sen. Mark Begich say they support a 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan, there is no guarantee the withdrawal will occur. And no reason to wait until then. Apathy or silence on our part is condoning our congressional representatives actions. If we don’t tell them our opinions, our Congressmen will continue to support the President’s actions in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It’s a long time until elections for Congress, and the presidential prospects don’t look any better for a more rational defense policy. Every day longer we’re in Afghanistan is another day of danger to our troops, and another day of worry for their families.
For those wounded soldiers returning home, please ask Alaska’s congressman and senators to get them and their families the support they need and deserve. For those families with soldiers still in the Middle East, write to demand immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan before more lives are lost or devastated. Finally, ask our legislators for their promise we will not invade Iran. You can email Senators Begich and Murkowski and Representative Young at their respective websites.
Vietnam didn’t work. Iraq didn’t work. Afghanistan didn’t work. Invading Iran will not work either. March 19 marks the ninth anniversary of our invasion of Iraq. Please do something on that day to honor the Middle East veterans by writing your Alaska delegation.
• Stopha is a resident of North Douglas.