Our Military Today
by Gen David Petraeus

I remember the day I found out I was accepted into West Point. My mom actually showed up in the hallway of my high school and waited for me to get out of class. She was bawling her eyes out and apologizing that she had opened up my admission letter.  She was crying because she knew how hard I'd worked to get in, how much I wanted to attend, and how much I wanted to be an infantry officer.  Yes...I was now going to get that opportunity.

That same day, two of my teachers took me aside and told me: “David, you're a smart guy. You don't have to join the military. You should go to college, instead.” I could easily write a theme defending West Point and the military, explaining that USMA is an elite institution,  that serving the nation is a challenge that all able-bodied men should at least consider for a host of reasons. What I will say is that when a 16 year-old kid is being told that attending West Point is going to be bad for his future, then there is a dangerous disconnect in America, and entirely too many Americans have no idea what kind of burdens our military is bearing.

 In World War II, 11.2% of the nation served in four (4) years. During the Vietnam era, 4.3% served in twelve (12) years. Since 2001, only 0.45% of our population have served in the middle-east conflicts. These are unbelievable statistics. Over time, fewer and fewer people have shouldered more and more of the burden and it is only getting worse. Our troops were sent to war in Iraq by a Congress consisting of 10% veterans with only one person having a child in the military. Taxes did not increase to pay for the war, bonds were not sold, gas was not regulated, food was not rationed. In fact, the average citizen was asked to sacrifice nothing, and has sacrificed nothing. The only people who have sacrificed are the veterans and their families: The volunteers. The people who swore an oath to defend this nation.

You follow your orders, deployment after deployment, and fight on. You've lost relationships, spent years of your lives in extreme conditions, years you'll never get back apart from kids, and exercised your body in a way that even professional athletes can't handle. Then you come home to a nation that doesn't understand. They don't understand the suffering. They don't understand the sacrifice. They don't understand why we fight for them.  They don't understand that bad people exist. They look at you like you're some kind of animal - like something is wrong with you. You are the misguided one -- not them.

If you sit in the college classrooms with political science teachers, they disregard your opinions on Iraq and Afghanistan even though YOU WERE THERE!  They say YOU can't understand the "macro issues" that they read about in college textbooks  and because YOU are biased. You watch TV shows where every vet has violent PTSD and shouldn't be allowed to have weapons.  Meanwhile, Congress is debating how to reduce your benefits, your retirement, and your pay...all the while sending you back on more deployments.

But the amazing thing about you is that you all know this. You know your country will never pay back what you've given up.  You know that the general public will never truly understand or appreciate what you have done for them. Hell, you know that in some circles, you will be thought of as an idiot for having worn the uniform. But...you do it anyway. You do what the greatest men and women of this country have done since 1775.