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
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
YOU SERVED YOUR COUNTRY!