In this silly season of political name calling and finger pointing about which party is going to wreck the country faster, I was privileged recently to attend a New Hampshire ceremony that exemplified what real service to this nation involves.
I’ve been traveling the country for the past few months listening to candidates and voters vent their frustration with the American political system. Most of the talk centers on the size of government, spending, and taxation, and since things are such a mess here at home, very little attention has been focused in campaigns this year on the foreign conflicts to which our military is committed.
But for the soldiers who have to fulfill those obligations and for their families, U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan are never far from their mind.
On September 11, the ninth anniversary of the World Trade Center bombing, more than 700 service men and women assembled in Manchester, New Hampshire, for a departure ceremony before they left for additional training and then on to Kuwait and Iraq.
The deployment of New Hampshire’s 197th Fires Brigade National Guard unit was the largest in the state since World War II and the event was testament to the fact that we are far from out of Iraq.
More than 2000 New Hampshire soldiers have served in Iraq. Some members of the 197th have already been deployed overseas three or four times. Forty nine New Hampshire soldiers have died since 2001, including a Marine who was killed just last week in Afghanistan. That may seem like a small number compared to the total 5,674 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is no less a sacrifice for them and their families.
All of the state’s political elite, including Gov. John Lynch, Sens. Judd Gregg and Jeanne Shaheen, Reps. Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter were on hand to pay tribute to the troops. But by far the most eloquent remarks of the day were made by the unit’s 47-year-old commander Peter Corey.
It was clear how much Corey’s soldiers think of him as they gave him a rousing standing ovation when he was introduced. “Now I know what it feels like to be Britney Spears,” he quipped, looking out over the more than 7,000 family members and friends of the troops gathered at Manchester’s Verizon Wireless Arena.
Corey described what it means to be a soldier and talked about the 18 months of training his soldiers have already undertaken. They “are here because they choose to serve,” he explained.
“I know that many tears will be shed as loved ones and soldiers say their final goodbyes, but save a few for tears of joy when we return,” Corey told those assembled in the arena.
It was an extremely moving moment and there were few dry eyes in the arena. I’m not ashamed to say that listening to Corey and looking out over the sea of soldiers getting ready to leave their homes and families for a year brought a few tears to my eyes as well.
“We will be home before you know it,” Corey assured his own family and those of the other soldiers.
We can only hope and pray that is true for the families of the 197th Fires Brigade and all of the other U.S. soldiers serving abroad.
The politicians who are going at each other hammer and tongs this fall would do well to remember what real service, sacrifice, and patriotism look like. If they can’t find a way to work together and solve the problems facing this nation so we can move forward together, they dishonor the service of soldiers like Peter Corey.