Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Appreciation for service--not for self-pity for what is "owed."

Recently there was news that a Navy Seals special operations force carried out a surprise raid on a mountainside al Qaeda redoubt in Yemen, killing seven terrorists and freeing their hostages. This was a small victory for the Obama administration in the midst of seemingly endless troubles with Islamic militants in the region. This operation hasn’t garnered the kind of attention as has the Osama bin Laden raid, ending his reign of terror, although one suspects that there is a video game consulting job waiting for one or more of the participants. 

Or a book, such as No Easy Day written by Matt Bissonnette, a retelling of the bin Laden raid in which he participated. Bissonnette supposedly violated the Seal’s “code of ethics” by “cashing in” on the affair, and he has also been accused of inflating his role in bin Laden’s demise at the expense of the more “deserving.” 

One of those more “deserving” was profiled last year by Phil Bronstein in Esquire magazine, identify only as the “Shooter.” The “Shooter” claims to be the man responsible for killing bin Laden, and he seems not only unhappy that he is about the only one who knows it, but that he hasn’t received the “appreciation” for his accomplishment that he believes is his due. What he means by “appreciation” has something to do with the suggestion that he is broke, implying that he hasn’t been sufficiently “compensated” for his service. For some reason, “Shooter” believes that simply because he did something “important,” he is to be given more—in fact much more—“deference” than other soldiers. 

What does he want? A $1 million bonus? No, just a “job.” And full medical benefits, and a corporate executive-size pension plan (well, not exactly that, but his whining about his alleged impoverished situation could encompass the wants and desires of a whole battalion). You see, he is angry at President Obama, because he supposedly “promised” returning veterans a good, high-paying job, and for some that has not happened. Of course, it really wasn’t the president’s place to promise anything like that, since he would need the cooperation of the private sector. Frankly, there is not much call these day for middle-aged shooters kicking in doors; my own artillery training did nothing to help me find a “good” job, and within a year of leaving the service, I was attending college.

But “Shooter” seems to believe that the “government” was supposed to act as his personal headhunter, and place him in that high-paying position—he was “owed” that. Forget the $60,000 a year he was paid as a Navy Seal—and that didn’t include the additional compensation for housing and rations; that was just free cash to spend as frugally or frivolously as he and his family wished.

I know a veteran who returned from Iraq, doing what I’m not sure; another who was a reservist and spent a year there told me that he didn’t see any “action” while he was there. Anyways, this first veteran is a raving right-winger who I occasionally had rather fierce political discussions with. I always find it fascinating how anti-government types who complain about “socialist” Social Security and Medicare still expect that same government to look after their every need, just because they served in the military. We had a “discussion” about the Affordable Care Act, which I supported and he did not; when he mentioned in passing that he was on partial disability, I asked for what, because I could not see anything physically wrong with him. He then confessed that he suffered from PTSD, and that he was taking medication for it—paid for by the “government.” He also mentioned that his family had a health plan through the state-run ACA exchange network.

“Shooter” is paranoid about the “government” too, and so is his wife. They also believe that they are on some jihadist’s “hit list.” Bronstein writes that “Since Abbottabad, he has trained his children to hide in their bathtub at the first sign of a problem as the safest, most fortified place in their house. His wife is familiar enough with the shotgun on their armoire to use it. She knows to sit on the bed, the weapon's butt braced against the wall, and precisely what angle to shoot out through the bedroom door, if necessary. A knife is also on the dresser should she need a backup. Then there is the ‘bolt’ bag of clothes, food, and other provisions for the family meant to last them two weeks in hiding. ‘Personally,’ his wife told me recently, ‘I feel more threatened by a potential retaliatory terror attack on our community than I did eight years ago,’ when her husband joined ST6.”

According to Bronstein—or at least what he has been led or chosen to believe—the “Shooter” has a body “filled with scar tissue, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage, and blown disks, here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation: Nothing. No pension, no healthcare for his wife and kids, no protection for himself or his family.”

Actually, at the very end of the on-line article we find this small tidbit:

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the extent of the five-year health care benefits offered to cover veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Veterans Affairs offers comprehensive health care to eligible veterans during that period, though not to their families. In light of this change, we have also revised an earlier passage in the story referring to the shooter’s post-service benefits. Also, the original version of this story did not include a few sentences that ran in the issue printed last week. They have now been restored.

One wonders what else is not correct about this story. The bin Laden raid wasn’t that long ago, and so how could the “Shooter” have been cleared physically to take part in the raid if he was so rundown, seeking our pity? Especially when the only “injury” was suffered by one of the helicopters? Is this just journalistic license? Self-pity? More anti-government propaganda?

Bronstein reports that he and the “Shooter” saw the film Zero Dark Thirty, allegedly an “accurate” portrayal of the events leading up to and during the bin Laden raid. Despite the fact the “Shooter” criticized the portrayal of the actual raid as being largely inaccurate, ‘The portrayal of the chief CIA human bloodhound, ‘Maya,’ based on a real woman whose iron-willed assurance about the compound and its residents moved a government to action, was ‘awesome’ says the Shooter. ‘They made her a tough woman, which she is.’"

Or at least as portrayed in the movie. Actually, for all the “Shooter” or the Esquire writer knows, she is a largely fictional character, since they never met her or knew of her existence before the film. In fact, the CIA director at the time was almost livid at the portrayal; in a memo posted on the CIA website, he characterized her involvement in bin Laden’s demise as grossly over-exaggerated in the film, and he apologized to the hundreds of agents who were involved in the operation over many years who were done a disservice by the film, and overlooked by the filmmaker in the quest of making a gender “statement.”

Having served in the military myself, I do not wish to seem overly “unsympathetic” to the supposed plight of the “Shooter.” United States veterans at least receive lip service “appreciation” from every corner—particularly from armchair “warriors” and rich celebrities and athletes who never served, and hope never to. I—as someone who served seven years in the U.S. Army, most of them overseas—also appreciate their service. But sometimes this “fighting for our freedoms” shtick goes too far, especially when that is not clear. Everyone in the military, including officers, are volunteers. No one forced them to join the service (well, maybe in the case of a few, their parents forced them to “volunteer”), and they all have a “story.” 

If they are officers, that “story” may be a quest for martial “glory.” For the enlisted, it might be for the same reason, or for the “benefits”—like college tuition—or just a job. Isn’t that what all those enlistment commercials say—the ones that forget to mention that the jobs with largest number of troops do not “translate” into “good” jobs in the civilian workplace? But the government asks something of you in return for living on the taxpayer dime. I went where I was told to go, even if I didn’t want to go; I couldn’t just “quit.” That was the “choice” I made for “three hots and a cot,” plus spending money on the side.

The “shooter” made the same choice. And he chose to be a Navy Seal not necessarily because he was “patriotic,” but because it made him feel “superior” to others. And he liked the exhilaration and intrigue of commando operations, like what he saw in the movies. Maybe he and many others saw things a little differently afterward, especially when their friends and colleagues started getting killed—or making money in video game consulting jobs. If he was honest, he and those others could thank George Bush for embarking on a needless war in Iraq based on falsified “justifications,” costing the lives of over 4,000 American soldiers, and maiming thousands more.

And for what? Islamic insurgents in Iraq knew after a few years of fighting that they could not defeat American troops on the ground, so they just hunkered down and waited until the U.S. believed that it had “won.” After U.S. forces left, they just crawled out of their holes like rats, with the results we have seen—almost daily killings of civilians since 2012, and Islamic militants attempting to take control of the country piece-by-piece.

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