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Reborn at Arlington: Memorial Day 2017

1,500 US Army soldiers stood on the misty parade field at Fort Meyer waiting for the sun to rise. The leadership had scheduled another morale building yet mandated "fun run" where once a quarter, the entire unit comes together to do PT (Physical Training) in a show of Esprit de Corp and unit cohesion. Since we were all stationed at the Pentagon, many of us had been in the Army for a while. We were a little broken down in the body department and had seen our fair share of these types of events. There we were, at the twilight of our careers, huddled in small groups during the dawn of one more PT morning.

Of course, there was the usual grumbling between the older soldiers asking one another if we were motivated yet and if we had a cup of Esprit De Corps to spare. But there was a sprinkling of young soldiers among us too and their shiny new faces kept us old timers from getting too cynical and fussy.

As the sun poked up above the horizon, the Army's Command Sergeant Major called the gaggle to attention and the formation began to run. The Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) led the assemblage in rousing voice and extolled the virtues of Granny [1], My Girl [2] and the C-130 [3]. Below the roar of the singing, just in the background, you could hear the footsteps of the 1500 strong pounding the pavement in syncopated rhythm.

The formation crested the hill overlooking Arlington Cemetery and the vista of Washington DC opened up before us. The Army Colors, at the front of the formation, started their decent towards the Cemetery just as the sun had risen to about the same height as the Washington Monument several miles distant. And still the singing and the pounding drove the formation as it snaked down the hill towards the front gates.

As the colors passed into the Cemetery, like a line of dominoes falling, the singing faded away. One platoon after the other fell silent in mute honor of our fallen comrades-in-arms laid to rest in the National Cemetery. As the voices muted, the only sound you could hear was the constant beat, beat, beat of the run and the Army colors whipping in the slight breeze. Nobody spoke except for the occasional NCO keeping everybody in step with a solid, but quiet, 1 - 2 - 3 - 4, 1 -2 - 3 - 4. It was serene. It was sublime.

Midway through the run, the Command Sergeant Major called the formation to a halt and commanded us to execute a right-face towards the middle of the cemetery. The rising sun had burned off the last vestiges of mist from the manicured lawns. The breeze trickled through the formation’s silence and the Army Colors at the front. And then we all heard it; that mournful sound of a single bugler playing Taps. [4] He began the music low at first; almost whispering the sound through the horn. But slowly, his crescendo wrapped the listener into a cocoon of sadness, memory, and a sense of loss about the lives that could have been. On that misty morning, young and old soldiers alike shed mutual tears as the bugler played on.

When it was done and the silence greeted the end of the song, a chill went down my back. It occurred to me that we were not merely taking a morning jog anymore. We were actually passing in review. These fallen soldiers who performed the ultimate sacrifice for their country were watching us and sizing us up. I hoped that we could pass muster. I had this great desire to let them know that we had the guide-on now and it was in good hands. We would not let them down. I stood a little taller then. As we began to run home, the burden of running was a little lighter. As 1500 boarded the buses to head back to the Pentagon, I realized that this old soldier was less cynical today; less worn for wear. Although I may not have the shiny face of one of those new soldiers, I was reborn this morning. Together, both old and young, we will carry on.


Memorial Day Weekend


This weekend is Memorial Day Weekend. It is a U.S. holiday that originally began in 1856 as a way for local communities to honor the Union soldiers who died in the U.S. Civil War. After WWI, the meaning of the holiday shifted to include all who have died in American wars. In 1971, the U.S. Congress made the remembrance a national holiday. [5]

I wrote the above essay, “Reborn at Arlington,” back in 2000 when I was stationed at the Pentagon and long before the madness of 9/11 kicked in and our Presidents committed our military to over 16 years of war across five different operations [8][16]. Since then, 6,926 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians have been killed and 52,549 have been wounded in action in this everlasting “War on Terrorism.” [6][16] It is now six years older than the Vietnam War, the former longest U.S. War ever (10 years), and there seems to be no end in sight. [10][15] The U.S. still has some 12,457 troops deployed in the Middle East at a cost of $2.1 Million per soldier per year. [15]

And you have to ask yourself why? Can you point to one thing that the U.S. got by committing 16 years of blood and treasure to this cause? Can you even articulate what it is we are still fighting in the Middle East for? It is true that this past year, the U.S. has killed many ISIS leaders, taken back key ground in Iraq and has had some success limiting new recruits from streaming into Iraq and Syria. [17] Supporters of the “War on Terrorism” will point to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden and the execution of Saddam Hussein as two big wins. They will say that we are keeping ISIS at bay. But the data is confusing. ISIS has more fighters and recruits and is killing more people in more countries than ever before. [17] As the years go by and the cost of the effort continues to rise, we have to honestly ask ourselves if continuously throwing our military at the problem is the right approach. When is it over? Are we comfortable with the nation conducting a war indefinitely?

The U.S. has spent $1.7 Trillion dollars (That is Trillion with a T) on the global “War on Terrorism” since 2001. [11][15] To give you something to compare that to, 1.7 trillion seconds is ~60,000 years [12] Combine that with close to 60,000 killed and wounded to get a sense of the total cost to the nation. [6][12][16] The “War on Terrorism” is the sixth largest U.S. war in terms of military killed out of the 12 that the U.S. has fought. And we are not done. The clock is still ticking.

