2014 is a very strange year for the military. We’re still in Afghanistan, but whether we’ll be there past December is uncertain. Units are training and deploying, trying not to be distracted by the strategic level decision-making that actually has a direct impact on their and their families’ lives.
The recently proposed Defense budget will likely shrink the size of the military and could potentially reduce benefits of service, including cuts to Basic Allowance for Housing and Commissary subsidies. The upcoming ‘Officer Separation Board‘ will likely result in some 2,000 Captains and Majors – most combat veterans – being kicked out. Some of them will get the word while deployed.
Meanwhile, Iraq and Syria are blurring into a single conflict. Russia invaded Ukraine. It’s all very discombobulating and is creating an odd climate of uncertainty.
Writing for the New York Times ‘At War’ blog, Air Force Major Brandon Lingle captures this in his piece titled Watching Football, Waiting for War:
In the midst of the American drawdown in Afghanistan, after more than 12 years of war, we could be among the last United States forces headed into the country. We’re headed overseas against the current. We have a long, long way to go.
After Budweiser’s “A Hero’s Welcome” commercial, a senior airman said: “What’s with all the military commercials? It’s like they’re trying to make the war cool again.”
These words ricocheted in my head. To me, they acknowledged that our Afghanistan odyssey drones on in the background of our national dialogue. They underscored that a vast majority of Americans have no connection with the military, especially the 37,500 service members still serving in Afghanistan. They argued that commercials, tributes and ceremonies were no substitute for a meaningful conversation about the war. They showed that young Americans who joined the military after 9/11 know that their country isn’t really paying attention.
And then there is this, a quote from a young First Lieutenant in Stars and Stripes, finishing up a sleepy deployment in Afghanistan:
“Honestly, at this point in the war, is anything really worth someone’s legs or their life or something like that?” Vaughn said. “I’d argue no. We’re not here to conquer or gain more ground. We’re trying to leave.”
2014 is a shaping up to be a very strange year.