America You Were Worth It | An Old Soldiers View
There are times in one’s life where a reflective, introspective pause is in order. A time to evaluate ones actions and the responses they generate. Today, no actually this year, has been such a time for me. It really goes back to March of 2009 when I returned home after 4 years and 8 months of working in Iraq primarily as a Morale Welfare and Recreation Supervisor for the American Forces. When I decided to come home I was tired, bone tired. In fact I have never been so tired and worn out in my life. I didn’t immediately decide to take a whole year off of work, but turns out that’s what happened and I think in the looking back it was probably a good thing.
So much had transpired from June of 2004 to March of 2009. The loss of my wife Zena to a blood cancer, the loss of so many troops, especially during 2005-2007; then the loss of my youngest son, John II in a car accident in Dec 2008. The shining points during this time were the graduation of my eldest son Dan from Georgia Tech, (an event I couldn’t attend due to my R&R schedule), a closer bond with my sister in law Jane (though I always just call her my English Sister), and I think most importantly for me the real brightness that came out of it all was and is a recognition that my life’s work in the military did in fact have some fundamental value beyond the “thanks for your Service” handshakes given out on Memorial or Veterans Day.
I have always likened my service to humping a rucksack. It’s a ruck you are issued when you enlist, you pick it up and in it immediately goes a fresh copy of The Constitution of The United States, for with your oath you have now sworn to both uphold it and defend it against all enemies both foreign and domestic. There are some additional items in there that are labeled Lesson Learned WWII, WWI, Korea, The Revolutionary War, The Civil War, The American Indian Wars, and so on, you study them on and off duty for the next 22 years; and soon start keeping a journal of your own as well. "Lesson Learned - Grenada - You fight the way you train, Better train hard." "Lesson Learned - Lebanon - Force Protection, Be Polite, Be Professional, Be prepared to Kill...", Lesson Learned - Desert Storm -...
Along with it you start adding memories, or what they called in Basic Training SEE (Significant Emotional Events) like the Obstacle and Confidence Course, Survival Resistance and Escape Training, (SERE), your first 5 mile run, and 10 mile ruck march. The first time you carried the Company Gueidon in Parade. The Replacement Depot at Oakland Ca where the hippies protested daily, your first sunrise in places like Korea and Viet Nam, the bone chilling cold of winter in Korea, and the killer cold of living in a tent in January in Alaska near Pt Barrow, the heat in Honduras three months later, I could go on and on.
You find the good stuff too like the DA Form you had to submit to your commander for permission to marry a girl you met while on a deployment to England. The picture taken together on the day you found out she was pregnant with our second son. The pride when you read the NCO Promotion Certificate that starts with the words “The President having reposed special trust and confidence in …”, the pride when you see the picture of the Berlin Wall coming down, the pride knowing that you humped that ruck during a time when it frankly wasn't a popular thing to do, and the feeling of obligation that you knew if you didn't hump it who else would?
professional pride of chance meeting up with a National Guard Tactical Air
Traffic Control Platoon, you had spent a year training 5 years before, in the
middle of the Saudi desert during Operation Desert Storm. Deployed because they
had kept up the processes you put in place and they were ready when they were
needed.The brotherly love when you look at the pictures of your troops moving up in the ranks, or attaining special recognition, and the pain when you had to lay some to rest.
When you retire, you have to clean it all out before you turn it in for the next troop. You look in some of the cargo pockets and you find the Soldiers Creed, the NCO Creed, you find right next to you campaign and service medals, a small sword of freedom, and justice’s shield and scales. Next to your Awards and Decorations you find the used field dressing with the dried blood of your friends and comrades and are surprised at how heavy it is. You clean off the crap stains one final time on the outside from the hippies that taunted you in Oakland, the tear stains when folks you thought were your friends turned their back on you; and the tears of pride when America Welcomed you home finally in the 80’s. You can’t quite get the outline off, it’s pretty faded, but you take comfort in the knowlege that the ruck had protected all the stuff you had to hump and you know it was up to you too clean it up. You take that ruck and realize even after you take your personal stuff out it’s a bit heavier than it was when you started 22 years before, after all you have some Lessons Learned to leave in as well, you turn it in with the rest of your field gear, knowing that even though its heavy at times, it’s a comfortable ruck when you break it in with some road march sweat.
Ten Years later, in Iraq, you realize that some PFC had indeed been issued that ruck, shortly after you retired and he is now a Platoon Sergeant or a First Sergeant, maybe even some Captain or Major. Like you, a lifetime ago, they study your lessons learned, and all the ones before and are now writing them too. Then the surprising thing happens, You shake a troops hand at first meeting and mentioned you are retired Army, and a big smile comes over his face and he says “Thank you Sarge, I read about the places you’ve been and you are the reason I am here. You guys put with s@*t I can’t even imagine! Thanks for being there.” I have to tell you I was flabbergasted. Here we were standing on a FOB in Downtown Baghdad getting mortared pretty much daily and he’s thanking me!
Later that night in my quarters I began to really appreciate that my shoulders were being stood upon. Like all of those who had come before me, they were now standing on mine, but it was not heavy like the ruck we had to carry all those years, it was comfortable, like I had been helping them for a long time, well I guess I had. I realized then that all the blood, sweat and tears had been worth it if for no other reason than this.
Then as I said before I came home, and needed some rest, I took a renewed interest in the political debate, (I had done so before both when on active duty and after retirement, but on active duty I kept my own counsel as the military requires), I had kept pretty much quiet while overseas, even when things had me pretty pissed off. For me at least American Political Debate is for American Shores, so a unified message is projected overseas to our friends and foes alike.
I came home to what I still believe is a greatness of America. Here we are years into the war against Muslim Terrorists, and we elect the first black man as President, and he has a Muslim name. Face it no body named John Paul Jones is going to win an election in Iraq. I come home to find the political debate at its meanest in my lifetime but still probably not as bad as it was for say Lincoln. But now through the internet I too have a place to voice my opinions freely.
I see a country that learned the lesson of Viet Nam that you don’t blame the soldier when you don’t like the politics of the war. Even now when it goes on and on. We finally have given the troops the recognition that their service is valued and the sacrifices are many and are appreciated. This was highlighted to me at least when Brigadier General Phillips, ADC 3rd Infantry Division, delivered remarks at our Memorial Day Celebration. He told a story about a PFC home on R&R from Afghanistan, who ran in to a Colonels wife at the commissary and she shook his hand and thanked him profusely for his service. In the middle of it all he took her hand and stopped her in her tracks when he smiled at her and said “ Thank You Ma’am, You were worth it.” Well, leave it to a PFC to voice a profound sentiment with such simplicity; and teach an old dog like me. Well, what I learned that year off and what is reinforced for me daily while working at a VA Hospital, is that simple statement.
So on the occasion of this my 200th hub let me just say, that for all those freed when the Berlin Wall came down, for the Kuwaitis freed in Desert Storm, the defended free people of America, Canada, Western Europe, Central America, South Korea, Viet Nam (wish we had done better), to all the hubbers (left, right and center) that engage in free and civil debate, to my family, my fellow veterans, fellow contractors, my soldiers, and my son Daniel in particular, and to those who will serve in the future. Hear this loud and hear this clear, every drop of blood and sweat, every tear of joy and sorrow for them all......
“You were worth it.”
God bless you all and God Bless America.
JH Ellis Sr (USA, ret)