The United States has marked this weekend as a time to honor our fallen soldiers. As President Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.” [18] But it occurs to me that instead of taking a day to remember our fallen citizens, that we might make a grander gesture. We might consider demanding that our politicians articulate what we are trying to accomplish in the “War on Terrorism” with more precision. We might consider trying to find a way to bring our military home so that on next year’s Memorial Day, we will not have to add more numbers to the casualty list.


"War on Terrorism" by Operation


Operation Enduring Freedom

The Afghanistan War
From 7 October 2001 to 28 December 2014 [8]
13 Years
2,349 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Killed [6][16]
20,071 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Wounded in Action [6][16]

Operation Iraqi Freedom

The Iraq War
From 19 Mar 2003 to 19 Aug 2010 [8]
7 Years.
4,424 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Killed [6][16]
31,954 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Wounded in Action [6][16]

Operation New Dawn

Iraq War Transition
From 1 September 2010 to 15 December 2015 [8]
5 Years
73 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Killed [6][16]
295 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Wounded in Action [6][16]

Operation Inherent Resolve

Military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
From 15 June 2014 to --- [8]
3 Years
42 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Killed [6][16]
39 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Wounded in Action [6][16]

Operation Freedom Sentinel

The Afghanistan Support Mission
From 1 January 2015 to -- [8]
2 Years +
37 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Killed [6] [16]
169 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Wounded in Action [6] [16]

Total "War on Terrorism"

From 7 October 2001 to -- [8]
16 Years +
6,926 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Killed [6] [16]
52,549 U.S. Soldiers and DOD Civilians Wounded in Action [6] [16]
Deployed troops in the Middle East: 12,457 [15]
Cost: $2.1 Million per soldier per year [9]


American War Death Toll [13]


1,000 (Not including the Native Americans): Indian War
1,565: Persian Gulf War
2,260: War of 1812
2,446: Spanish-American War
4,435: Revolutionary War

6,926: "War on Terrorism"

13,283: Mexican War

54, 246; Korean War
90,220: Vietnam War
116,516: WWI

405,399: WWII
498,332: Civil War


Sources:

[1] "Army Cadence - My Old Granny, She's 91," 19 September 2008, Last Visited 27 May 2017,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rGOPJ890zA

[2] "C-130 Rollin' Down The Strip," Army Future Soldier Center, 22 October 2013, Last Visited 27 May 2017,

[3] "U.S. Army Cadence My Girls A Pretty Girl," 23 October 2013, Last Visited 27 May 2017,

[4] “Montgomery clift trumpet,” From Here to Eternity, Posted 12 March 2007, Last Visited 27 May 2017,

[5] "10 historical facts about Memorial Day," by Allison Sylte, KSDK-TV, St. Louis, Mo. May 23, 2015, Last Visited 27 May 2017,
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/05/22/historical-facts-memorial-day/27817017/ 

[6] "A Guide to U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom," by Hannah Fischer, Congressional Research Service, 7 August 7 2015, Last Visited 27 May 2017.
https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22452.pdf

[8] "U.S. Periods of War and Dates of Recent Conflicts," by Barbara Salazar Torreon, Congressional Research Service, 27 February 2015, Last Visited 27 May 2017.
https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS21405.pdf

[9] "Where in the World Isn't the U.S. Military?" By Bonnie Kristian, U.S. News and World Report, 4 May 2016, Last Visited 27 May 2017,
http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2016-05-04/obamas-secret-troop-deployments-cost-taxpayers

[10] "These are America’s 9 longest foreign wars," by Adam Taylor, The Washington Post, 27 May 29 2017.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/05/29/these-are-americas-9-longest-foreign-wars/

[11] "The War On Terror Has Cost Taxpayers $1.7 Trillion [Infographic]," by Niall McCarthy, Forbes Magazine, 3 February 2015, Last Visited 27 May 2017,
http://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2015/02/03/the-war-on-terror-has-cost-taxpayers-1-7-trillion-infographic/#42b001585cf0

[12] "How to Develop a Sense of Scale," by Kalid, Better Explained, 2008, Last Visited 27 May 2017,

[13] "How many Americans have died in U.S. wars?" BY MEGAN CRIGGER AND LAURA SANTHANAM, PBS - WETA, 24 May 2015, Last Visited 27 May 2017,

[15] "War on Terror Facts, Costs and Timeline: Whose Spent More on War? Bush, Obama or Trump?" By Kimberly Amadeo, the balance, 26 May 2017

[16] OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) U.S. CASUALTY STATUS: FATALITIES AS OF: May 26, 2017, 10 a.m. EDT,

[17] "Are we winning the war on ISIS & Radical Islam? The President says yes. The experts say no. Here’s a 9-page fact sheet laying out the data," by Joel C. Rosenberg, Joel C. Rosenberg 's Blog, 15 September 2016, Last Visited 27 May 2017,

[18] "The Gettysburg Address," Abraham Lincoln Online, 19 November 1863, Last Visited 27 May 2017,
http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm

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