25 January 2012

Bridging the Divide

Written by Nick Palmisciano, former Army Ranger, President of RangerUp.com, and newest member of the Soldiers' Angels Board of Trustees.

To most people, the benefit of our troops’ contact with Soldiers’ Angels is obvious – our Angels provide comfort to those deployed, to those injured, and to those who have returned and need someone to hear their voice. If these three functions alone showcased the full extent of what Soldiers’ Angels brought to the table, the organization would be absolutely invaluable to our servicemen and women.

In the last few years, however, I have noticed another incredible service that our Angels bring to the table – they bridge the military/civilian divide.

To the average citizen, this divide is most likely not apparent, and that makes sense, as most people have absolutely no interaction with our Armed Forces. This is a marked change from the experience of previous generations. During World War II, a full 11.5% of all Americans served in the war, which essentially equated to almost every able-bodied man available. Everyone had multiple family members involved in the conflict and the war was very personal. People were willing to sacrifice because they had skin in the game. Limit fuel consumption? Absolutely. It might help dad. Buy war bonds? Of course. My brother needs the money for ammunition. Regardless of service status, nearly every man, woman or child had to sacrifice something, whether it was the loss of a loved one, years of separation, financial loss, or a lack of comfort items. Every American’s life was changed markedly, and when the war ended, it was truly a victory for all.

Over time, however, service numbers have dropped, our economy has become more robust, and our politicians have created a system where the average American feels no change in lifestyle due to a wartime stance.

Only 0.45% of all Americans have been involved in the Global War on Terror, and the majority of those 0.45% are the children of veterans, thus we’re seeing the possible beginning of a small “warrior caste” emerge that is even further separated from the population at large. Our taxes have not gone up to compensate for the increased spending necessary to fund the war. We have not been asked to curb our use of fuel, rubber, or steel. We have not been limited in the type of goods we can purchase. In short, while war has raged on for ten years, most of us have had to contribute well…nothing.

At the same time, we’ve seen Congress whittle away troop benefits while discussing a large reduction in force, a possible reduction in retirement benefits, and a general disregard for troop quality of life and safety (multiple deployments without rest, lack of proper equipment, insufficient training time and ammunition, challenging ROE, etc.). As there has been no outrage coming from the civilian world (because so few are directly affected), it’s easy for many troops to fall into an “us against them” thought process. This gets exacerbated when the only time any troop issue does get attention and pressure is when there is a lapse in judgment (e.g. urination on the enemy dead), leaving troops feeling that no one cares if they are killed or wounded or live in rough conditions, but God forbid something unpalatable happens in the din of battle that might be distasteful for someone sitting on their couch watching the war on CNN.

The last piece of this disconnect comes when troops return home, finally, and rejoin the civilian world. They enter a world that cannot fathom what they have gone through, that worries about insignificant challenges rather than life or death ones, and that views them as “broken” thanks to the media and Hollywood’s constant love affair with post-traumatic stress. This anger and frustration often results in an inability to connect with potential employers and has resulted in the largest veteran unemployment rate in history.

And this is where you, as a Soldiers’ Angel, make all the difference. Those letters and care packages sent to our deployed troops remind them that there are people who care for them – that appreciate their sacrifices. Those Angels visiting the wounded in the hospitals and helping to solve their problems and provide them comfort proves to our heroes that there are some Americans willing to still give their time, effort, and money for our men and women in uniform. And those Angels working to rehabilitate troops through our Heroes & Horses program, music programs, and homeless programs are helping provide that bridge back to normal life.

You see, what you may not realize is that receiving a care package isn’t a big deal because of what is in the care package, even though all the items are appreciated and needed. These packages move the troops because they show that someone out there cares. And when you’re sitting out there in a dusty post in the middle of a place you’d rather not be, having lost a friend or two and sacrificed a lot of time away from those you love, you need to know it matters every now and then.

Angels, for many people, you’re the only person letting them know it matters.

Please never forget that.
Thank you for all you do.

May no Soldier walk alone,

Nick Palmisciano

If you'd like to help with supplies for care packages - Soldiers' Angels is in particular need of healthy snacks right now - please click here to make a donation in kind, or here to make a tax-deductible cash donation.

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