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Veterans Day has me reminiscing, and in an odd way; I am thinking about the infantry soldiers I ran into when I attended U.S. Army Airborne School (Jump School) and when I got stationed at Ft. Bragg. I was to be an Airborne Arabic Interrogator which means I was going to probably be around grunts (infantry soldiers) a lot since it is the grunt who captures the enemy soldier whom you would interrogate and Jump School was the first time being surrounded by them, the grunts.
I was a 25-year-old college graduate, listening to 18 and 19-year-olds talking about how they’d like to be stationed in Korea to have a chance at “finishing that expletive war.” I did not judge them harshly for their grandstanding, their naivete, their angry words, but rather I was grateful for those young grunts. I was a 25-year-old, college educated man who was too jaded and knew too much to believe as they did; I could not be that full of myself, that convinced of my immortality, that sure of my superiority to any enemy, but I did not regard those young men critically; it is that kind of young man who can enter the field of battle, unwaivered by the fear of the death around him and do the damage that war demands be done.
After Arabic School and Interrogator School, I arrived at Ft. Bragg, as an airborne soldier in the 82d Airborne Infantry Division and I began to realize that it wasn’t just the young grunts who spoke and felt like I described; the older grunts subscribed to that way of thinking too; bring war to America and we will engage and destroy you with extreme malice, returning home to celebrate. Age did not temper that way of thinking, to my surprise, and I was grateful for them, young and old. An instrument of war must feel that way. It seems to me too many Americans, especially liberals, would ignore the context and shudder at such a mind set; liberals would probably use words like jingoism and ethnocentrism to describe our infantry soldiers as they peered down their noses at those grunts.
I and those like me, however, are nothing but grateful for those grunts, those men who are the instruments of war, the tip of the spear, that give our enemies pause. They are the backbone of our military and their actions in war should be judged accordingly; when you are sent into hell to do battle then hellish is how you’d better behave. So, I say this; the dishonored who “went too far” during war, like Staff Sergeant Robert Bales who broke during his fourth tour of duty in war, who lost it after watching one too many of his buddies get shot, who witnessed one too many of his fellow American soldiers get blown limb from limb by an IED in a foreign land where foe cannot be discerned from friend, are still veterans who deserve to be highly regarded for their moments of sacrifice. To all veterans, especially those required to extremely sacrifice self, spirit, home and family, I say thank you, including you Sergeant Bales.