Sunday, September 5, 2010

Deployment minus 6 weeks

Next week is the 9th "anniversary" of the 09/11/2001 attack and in about five weeks I will report to Fort Benning, Georgia for 120 days of active duty in the United States Army on behalf of "Operation Iraqi Freedom". During my own "run-up" to this deployment people have made a big fuss over my decision to volunteer but it's not at all that simple.

In December/2008, at the age of 57 and after an application process that lasted almost an entire year I took my Oath of Office and entered the Massachusetts National Guard as a medical officer with the rank of Major.

I want to thank everyone who have wished me well and expressed their respect for my decision. Please don't look at me in awe because before I made this decision consider what I been doing for the six years since 09/11 had occured? Well, the answer is that I stood on the sidelines for the first six years after "The War on Terrorism" began and I was probably destined to stay there until I ran into a National Guard Health Professional Recruiter.
Almost three years ago I had attended my 20th anniversary medical school graduation event which was being held at the same time as a related medical meeting. Outside of the meeting there were the usual pharmaceutical vendors who I was trying to avoid so I went over to the booth set up by the National Guard. After all, that seemed more interesting and I've always been a type of military wannabe. I had recently discovered the military channel and it quickly became my passion and it was about the only thing I ever watched on television.

Joe Guerriero, who was a retired Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) , was the recruiter at the National Guard booth and he didn't appear to have any other takers so he was more than happy to talk to me. From what I thought was going to be a little military chit chat I heard some very serious and profound remarks from the retired LTC. He told me that throughout the years of The War Against Terrorism our military has continuously been faced with a shortage of physicians that was so serious that they were actually accepting physicians in their sixties!!

There actually are a small number of physicians & dentists who volunteer for the military out of a sense of service but without a draft the military must resort to offering scholarship money in return for military service. Even with offers of loan forgiveness and multiple cash incentives there is still a shortage so the military is spending a small fortune on hiring a force of recruiters to try to flush out physicians (like me) who might be willing to enlist.

I found the entire spectacle of a retired high level officer essentially soliciting uninterested physicians during a time of war to be painful and embarrassing. 

So if you've expressed your admiration for my decision to enlist please also consider that if this was World War II and if I took six years to decide to step forward the war would have already been over for about two years and I would have been called a draft dodger.

So more than six years had passed since 09/11 in which I didn't volunteer for anything and never had the most remote thought of getting involved. 
I supported our soldiers but who didn't? The bottom line is that for me the years after 09/11/2001 were essentially the same as the years before 09/11/2001. This was the Pearl Harbor of our time and it wasn't touching me as a citizen. Far from making sacrifices for the war effort President Bush was lowering taxes and promising less spending and I wasn't asked to do anything. So year after year after 09/11/2001 I was sitting on the sidelines during a war in which in which all Americans, with the exception of our military, was being asked to sit on the sidelines.

Immediately after 09/11 I felt that there was going to be radical changes in our way of life. I fully expected further domestic terrorism and higher taxes and rationing to support our war on terrorism. My predictions were wrong and I had to accept the fact that in 2008 my personal income had essentially been going up every year since 09/11. The burden of year after year of war had fallen completely on the shoulders of the members of our volunteer military and their families.

Universally, everybody was saying that we supported our troops, but the troops were making all the sacrifices.

Among my social acquaintances and extended family I hardly knew a soul in the military. When I first submitted my enlistment application I was asked if I had prior service or other connections to the military. I responded that my only connection to the military was that I was a "baby boomer" and that I protested the War in Viet Nam.

In a way I could say that I'm descended from a great military tradition of sorts. My father and all my uncles and likewise my wife's father and all her uncles served in World War II. But that was a world war and there was a draft. Once that war was over we were all more than willing to let that blip on the radar fade away and that was the end of my families military traditions.


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