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September 22, 2021

The Soldier, The Sailor & The Senator

Dad.

Prisoner #313052 was wounded and, a few days later, taken captive by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. A member of the 86th and 28th Infantry Divisions during World War II, George Chilton aka “dad” would later be liberated by the Russians and awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service. He never did claim the Bronze Star. He said he didn’t like to think about what he had to do to earn it. And thus, ever since I was a young girl, I was made aware that there are ordinary people who do extraordinary things on behalf of our nation.

The Mudflats would like to thank and salute those who aren’t home to celebrate July 4th because they’re serving us overseas. Those who do our nation’s dirty work. Those who—while we whine about traffic on the way to the mall, or about having to pay our taxes—find themselves confronting horrors to which we civilians cannot possibly relate.

Below is a conversation with two friends who have very unique perspectives on those prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our nation.

Jim Wright & some other blogger.

My friend Jim Wright lives up the road in Palmer, Alaska, and publishes the excellent Stonekettle Station blog. Jim is a retired US Navy Chief Warrant Officer who spent sixteen years as an enlisted man and eight years as a commissioned officer serving all over the world in peace and in war. He saw the Cold War up close on the front lines, and has personal experience in our current warzones. Jim lost friends in uniform on 9/11 and many more since—one as recently as last week. America’s conflicts are personal to him.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski is co-chair of Alaska’s Senate Armed Services Committee, and his district includes Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER). The senator’s bill incentivizing Alaskan businesses to hire vets (SB136) was signed into law this year.

Wielechowski has also introduced legislation that would provide veterans living in Alaska with credit toward college or vocational degrees for their service and military training (SB150). In addition to his duties as a state senator, Wielechowski has worked for the Department of Defense on military community and family policy.

 

Sen. Wielechowski at JBER.

What do you think is the most important thing we as a nation could do—but aren’t—for those serving in uniform today? What’s our biggest oversight, in your view?

Wielechowski: I’m not sure some people fully grasp the impact that years of war have taken on our service members. Multiple deployments have taken a toll – PTSD numbers are high, suicides are high. National Guard members who’ve been deployed multiple times have suffered economic losses. It’s tough on families when a member is away for months at a time. And yet there is talk about cutting the pensions and health care for those who serve our country. I think that’s a big mistake.

Wright: The most important thing America can do for her men and women in uniform is to neither place them on a pedestal nor take them for granted. We need your respect, not your worship or your indifference. Far too many Americans slap a $5 magnet on the back of their giant guzzling SUVs and feel they’ve actually done something to support the troops. War is far too easy for us Americans, the military option is far too often the first option we reach for, might far too often makes us right. We’ve been at war, two wars actually, for ten years now. Look around, how many signs of it do you see here at home? What sacrifices are Americans making to support those troops and those wars? Life goes on here and the conflict is far, far away. It’s hardly even mentioned on the daily news any more. War is far too easy for America. And yet, because of our culture and our history, too many Americans proclaim us all heroes. Heroes don’t feel human weakness, don’t need help, are never troubled by what they’re asked to sacrifice. The truth of the matter is that we are not heroes, we’re human, with the frailties and vulnerabilities shared by every other human being. Calling us heroes blinds people to that fact and hides the very real needs military folks have both during and after the war.  If you send us to war, then give us the tools we need to do our jobs. We’ll spend half a trillion dollars we don’t have to build invisible fighters, meanwhile the vast majority of our troops are being killed by kids with cell phones and IEDs. If you send us to war, be prepared to pay the price when we return. Or don’t send us.

It seems that military service was once a more broadly shared burden, when even those from privilege and connected families like Kennedy, McCain, etc. were likely to have served. Today there appears to be a growing gap between those who serve and the rest of the country. How real of a problem is this, and what are your thoughts about it?

Wielechowski: In the past, with the draft, service tended to be more equally distributed among the rich and poor and among races and ethnicities. It didn’t matter if you were the son of the President or a professional baseball player—if your draft number came up, you served. A danger today is that the privileged and ruling class can choose to not send their kids to war. The realities of war tend to hit much closer home when it’s your child sent into battle.

