I was surprised, honored, and daunted (in that order) when I was asked about writing a diary for the NFTT Blogathon – alas, I’m better known for rattling off obscure historical factiods than raising money for noble causes, and worried that I’d be unable to come up with something appropriate for a topic. Onomastic suggested that I look at my own service for inspiration, and in the process reminded me that, by some definitions, I was once a “troop” myself. Of course, back in those days…
Join me, if you will, in the Cave of the Moonbat, where tonight I’m going to gaze at the navel of my own history – or rather, that history to which I, as an insignificant cog in a vast military machine, stood witness and tertiary participant. I invite anyone out there who remembers the armed forces of their era to join the conversation – if you’ll just step over the Orange Gnocchi with me…
Back when I was a troop…
- Ronald Reagan was President, and a now-defunct communist superpower spanning 14 time zones had thousands of nuclear missiles pointed at us
- Soviet soldiers were alternately regarded as ten feet tall and bulletproof, or short, wiry, trained to obey, and possibly starving
- We carried M16A1s, and as a USAF law enforcement type, I got to take part in the upgrade from S&W .38 Special revolvers to the 9mm Beretta. Squad weapon was the M60
- We wore woodland-pattern camouflage, designed for the fields and forests of Europe but passably good for jungles. We thought of desert warfare in terms of Rommel, Monty, and North Africa
- Because of the still-relatively recent Hostage Crisis, Iran was considered an enemy. Afghanistan was considered a place that hippies used to travel through on their way between London and Kathmandu
- I helped protect one land of beer-drinking sausage-eaters from the other land of beer-drinking sausage-eaters. Many of my comrades (we didn’t use that word for one another back then) had also spent time protecting one land of soju-drinking kimchi-eaters from the other land of soju-drinking kimchi-eaters
- Kaiserslautern, West Germany, was the largest community of Americans outside the United States, and there were over 4 million military members worldwide
- Both us and the Ruskies ran up against the limits of our respective technology: Challenger broke our hearts, and friggin’ Chernobyl made it so that we weren’t allowed to drink the radioactive milk that the chow halls and AAFES got from Sweden
- George H.W. Bush became President, but nobody used his middle initials back then
- Our country was just beginning to come to grips with what had happened in Vietnam, and a lot of upper enlisted- and officers above the rank of major had served there. In the barracks, RoboCop, Rambo, and Uncommon Valor might as well have been training films
- Tom Clancy told us how war between us and the “evil empire” would unfold, but real-life combat deployments were rare and consisted of a few thousand troops sent on missions that were generally of limited duration and specific objective. In four years, I was never sent anywhere near a war, nor were the vast bulk of the millions of other men and women with whom I served
- Finally, back when I was a troop, there was no internet – we communicated with loved ones at home by calling card and 5 DM coin, or we sent and received our snail mail via APO/FPO addresses
There are a few things about my time in the military that I’m sure are points of commonality with today’s servicemembers, and a whole lot about which our experiences radically differ (I was never shot at or roadside-bombed, for starters). One of the ones I’m sure about is the experience of receiving a parcel from home.
Sometimes the aforementioned APO/FPO mail would bring us a care package from home, and it’s tough to describe what it meant to receive one – what it meant to know that there were people back in the ‘States who cared enough to pack and ship us a box of love. And if that’s how a care package could make an airman in peaceful, haven’t-heard-a-shot-in-anger-in-40-years Germany feel, then it’s got to be multiplied a thousandfold for a combat grunt in today’s Afghanistan.
Back in the 80s, our families didn’t have the ability to reach out to those stationed overseas and touch us with an instant message or an e-mailed photo; I find it awesome that today we can. Even more awesome is knowing that in this (more) modern age, we have the power not only to send encouragement to our loved ones, but to organize ourselves to better serve them while they toil and sacrifice in ways that a Cold War relic like me can ever imagine.
That’s what Netroots for the Troops does – it packs up home and love and profound thanks and it sends them to people who will truly appreciate what they’re receiving. Please consider making a contribution tonight.