0.45% Is All That Protects Our Country

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by Ed Mattson

Coffee and Veteran counseling-always available at Richard's Coffee Shop

 

Thursday, 9 December, 2012 was another day in my continuing education down at Richard’s Coffee Shop. The day started out as usual; s-s-s-s (s*@t, shower, shave, and shampoo); a couple of cups of coffee; spend a couple of hours prepping to write today’s article…doing some background work and researching facts, and then head downtown to Richard’s Coffee Shop here in Mooresville to have a cup o’ Joe with a bunch of Veteran’s.

Since the Marine Corps forty-four years ago, the only real change in the morning ritual is the trip down to Richard’s for the coffee and conversation and to see what we can do to make life better for homecoming Veterans and the community. As busy as the days have become, adding the stop at Richard’s has been therapeutic. It gives me focus and allows me to give thanks for how lucky I am to possibly make a difference in the lives of others.

Since losing my first wife to cancer 12 years ago, a situation that I was helpless to stop (even with my knowledge in cancer research), life has changed from the fast track of making a buck, to a life of atonement by helping those with cancer find new and better treatments in the battle for life. I have been able to steer hundreds to the right cancer treatment centers or find new treatments for their doctors to try, and even found time to write a book about how someone should go about successfully fighting such a disease. I call it a life of atonement because I learned life is more than chasing money, and materialistic gratification.

Since 2000, my focus has evolved from helping those with cancer to working with Rotary International and the National Guard Bureau of International Affairs State Partnership Program (NGBIA-SPP) doing humanitarian and disaster relief projects. I have learned there is a huge need to help Veterans, through the power of the pen, in their battles with the VA over Agent Orange, PTSD, and physical and mental disabilities they endured from being wounded. The needs of those who have served are up against a government hell-bent on budget cuts with the focus on slashing Veterans’ benefits and not on patient care, and everywhere I turn is another Veteran’s group in need of funding.

Each time I go into Richard’s it is a learning experience. Thursday was no different and brought the Iraq-Afghanistan War more clearly into focus. In just a week’s time I met several Veteran’s who  returned home and had to pick up the pieces of their life after being severely wounded in Action. Yesterday I met Andrew, wounded in the head by an IED, who, after losing his left eye, made the transition to civilian, got married, fathered two children, and struggles daily with PTSD. He told me his symptoms aren’t as bad as some and that his family is supportive. He was lucky to find an entry level job and quickly moved up to a challenging position so he’s been able to keep the symptoms of PTSD and his war experience under control. His experience is helping others as others continue helping him work on his demons. Such is the way it is in this Veteran-friendly environment here in Mooresvile, NC.

Richard's Coffee Shop is a place where the young can learn about the honor, and duty

Earlier in the week I met John, who left his legs in Afghanistan, the result of severe wounds. After months of rehabilitation hetoo, managed to make his way back home, not just physically, but mentally as well. In John’s case, he couldn’t find a job in the transition process because the jobs just weren’t there. So John decided he could make it in his new “civilian world” by helping Veterans far less fortunate than himself. He started a foundation to build homes for those who were badly wounded called Purple Heart Homes, and is living proof to all Veterans, that no matter what issues you face coming out of the military, there is hope of turning those experiences into something good. Purple Heart Homes is one of the foundations our Welcome Home Veterans is supporting.

Both Andrew and John are becoming regulars at Richard’s Coffee Shop, and are examples of America’s finest. Sure, they drew a Joker in the war, but are living proof that whatever the hand one is dealt, the possibilities can still be endless. Richard’s is frequented by a lot of Andrews and Johns, which is why I called it Veteran’s University, a place Veterans can come for help by those who “not only talk the talk, but have walked the walk”, and in turn help other by their example.

