Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

On Thursday, my family will once again have an empty chair at our Thanksgiving table. This will be the 6th Thanksgiving since my only child, 1Lt Ken Ballard was killed in Iraq.  As the holidays loom, so many Gold Star families are in a funk.  Whether it has been 9 years or 9 months, the truth seems especially harsh at this time of year.  "They are never coming home" repeats in our heads over and over again, they will never fight for the drumstick, or play football before dinner, or bound in with the energy of a puppy dog who just wants to love and love back. There will be no hugs and there will be no hands to hold. These seats are forever empty.

The other empty seats at Thanksgiving tables are those with loved ones who are serving their country in harm's way, 168,000 in Afghanistan, 115,000 in Iraq and so many others in places that do not make the news at all.  Our wish for them is that their empty seats are only temporary and that there will be a quick and safe return for their loved ones

President Obama will spend the holiday with his family in tact, in the warmth, comfort and safety of the White House or Camp David, while thousands of military families from Fort Campbell, KY and Ft Drum, NY wait to hear the deployment plans of their loved ones.  Rampant rumors are flying that Obama has finally decided on his strategy for Afghanistan.  The plan calls for the deployment over a nine-month period beginning in March of three Army brigades from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., and the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., and a Marine brigade from Camp Lejeune, N.C., for as many as 23,000 additional combat and support troops.

I am thankful that our president has spent so much time deliberating this strategy; it is refreshing that he has taken the time to analyze the options, none of which is good- he was left with a hot mess and no one can argue any differently. But what will be the determining factor in this decision?  Will it be politics? 

Obama will be addressing the nation next week to announce/defend his plan. Americans remain divided about any troop increases with half of the people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey say they'd support such a decision, with 49 percent opposed. Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan 52 percent and 45 percent are in support.  These are not pretty numbers from the President's point of view; his decision will still divide the country.  But The Hill reports that the president said “My intention is to finish the job,” Obama said in comments from the White House. “I think once the American people hear a clear rationale for what we're doing there and how we intend to achieve our goals, they will be supportive,” Obama said.  I'm not so sure.

I don't know what "finish the job" means. Our former president sent troops into Afghanistan 8 years ago hell bent on revenge and perhaps some would say misguided retribution.  Once Bush was distracted by that shiny ball that was Iraq, Afghanistan was pretty much abandoned, leaving the troops understaffed,  ill equipped and poorly trained in Middle East culture. The military in both countries has performed admirably and far exceeded everything we have asked of them with little support from the tax payers who have not had to pay a "war" tax.  Apparently it's okay for their grandchildren to pay their bill.

In our 9th year of combat operations in Afghanistan, 928 US troops have lost their lives and in 7 years of combat operations in Iraq, we have lost 4365 US members of the military.  This doesn't count the number of suicides, the broken marriages and broken lives because those really aren't substantiated and besides, it doesn't affect most people, at least that's what they think.

I had hoped that Obama's trip to Dover AFB to see the dignified transfer of bodies as they come home from Iraq &Afghanistan would be meaningful as he saw the deeply grieving families as they welcome their loved ones home on that cold and windy tarmac.  I had hoped that the trip to Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery would be meaningful as the President and Mrs Obama walked through those white stones at our national cemetery.  As they spoke to the families and read the names on those headstones, I had hoped that the sacrifice would be palpable and would weigh heavily on this new President's shoulders because by now, he surely knows the human cost of war.  But, what drives him?  Is he another "war president"?  As much as it pains me to think this, it seems so. If you haven't called or written to your member of Congress, you must let them know that continuing military operations is not what we want and the current foreign policy also must be be changed.

Early on this Thanksgiving 2009, I am thankful that I am with my my parents and 2 of my sisters. We have a roof over our heads and we will have a good meal. I am thankful that I have a job that I like and where I am respected. I am thankful for old friends and new ones. I am thankful for my Gold Star family friends and I wish for them a better day and a day full of memories that will warm their hearts. I'm not sure we will ever figure out how to live with this hole in our hearts, but we will get up tomorrow and the next day, and the next and we will speak our minds, because we have earned that right and becasue we know if we can't speak, another Gold Star family member  will step forward..  I am thankful that we have a President who has actually attended the dignified transfer at Dover AFB and one who has walked through Section 60- neither of those were easy, but he did it anyway.  I am thankful that President Obama lifted the media ban at Dover and now families can have the photograph of their loved one, the one I never got. Later today, we will remember who filled our empty chair and we will lift our glasses and toast to those who are not with us.  We miss them today, especially today.

I hope each of you is exactly where you are supposed to be in mind, body and spirit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

By calling for Medal of Honor (or any other form of media, be it video game or whatever) to be banned (you called it "pulled", but there's absolutely no difference between the two), you aren't respecting the 1st Amendment, you're spitting it and showing great disrespect toward your son's sacrifice and the sacrifices of every other Soldier, Marine, Airman, and Sailor that has fought to preserve our freedoms and rights. I find that to be quite hypocritical, very damn disrespectful, and just plain offensive.

And just to point something out to you, our troops in combat and their families won't be "virtual targets", as you called them, in this game. Gamers playing MoH won't be shooting at US troops, their families, or even Taliban fighters, they'll be shooting at other gamers who are controlling pixilated sprites skinned to *look like* US soldiers and Taliban fighters. Contrary to your irrational perception, there *is* a difference between looking like something and being something.

And your cheap shot at the EA staff calling them "wanna be members of the military" is quite misguided, as well. I doubt the creators of Tetris were wanna be colored blocks or the creators of Super Mario were wanna be Italian plumbers. Furthermore, how do you know none of the EA staff served in the military? I don't know and I seriously doubt you do, either. Oh, take a look at the front cover of the MoH game case. You see that bearded guy with an M4 carbine on it? He's a US Army Special Forces operator that served in Afghanistan and he's one of a number of individuals providing technical support on the authenticity of the game's content. If you don't believe me, just Google search "Medal of Honor Cowboy" for proof.

So in closing, yes, I will be buying Medal of Honor, as will a number of my friends who are in the military, a few of which served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and are quite blatantly in disagreement with your point of view in this non issue.