- Posted August 11, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
First Person: Your essays
The abyss between military and civilian cultures
Four years ago on a deployment to Afghanistan I was assigned to monitor and mentor a network of Afghan logistics companies that were based on the outskirts of Kabul. We would make frequent trips to various sites to inspect their operations and ensure military logistical support contracts were being faithfully executed.
One of these trips changed my life.
I was making my rounds through a shipping yard one morning with some Afghan businessmen and our assigned security team. The massive doors to the compound suddenly swung open and a flatbed truck entered carrying the wreckage of an Afghan transport truck and its trailer.
The Taliban had destroyed the truck and trailer due to the NATO supplies they were transporting (which were non-lethal, by the way).
The burnt out wreckage was laid to rest in the corner of the yard with hundreds of other destroyed vehicles. I walked up to the wreckage and was instantly overcome with the worst odor I had ever known.
We all quickly realized this was the smell of burnt human flesh and bone.
I stood at the back of the destroyed shipping container while the Afghan workers struggled to open the burnt container doors. I have never felt so sick to my stomach as I did in that moment, anticipating what was about to happen next. Unfortunately, my imagination grossly underestimated what we were about to see.
The doors swung wide open, instantly exposing two charred corpses sprawled next to the doors.
The author with Afghan police in Afghanistan, 2010.
The Taliban had captured and executed the driver of the truck and his traveling companion — his young son.
The Taliban placed their two victims in the metal shipping container and then lit it on fire from the inside, sentencing the Afghan father and son to the cruelest of deaths.
You could see the panic and fear of the man and boy melted into their corpses. There were scratch marks all inside the metal container, evidence of a futile, desperate attempt to live.
This moment is something that will haunt me forever. But the sad truth is that this experience is still relatively mild compared to what other U.S. service men and women have endured and witnessed.
I was fortunate to have a mild set of deployment experiences and to return home physically unharmed. I am only now, four years later, starting to revisit these experiences and talk about them openly due to a recent catalyst for change in my personal life that drove me to face my demons.
So, why am I writing an article about this horrible and sad event? It’s been four years now; why even bring it up?
The reason is that I have grown tired with our country's apathy toward what is happening around the world.
I have been talking a lot with my military peers lately, and I sense a rising tide of disappointment among veterans with those who have never served.
Most people with whom we interact cannot even place Afghanistan or Iraq on a map, but they still have incredibly strong opinions about what we have tried to do there. We don’t understand why our fellow countrymen don’t care enough to learn about these places and the issues that affect them, so they at least have the faintest clue about what they are sending these young men and women off to endure.
It is easy to say thank you to a someone in the military for their service, but it is far more important to actually know and care about the underlying issues affecting their lives. It takes effort to forge an informed opinion and participate in the democratic process to effect change.
Since leaving the military a few months ago, most of the people I've met in the civilian world haven’t experienced true adversity in their lives, although they think they have. Most of these “challenges” are in the pursuit of personal happiness and nothing more.
They brag about their big adventures to Australia or Europe, talking about how enlightened they are and how much they love to travel. They complain about how uncultured Americans are compared with the rest of the world. Right. Try spending half a year in Afghanistan, then tell me what the rest of the world is like.
Their problems seem petty. Getting over a failed relationship, not getting a dream job, or whatever other trivial event over which someone might lament are not really problems at all, and it is baffling that our generation doesn’t have the courage to confront and overcome such overcome-able issues.
What happened to the resiliency and the ability for people to defeat obstacles? We are breeding a generation who just throw up their hands and quit in the face of adversity, instead of leveraging challenges as motivation to learn, grow and become a better person.
These people cannot possibly understand what it is like to take an oath to sacrifice their minds and bodies to protect a population that won’t even take the time to look at a map to know where their friends went to die.
With the greatest generation slipping closer and closer to becoming a memory, and with only 1 percent of the current U.S. population ever having served, I am concerned about the mental and moral fortitude of the future leaders of this country.
We cannot allow the United States to continue down a path where the burden of defending what is right and good in the world falls on a continually smaller and smaller percentage of the population.
Our country is divided between those who have the courage to stand up and sacrifice everything for others, while the rest stay seated, happily allowing someone else to pay the necessary price to maintain our way of life.
What happens to our country when the only people left are those who stayed seated?