If You Want Perspective Just Open Your Eyes

Monday, May 26th, 2008, 8:53 pm

The other day I wrote about how I got a pleasant surprise when I opened a letter I got from the IRS. But not every piece of correspondence from the federal government is good news. The other day I read an article written by Colby Buzzell, who served in the Iraq and wrote a book about his experiences there. Buzzell has been out of the Army for three years–he was using his GI Bill money to take photography classes at San Francisco City College. Three weeks ago he left his apartment and checked his mail on the way out, the same thing I did the other day. But what Buzzell found waiting for him was an envelope from the Army with the words IMPORTANT DOCUMENT printed on it.

Three years after his enlistment ended, Buzzell is headed back to Iraq. I didn’t know veterans who had been out for that long could be stop-lossed back into the Army, but obviously they can. I tried to think how I would react if I’d served my country and, three years after my discharge and my life moving in a new direction, I got that letter.

We keep hearing that our nation is at war. But really it’s our armed forces who are at war, who are bearing this enormous burden while the rest of us go about our lives as if everything’s perfectly normal. While some of our fellow citizens receive envelopes stamped IMPORTANT DOCUMENT.

What would happen if more people like me started getting letters like that is obvious–as Buzzell writes:

Many people believe that the draft ended the Vietnam War. I’m convinced that reinstating the draft would definitely end this war. Rich, connected people will always find a way to evade mandatory service, but what about the rest of America? The middle class – people with good jobs and nice lives – would perhaps riot if the government even suggested that it expected from them what the Army expects from veterans.

When I went to Aruba in 2006 I noticed how many young, able-bodied American kids were down there, playing poker and having fun in the sun. More power to them–it’s a free country and we have a volunteer army. I’m certainly in no position to criticize them for not enlisting, as I was a senior in college during the Gulf War and didn’t sign up. But I was struck at how different the life of some online poker superstar is to a 21-year-old Marine heading to Iraq for the second (or third, or fourth) time. We keep hearing that Iraq is the front line of this epochal battle of civilizations, yet we’re fighting it with a military whose members have been pushed to the breaking point and beyond while the rest of us bitch about rising gas prices.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be back at work covering the World Series. Vegas is surreal enough on its own and during the Series things can get pretty weird. There’s a lot of money on the line, people are trying to make their fortune (or just eke out a living) and emotions run high. 

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2 Responses to “If You Want Perspective Just Open Your Eyes”

  1. Ten Mile Says:

    Gene, according to which way (not branch of service) you go into service there are certain commitments you make. Not all are well publiced or even explained to the enlistee.

    A period of active service; a period (reckoned in years) after the active period inwhich you may be recalled; and an additional period after the 2nd period in which you may be recalled and used in non-combat activities.

    The latter two services have ending periods reckoned to an As Of. . age. One is 55 yrs and the other is 62.

    Anytime, in any age group, for as long as necessary, at the Gov’s beck.

  2. Gene Says:

    True, and Buzzell mentions that in his article. But he (and a friend of mine who served in the Air Force) were told that they’d only be recalled after their enlistment period if something along the lines of World War III broke out. Buyer beware. But we’ve been in Iraq for five years–it’s impossible to argue that Iraq poses such a threat to the United States that using an emergency measure like stop-loss over and over again is justified.

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