Yesterday also introduced me to the PVA. I am sure that many, like me, have never heard of the PVA. In sending out information about our series of car shows to benefit disabled Veterans we had somehow gotten an email address of someone who was involved in the Paralyzed Veterans Association in Minnesota. He replied to our

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email asking why we aren’t addressing the concerns of the paralyzed veterans along with other Veterans who are disabled. I went on-line and found the PVA website and was surprised I had never heard of it before. There are hundreds of different groups helping fill the niche the government is overlooking or under-serving, and with today’s budget-cut mentality, it looks like the slack will have to be picked up by other Veterans.

This information about Richard’s and those who come in for a cup of coffee is to highlight a letter forwarded to me by Jack Thomas, Vietnam Warrior (Bronze Star and Purple Heart Medals) – First Cavalry Division – 1970; attributed to an unknown soldier, “thanking the 0.45%”, referring to the percentage of Americans who actually volunteer for military service these days.

The figures regarding the number of those serving today compared to WWII and Vietnam are astonishing and I am sure are unknown to most Americans who can hardly even remember we have a war of terror going on, let alone are inconvenienced by it accept at the gate-security down at the local airport. The War of Terror hardly even makes the newspaper anymore unless it is a day of extreme casualties our it related to an issue on the Federal budget.

In World War II, 11.2% of the American population fought, with 62.1% having been drafted over a four year period. In Vietnam 4.3% of Americans participated over the twelve years we were in Southeast Asia with 1/3 being drafted. Today in the War of Terror there is no draft and only 0.45% of Americans volunteer for service. What does that say about Americans in general? And how many legislators in Congress have family and/or relatives in Iraq or Afghanistan? In short, how many people even think about what a dangerous world we live in today?

With so few carrying the burden for so many, it may be easy for John Q. Public to take those in the military for granted. As for our elected officials in Washington, it is reprehensible that their actions should ever take anything away from our lowest paid civil servants. No one knows for sure how many serving in Congress have family of other relatives in the military for fear of being single out as specific targets by the enemy and anti-war type radicals (yes…we still have them today).

Jim Webb (D-Virginia), a Vietnam War combat veteran, said, “Members of Congress should weigh their decisions with equal care whether it is their flesh and blood on the line or their constituents. Every single person up here (in Congress) should act like they have somebody over there.”

Over time, fewer and fewer people have shouldered more and more of the burden and it is only getting worse. Taxes did not increase to pay for the war. War bonds were not sold. Gas was not regulated. In fact, the average citizen was asked to sacrifice nothing, and in fact have sacrificed nothing unless they have chosen, out of the goodness of their hearts to make some monetary contribution. The only people who have sacrificed are the active-duty military, the Veterans and their families. The volunteer military who swore an oath to defend this nation.

For those sent to the front lines, they are there, deployment after deployment and carry the load at the risk of dying, losing relationships, living in extreme conditions, becoming estranged from their wives and kids and then come home to a county that hasn’t a clue. A nation that doesn’t understand the suffering, the sacrifice, or simply doesn’t believe exists. Life has  been forever changed by multiple tours of duty, and the public back at looks at the Veteran of today’s Iraq and Afghanistan War with a raised eyebrow. There is no understanding. They believe everyone who wears the uniform has uncontrollable PTSD which has been widely written about in today’s headlines looking for shock and awe of a mind-numb populace.

Veterans of previous wars know the scenario well, and so picking up the slack and providing the support, is left to the Veteran’s organizations, and the families of those who serve while the rest of America couldn’t care less. You know the one’s I’m talking about. They drive around town with a bumper sticker saying “support the troops”; have a flag stuck on the antenna of their car; say Amen following a prayer at church asking for God to protect our warriors; and then turn their backs when the troops return home looking for a job, not demanding the government fulfill its obligation for Veteran’s benefits, and even telling the Reservists that their jobs were filled by someone else while they were “away”, making it appear as if they were merely on vacation.

Most all of those wearing the uniform today are witnessing the treatment of Veterans in the past. They may think it will be different for this generation of heroes, but we Veterans know the truth. The job of defending the country needs to be done and even though the number willing to put country above self is getting smaller and smaller, there is still that select few who do what the greatest men and women of this country have done since 1775 – they serve. Just that decision alone makes us part of an elite group. Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.

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