Lt. Governor Beverly Perdue has said that North Carolina is a military friendly state and has worked long and hard as our military affairs point person to achieve a better balance between the military presence in North Carolina and the defense dollars being expended in our state. She led the effort to make our case in the base realignment and closure process and as a result of her team’s efforts, we will end up with more troops in North Carolina. But what about locally?
A couple of thing have happened recently to make me wonder if our community understands much about today’s military, let alone is friendly towards it. The first action that caused me pause was the resolution recently passed by the Carrboro Board of Aldermen to honor the death of Staff Sergeant (SSG) Misael Martinez, a soldier who was killed during his third tour of duty in Iraq. As part of their resolution to honor him, they also called for the immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq.
People have asked why this bothered me. As a professional soldier who wore the Army green uniform for thirty years, I know that SSG Martinez was also a professional soldier and most professionals do not want to publicly debate defense policy or be used as a symbol in those debates.
The Congress and the Commander-in-Chief are elected to make those tough decisions. Traditionally, professionals do not participate in the debates and note that this model of civil-military relations has served us well for over two centuries. As a volunteer professional, I think that SSG Martinez would be somewhat disappointed to see his death wrapped around the political agenda of a local board that seems to be fond of involving themselves in more than local policy.
If this resolution reflected the attitude and beliefs of SSG Martinez’s parents, family and friends, then it demonstrates what many of us professionals know — it’s hard for non-professionals to understand the complexities of our profession and why we avoid getting caught up in political debates.
The other thing that happened was the protest of a new Army recruiting station that opened in Chapel Hill. Once this story hit the wires, I heard from more than a few friends and colleagues from my military days who were puzzled by this story. One asked if I thought that those who were protesting knew that we had a voluntary Army. Another wondered if a possibility of the protesters being drafted was a better option than a recruiting station.
A third offered that his memories of the SDS of yesteryear seemed consistent with the current SDS membership’s confusion that its desire to end the war in Iraq could be achieved by demanding that one recruiting station with a goal of four recruits per month be closed.
I was at the protest on December 15th. I saw the Chapel Hill police exercise a high degree of professionalism and sensitivity. The majority of the protesters left the private property when asked and then continued their protest on public property. Those who refused to comply were taken into custody. I even talked with some of the protesters when they came inside and participated in the reception. I guess that they didn’t believe that the Army-provided refreshments would hurt them, so they dined along with the rest of the guests. Some also talked with the recruiters, and I was very proud of how those professional soldiers answered questions and attempted to educate.
As president of the Orange-Chatham Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), a group or retired, former, and active members of the seven uniformed services, I can state emphatically that my membership holds a variety of opinions about the war in Iraq. I believe, however, that they all agree on the right of men and women to receive information on military service and decide if they want to join.
I’ve been around long enough to realize that a lot of things are not going to make much sense to me sometimes. What I would like to see make some sense is how our citizens support those who have been told to bear the burden in this current war. We are in a war that Congress authorized and the Commander-in-Chief is executing.
Most citizens today appear to be hardly impacted by the fighting that seems so far away. The greatest majority of us have been asked to sacrifice so very little for this war. Those in uniform and their loved ones are in a much different situation; they sacrifice a great deal, and some have lost their loved ones. Being “military friendly” would mean exhibiting a respect for and an appreciation of this sacrifice, and that would be a good thing.