Twenty-five years ago the air phase of Operation Desert Storm kicked off. I’d already been in Saudi Arabia five months defending against a possible Iraqi invasion, since they’d waltzed into Kuwait in August 1990. We made it look easy. Americans at home laughed at quips about “the luckiest man in Baghdad.” Though air dominance and the liberation of Kuwait came quickly, not everyone returned home when it ended.
Most Americans forget the American military did not leave the Gulf region in 1991 and return in 2003. Enforcing the various no-fly zones and “peacekeeping” in the Gulf region required uninterrupted coverage by our Air Force and Navy aircraft. Flying from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, off aircraft carriers and farther afield, American men and women kept their finger in the dike of Middle East political, sectarian and military unrest. With no hope of draining that swamp, we contended with its myriad alligators.
Throughout the administrations of Presidents Clinton, both Bushes, and Obama a grinding operational tempo has kept members of all services away from the families and in harm’s way. I doubt if any of those presidents and few members of Congress understood what they demanded of those men and women.
The cost of war is much greater than bullets, fuel and food. The real cost is lives turned upside down and inside out. Yet we continue to send our people back where few want us and fewer appreciate our sacrifice.
I served for thirty years, spanning the Vietnam, Cold and Gulf Wars. I served proudly and I hope well. No time during those thirty years and the decades since was America’s military not committed to dangerous, if not deadly, duty.
And how do we thank our veterans? By ignoring their physical and psychological needs. By eroding benefits promised for years of service. By parading them out as rent-a-crowds for this or that politician. By running away when domestic politics overbalances the nation’s debt to men and women whose bodies and lives have been shattered—continue to be shattered—in her service.
Is anyone paying attention?
Twenty-five years … and counting.