Thursday, June 30, 2005


Stories You Won't Hear From Matt & Katie

As most of you know, I live in a pretty small town. Population 3500. It's one of those towns where everybody knows everybody, if not by name, then definitely by face. Having been a teacher here for almost ten years, now, I've gotten to know a lot of people quite well. Whether as students, parents, brothers, sisters, whatever, I'd say Im pretty familiar with over 75% of the town. And as luck would have it, most are staunch conservatives.

As is the case in most small towns, our young people don't have a lot of options awaiting them after high school. Of course many of them leave for college, but for the ones that are left, they basically have two options. They could work for one of the two factories here in town (one makes hammers for SEARS and the other makes automobile parts for Ford Motor Co.) or they can join the military. Many of our students choose the latter. If you've grown up in a small town you understand the desire to escape any way you can. For a lot of them, the military provides that opportunity.

So with this in mind, I would think that it's safe to say that I know somewhere around two dozen people, most of them former students, from this area that are currently deployed in Iraq. All over town a person can see signs and ribbons showing support for their sons or daughters or husbands etc. In fact, the softball league that I play in has two fewer teams now because many of our players are overseas. So when our soldiers come home for a visit it's a big deal. Signs go up welcoming them home. Parties are thrown in their honor. They're treated like local celebrities.

However, I'm taken aback by the behavior of some of them. It's so different from what we're led to believe. On television we get to see stories about soldiers wounded in action and they all say, "I'm just looking forward to rejoining my unit," or "I can't wait to get back to the action." But that's not the message I see from our kids here. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

One of my former students, we'll call him Joe, was among the first units to be deployed to Iraq. Joe was a student in my classroom for three years. He wasn't necessarily the best student nor was he the brightest or most amibitious but Joe was dependable. He was always at school, on time, prepared and ready to go. If there was an outside activity to attend, Joe was there. If I needed help with something I could count on Joe. Well, last summer Joe's unit received some leave time stateside. For two weeks last June, his unit got to come home and see their families. What could be better? You would think that Joe would have spent his time with his family. But instead, Joe spent his time in the bars picking fights with the locals. It turns out that Joe didn't want to go back to Iraq and was hoping to get himself into some legal trouble that would require him to stay here. The last I had heard, Joe is still in Iraq.

More disturbing yet is the story of another former student, we'll call him John. John's unit just shipped out last fall. It is his unit that boasts the majority of my former students. Almost the entire town went to the send off ceremony. Most of these kids are just out of high school. Four or five years at the most. Luckily, they are home on leave as I write this.

John was a quiet student. Once again, not what you would call the best or the brightest, but a good kid nonetheless. Last Friday he arrived at the airport for two weeks of leave. By Monday he had tried to overdose on alcohol and pills. His parents said that when they found out what he had done he replied, "At least now I won't have to go back there." The Army has stepped in and is going to take over his treatment and after some psychiatric care, he will be rejoining his unit in Iraq.

If this is happening in this pissant little conservative town, how often is this happening elsewhere around the country? For too many people, the faces of our soldiers are only what they get from Matt & Katie. They hear the rhetoric out of the White House about the insurgency being in its last throes and they see happy, eager soldiers wanting to rejoin their units. But the truth is right here. It's not all about duty and honor and bravery. For some, they are willing to risk injury, arrest, and even death if it provides them the opportunity to avoid going back.

I feel for the families of these soldiers. I feel for the soldiers themselves. It hurts me like hell to know that they are in harm's way. But what hurts me even more is the unwillingness of any member of our current administration or the mainstream media to admit that things like this are happening. The truth about Iraq can be found in the soldiers, not the politicians or the talking suits on television. And the truth I see is ugly.

I often wonder how we got ourselves into this mess and then I have to remind myself that the hardest part is going to be getting ourselves out of it. I only hope our soldiers are around to see it.

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