Dear Governor Palin & Senator Biden-
I know you are busy getting ready for the first and only vice-presidential debate of the 2008 presidential campaign. I'm sure you've both been practicing your debate skills, figuring out what temperament to show, running through the issues in your mind hoping to remember that factoid that will be the perfect comeback, the line that will go viral. I'm sure Gwen Ifil will ask questions about the economy, foreign policy, health care, maybe climate change, maybe energy, maybe choice, maybe event lipsticks or pigs. All those subjects, except pigs & lipstick, are important to let people get to know how you feel about those subjects, and as Vice President, how you would deal with them once in office. I'm guessing January is looming pretty large; the challenges, the opportunities to put your special mark on the fabric of our country. Vice President Palin? Vice President Biden? Just the sound of it is HUGE! Only 46 men in this country have been given that title.
What I really want you to talk about is foreign policy as it relates to the military. When I say military, I mean the troops; you know like Beau and Track and my son Ken, the men (and women) who make up the military. Beau, Track and Ken are our oldest sons, and in my case my only son, my only child.
Sarah, my son Ken, was 18 when he joined the military, just a year younger than Track, so I can relate to what you are going through. Your firstborn, leaving the nest to join the Army. Those are tough days; you worry about how they are doing during boot camp, how they will adapt. Back in 1995, Ken got orders for Bosnia shortly out of boot camp, and now your Track is heading to Iraq, so I really have walked in your shoes. Ken was 24 when he headed for Iraq and I was terrified every single one of those 384 days he was deployed. You cannot imagine how the war will take over your life when your child is on the front lines. That child that grew for 9 months in your womb now belongs to someone else and he's halfway around the world in harms way.
And Joe, your son Captain Beau Biden is being deployed later this week as far as I can tell. I know about operational security, so the date isn't really important, but he will miss sharing the excitement of the final days of this important presidential campaign. I suspect he's been pretty involved in your campaign and all of that will change with this deployment. I'm sure that you have a close relationship with your son as I did; it's just that way with single parent children.At the age of 39, Beau's a bit older than Ken was when he deployed, and as officers, life in Iraq is a little different. Beau leaves a lovely wife and 2 children at home, Natalie, age 4, and Hunter, age 2. They will miss their daddy terribly. 1 year separated from their daddy is a very long time to little ones like your grandchildren, Joe.
Now that I've shown you how this troop thing is personal, and an experience that we all share, you might see how the occupation in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan loom large in the lives of military families. Some may think our children are "deployable assets" and that they belong to the military, and while that is true, they will always be our little boys. Our sons grew up to serve their country, to stand up when called and we are so proud of the men they grew up to be.
Sarah & Joe, today you are Blue Star Families, those with a loved one serving in the military. On May 30, 2004, my son, Lt Ken Ballard was killed in Iraq and I became a Gold Star Mother. It is not a journey that I wish on anyone.
I don't want either of you to wear a black metal bracelet engraved with your child's name, rank, unit, date & place of death and the words OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. I also don't want you to replace that blue star on your service flag with one of gold; I don't want another parent to receive a Gold Star Banner. I don't want you to know the reality of receiving that one knock on the door that will change your life forever. I really don't want you to know what it feels like to be escorted to the airport by your local police department and when you see that jet pull up to the gate and the doors of the cargo department open up to reveal a coffin that contains the remains of your oldest child, covered with a red, white and blue American flag, you know your child has made his last journey home. I don't want you to listen to the mournful notes as TAPS is played by an Army bugler in honor of your son's life. I don't want you to receive a folded flag from a general with the words "on behalf of a grateful nation...", I don't want you to know the emptiness in your heart knowing you will never feel your child's hug, never hear his laugh and never know what heights he might have attained. I don't wish any of this on anyone. Never. Ever.
Sarah & Joe, you both have a unique position as a military parent that very few people in this country understand; please use that experience and make a commitment to all the troops and their families that your administration will stop the shameless treatment of vets. Vow that war will only be used as a solution of last resort. I urge you both, as military parents, during this vice-presidential debate, to commit to ending the war in Iraq, bring the troops home and take care of them when they get here.