Forgive a slightly off-topic post, but I just returned from a month away at Fort Lee, Virginia (I joined the U.S. Army Reserve as a JAG officer earlier this year, and I just completed my first phase of basic training), and I am full of thoughts from the experience. After spending day after day working out at 5:00 a.m., crawling through dirt, weeds, and poison ivy, learning basic land navigation, firing M16s and M9s, and, yes, sitting through more than a few PowerPoint presentations, I am back at my civilian desk resuming the fight for academic freedom.
I suppose if I could sum up the month in one phrase, it would be “profoundly humbling.” I learned how little I knew about so many things, how little I’d sacrificed compared to others, and how much we all need to do to press forward to victory in this war. Most of all, I was humbled by the people that I met. In our nation’s first protracted conflict in 200 years fought by an all-volunteer army, it only makes sense that those volunteers would often have amazing stories to tell . . . stories that put to shame the human-interest tripe that fills our TV screens every Olympic season (“Brian overcame a mean mother and bad grades to run like the wind”). If the nation is interested in hazy and ever-shifting allegations of atrocities against our Marines in Haditha, is it possible that it might also be interested in people like Lieutenant Hooper, who left a law practice after 9/11 to enlist and fight through four deployments and 200 combat missions? Or perhaps Lieutenant Judah, who decided less than a year ago that it was “his turn” to serve, shed 70 pounds in three months, began a furious workout program, and went on to lead all of us in the worst physical training of my life (an ordeal I dubbed “Judah’s House of Pain”). Or maybe Lieutenant Lai, an immigrant from Taiwan who joined in wartime because, “I want my children to know that they are Americans.” Or what about the several attorneys I met who either opposed or had serious misgivings about the Iraq war yet felt called to serve so they could truly “support the troops.”
Is the real story that the Army has missed a some of its recruiting goals (although it has been doing quite well lately)? Or that every year tens of thousands of citizens of the most prosperous nation in the history of the world voluntarily agree to risk everything to serve in a deadly and open-ended conflict? As we fight through year five of the War on Terror and year four of the Battle for Iraq, I have never been more confident that their are enough extraordinary people willing to serve to bring victory . . . but only if those who choose not to sacrifice — those who choose to give up nothing in an era of massive economic expansion — continue to support those many thousands who risk it all.
In the meantime, I hope that my own service is worthy of the uniform that I now proudly wear and worthy of my new friends and comrades who I look to with the utmost admiration and respect.