Wright: I think it’s a different world today than it was back during the first hundred and fifty years of the United States. Too many of the powerful today talk about service and sacrifice but what they really mean is service and sacrifice for others. Many of these folks would do well to take a lesson from Teddy Roosevelt. However, I think what is more disturbing than the gap between those who serve and those who don’t is the growing partisan divide between Americans themselves. It sickens me how many Americans regard other Americans, their own neighbors, as their enemy. Some of these people have become as inflexible, as intolerant, as any Middle Eastern Ayatollah.

What do you see as the greatest need for service members returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan? Where should we be devoting our focus and resources to help them reintegrate to civilian life?

Wielechowski: I’d say jobs are a huge issue. The unemployment rate for young veterans is very high. When a service member has been out of the job market for a long time, it can be hard to reconnect into the job market. There have been national efforts to fix this. In Alaska we’ve worked on some legislation also. I sponsored a bill providing tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed Veterans. This is the area where we need to continue to focus.

Wright: No normal person can endure the stresses and horrors of combat and come out unchanged. Some are obviously affected more than others, but all are changed in some way—you simply cannot go four and five times into the meat grinder and come out unscathed. We’re going to need help in one form or the other—everything from mental and medical support to housing to jobs to marriage counseling. And to compound matters, unlike other conflicts we’re not returning to a booming economy. Americans need to pony up. They had to make damned few sacrifices over the last ten years in order to wage these wars, but now the bill is due. The Veterans Administration and veterans programs need to be fully staffed and aggressively funded—even if that means we have to take money away from other areas, say like oil and farm subsidies for starters. What can the average citizen do? Vote. Vote early and vote often and vote loudly and vote for those who are willing to put the partisan hatred aside and do what’s right for the country, both left and right. We’re all Americans. That’s what we were out there fighting for—all Americans.

Do you feel like things have been improving at the VA since the Walter Reed scandal of a few years ago? Are things trending in the right direction, from your perspective?

Wielechowski: I think things have improved at the VA, but there is room for improvement. I still hear concerns—too much bureaucracy, too many meds being prescribed instead of getting to the root of the problem. We need to do a better job of treating those with PTSD. In Alaska we still don’t do a good enough job of taking care of our Veterans in rural Alaska.

Wright: Yes and yes. But there is plenty more to be done. No veteran should find him or herself in a hospital room with peeling paint and rats. It’s a national disgrace.

If you could have Thomas Jefferson over for your holiday barbecue, what would you ask him?

Wielechowski: Where do I start?  I’d be really interested in hearing his take on the incredible partisanship that has taken over this country. I’d also like to ask him about the Supreme Court saying corporations are people.  Somehow I don’t think he envisioned large corporations being able to buy elections when he was writing the Declaration of Independence.

Wright: Dude, what’s with the powdered wig? No? I’d ask him what he really intended. Think about it, Jefferson was a slave owner, yet he was responsible in large part for creating the conditions which one day would make the descendants of his property people—some of whom are his own great grand children.  I’ve long suspected that Jefferson, knowing that he could not change the world he lived in, deliberately created the conditions which would change the future.

What are you cooking for the 4th?

Wielechowski: I’ll probably grill up some Copper River Reds I caught and some corn on the cob.

Wright: Well I spent all last weekend smoking pork short ribs Kansas City style. I’ve got a lot of leftovers, so I’ll probably just eat those with coleslaw and baked potatoes. Happy Birthday, America.

Comments

comments

Comments
19 Responses to “The Soldier, The Sailor & The Senator”
  1. carol says:

    Who are the people in the last photo? Or where did I miss that information?

  2. Beejay says:

    Thanks for this, Jeanne. Here’s to hoping this madness ends for all our service members soon, so the healing can begin. The aftermath of Viet Nam was bad enough, didn’t we learn anything? Worse yet, didn’t our “leaders” learn anything?

    I served, albeit only in peacetime. Am I a hero? No, far from it. I spent my entire six years on the West Coast, guarding the fish, er, coast, from dastardly foreign fishing fleets who might have overfished the continental shelf. Everybody behaved themselves, and we all got to go home afterwards, knowing the job well done. I’ll take that as my thanks.

    Bravo Zulu to all who wear the uniform. Be safe.

