Editor Chronicles Efforts to Help Badly Wounded Troops

By: Dennis Anderson

(Commentary) It’s been said that there has been little sacrifice from the American public during the war that this nation is waging in Iraq and its almost forgotten and undernourished front, Afghanistan.

It’s said that while the U.S. military went to war, America “went to the mall.”

This week that “little engine that could,” the Blue Star Mothers of America — Chapter 14, Antelope Valley, California — has been diligently raising funds in support of a couple of our hometown soldiers who were hideously wounded in this war. In one case, they did it at, yes, the mall.

In the one case, it’s to help with a crucial morale issue for one soldier who lost both legs to an incredibly powerful explosive during the fighting in Baghdad. His name is Travis Strong.

Lose both legs, and you cannot take a walk on the beach with your bride. Not even on artificial legs. Like a lot of our military gear, the prosthetics don’t do well in sand. If you need to get up in the night to go to the bathroom, well, that isn’t easy, either.

These are costs of war borne by the very few who are doing the fighting.

In the other soldier’s family story, it is to help a family support network of wife and mother of Spc. Jerral Hancock. Hancock’s mother, Stacie Tscherny, lost her job while taking leave to help her son (as the paper I edit, the Antelope Valley Press in Palmdale, detailed one week ago).

Here’s the deal: Every day Spc. Hancock, 21, of the 1st Cavalry Division, is fighting for his life at Brooke Army Medical Center. Like his comrade in arms, Sgt. Travis Strong, 30, of the 2nd Infantry Division, he was
wounded by a devastating chunk of ordnance called an EFP – an explosively formed penetrator.

When we invaded Iraq in 2003, not having done the homework that would be required of leadership — read that the entire Bush administration and national security
apparatus — we opened Pandora’s box. We reaped the whirlwind (as I observed when I went to Iraq twice as an embed). It is the Jerral Hancocks and Travis Strongs and all the other hundreds of thousands of good, tough-minded, courageous Americans in the military who are paying the tab for that recklessness.

It is their mothers, also, who are paying the tab. With worry. With fright. And with courage.

Look into the eyes of some of these moms – I know them. They are brave. They are hopeful. Also, they are terrified that their sons or daughters might face a similar fate of death or terrible injury. So, they help those among their sisterhood and extended family and friends who have suffered, and who are suffering.

This last few days, the Blue Star Mothers with their own actions — just getting up and heading to the malls and shopping centers of the Antelope Valley — raised thousands of dollars to help out another American family who got caught in this web of war and terror. They raised money from ice cream sales at Cold Stone Creamery.

There is something very right and righteous that these mothers are doing this. And there is something right and very righteous that people in this community – when the crisis is called to their attention – head out to the mall and the shopping center and open their wallets, and their hearts. A lot of good people did just that.

But there are things that are very wrong, also.

Accounts of care at the urgent-immediate post combat injury stage are that the care is first-rate. But the strains and burdens that families of the wounded will undergo are urgent also. And those needs need to be reported, by national media, by local media — by anyone with the means to see and the megaphone of communication to use.

In one case recently our newspaper covered the story of a National Guard soldier whose military insurance was canceled before final surgery to remove steel rods emplaced to repair his mangled legs, which were fractured in an IED blast that destroyed his Humvee. It only was after news of the incident surfaced that the military and its insurance overseer effected a quick about-face and remedied the situation.

A few years ago, when it became apparent that our slow-at-the-draw military acquisition process had failed to obtain enough body armor for troops driving into walls of hot, showering steel, it was the mothers and families who rallied and put armor on the backs of their kids in service. Body armor issued by bake sale. That is not a policy.

Now that thousands of these splendid young people are coming home, maimed, cut to pieces, broken — there is something terribly wrong with an America that pays taxes for a volunteer military, but drafts parents as volunteers who lose their homes and jobs while they take care of their maimed and scarred and physically and mentally disabled children.

This is the responsibility of Congress to fix. The least our representatives can do is make sure that first-rate care — and first-rate aftercare — is handled for the 500-some amputees of this war, and the several thousand who have suffered brain damage from explosive concussion. That shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of the Blue Star Mothers, even if they are willing to shoulder that burden. They can help. They will help. But they need America’s help. Will we do it? Will we have the awareness and the firmness to insist that this is done?

This past week, the Blue Star Mothers rushed in with Band-Aids and bandages of the volunteer variety to try and help another Blue Star Mother not lose everything while she and her daughter-in-law, Rachel Hancock, work
feverishly to save everything. Everything being defined as the life that is left to their dearest, Jerral, a young soldier who lost an arm at the shoulder, lost the use of all of his limbs, who is fighting to keep his ability to eat, sleep and breathe.

It is tragic that too many reasons exist that the United States cannot simply stop our troops’ bleeding and get home as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, the human treasure of our nation is squandered, our beautiful young men and women. The military that we pay for is depleted, needs replacement and retooling, and it is our Congress that better “strap it on,” see its duty and do it. Not that we can expect or hope for much of that.

Meanwhile, a few – some very few – of the Americans who went to the mall instead of going to the war – are great Americans, indeed. They are the ones who volunteered, who got out there and raised the money, and they are the
ones who got out of the house and went and wrote the checks to help the greatest of our young citizenry.

For the poet Blake, the world was worked out in “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience.” The songs of experience are the sad, sad songs. And yet, we will have them, whether or not we would wish it so.

I am glad that to this point this son of mine — who served in Iraq, in Fallujah in the worst of it — survived. I know of other writers who lost their sons in the maw of war, such as Kipling, T.R. Roosevelt. It broke them, ended their lives. I live now with other fathers whose sons were taken from them. Their is no song like it. And it must be so for every Iraqi father and mother who loses their child at the end of a bomb, no matter whose “side” it was that loosed the bomb.

You would think that intelligent creatures that we are that we could do better, but that seems not to be the case.

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