This son —one of three — was a guitarist and artist before making an off-the-wall decision to go into the Army to get an education on the GI Bill. He spent much of his teen years playing those terrible war games on his computer and I believe, as with so many impressionable kids today, he got a detached sense of what is real and what is fantasy through those games.
One can kill the enemy in the games without ever getting a scratch, and there are no emotional/psychological wounds. Kids develop a completely twisted sense of personal power from games, not to mention the risk of seeing the enemy as non-human.
Now this hypersensitive son of mine, who received multiple battlefield promotions and medals, is in an Army hospital after having a total breakdown. The soldier who was being groomed by his NCOs and COs to rise rapidly through the ranks because he displayed all the "right stuff," will now be washed out of the Army because the truth of the emotional damage war inflicted on his sensitive soul could no longer be hidden behind the macho facade.
Every day I see soldiers around Mountain View, probably coming from some base. I see my son in their faces. These young people are proud to be wearing those uniforms, regardless of the personal reasons they enlisted. Some probably had no other socio-economic opportunities to get an education, so they joined. Some might possess a huge sense of patriotism, so they joined. Some might actually have college degrees but could not find a job, so they joined.
There are many reasons young people join the military. Regardless, the rest of us need to climb down out of our ivory towers where we insulate ourselves from the brutal realities of what our young soldiers are doing in other countries on our behalf. And we need to stop paying lip-service to supporting our troops and really step up and support our troops.
One of the easiest ways to support our troops is to thank them for their military service when you run into them in a military uniform. Buy them a drink if you see them in a pub. Pick up their tab in a restaurant. I do these things all the time and it's easy and it is the right thing to do. Then go to a VA hospital and visit our wounded warriors who've come back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Show your support, don't just say you do.
Jeffrey Van Middlebrook lives on Easy Street.