  3. zyxomma says:

    Thank you, AKM, for a timely and lovely post.

    I’d like to share a video of why one veteran is sticking with President Obama:

    https://my.barackobama.com/page/share/welcome-home?source=em12_20120704_rd_vet&utm

    It’s quite touching.

  4. mike from iowa says:

    Since this is the fourth of July we should celebrate all Americans,past.present and future,and sing praises to the good old red,white and bl……sorry I forgot. The rill ‘mericans pledged allegiance to Grover Norquist and his divided states and the official colors are now rich and white. Treason is the new trend for rwnj.

  5. Warner says:

    Sent here by Jim Wright, fine article. You do have a good Senator, I’m lucky enough to live in NY with Sen. Gillibrand as one of my two.

    I was lucky enough to avoid combat in the late 60s, but we were waiting for the tanks to come through the Fulda Gap. Three years well spent, but I know some of the people who worked for me are still having problems with Vietnam.

    • Beejay says:

      Thanks for being in the Gap. That was little-noticed or heralded duty, yet critical during the Cold War.

      I have German relatives right there, just south and east of Fulda, who used to rent an upstairs apartment in their house to service families from the Black Horse Cav. They love Americans, since GI’s gave them C-rations in the winter of ’45-46 which helped them literally survive that winter. The husband has further thanks for GI’s: he was on a list to be sent to the East by the Nazi’s as a ‘settler’ in the new Greater Germany. His crime? His family would not give up their Catholic faith nor would they join the party. He described the joy of GI’s arriving and taking away the village Nazi’s as a wonderful day indeed.

      My extended family has been in the Fulda region since at least the 1600’s.

  6. Alaska Pi says:

    “What sacrifices are Americans making to support those troops and those wars? Life goes on here and the conflict is far, far away. ”
    ————————————————-
    I don’t know.
    Some days I think too many Americans are sacrificing multiple things to just avoid dealing with the far away conflict(s) , the facts of the conflict , its whos, whats, whys, and hows, having slipped into the realm of a “given” , like old wallpaper one no longer notices unless something like newly chosen window linens bring up a color tone or detail which pulls one’s eye to look .
    There’s way too much plugging of ears and la-la-laing going on, alongside crap doodle about how we gotta tighten our belts and it’s just too bad for those brave (suckers) who signed up to do whatever we wanted them to do and golly, they, get a paycheck, don’t they ?
    I am inordinately tired of the what-an-entitlement-mentality-those-service-members-have-sheesh-they-knew-what-they-signed-up-for, blah,blah,blah…
    It torches my shorts that so many of the same fools who hopped on the bandwagon to allow conflict, allow it to be run off-the-books,and the like are now using the debt incurred to be used as a weapon to dismantle everything they don’t like at home- while pretty much ignoring the folks they sent to do the job along with WHY we are in debt.
    ( Well- excepting the yellow magnet crap and sending toiletries to service members overseas.)
    Too many of those fools are still in Congress – let’s get rid of them.
    Too many of those fools rode the coat tails of the worry over debt into office to advance partisan agendas which ignore the cause of the debt . Let’s get rid of them.

    Have been reading one of those 25 cent bargain book treasures you find at used book stores sometimes- is a small collection of Jefferson’s correspondence with various people across 50 years.
    What fascinates me most right this minute is his ability as an old man to look at what he thought in the past and allow for his mind to be changed by events he could never have imagined while staying true to his core notions of what matters most. Rare ability, that.
    He seemed to have lived his life the way we have managed to make the Constitution stay relevant to succeeding generations all this time . Since he was adamant about the responsibility of one generation to not burden the next with its debts , he is often used by the starve-the-beast folks as a poster child for their phony fiscal responsibility routine. A rather different picture of what he means/meant by all that is emerging in these few letters. I am going to spend some time this winter reading more of his papers .

    Thank you AKM, Senator Bill, and Mr Wright for this Independence Day essay/conversation.
    I want to commend Senator Bill for his work to have our state treat our veterans properly- the need to do so cannot be overstated.
    And Mr Wright for keeping it really real- “The most important thing America can do for her men and women in uniform is to neither place them on a pedestal nor take them for granted. We need your respect, not your worship or your indifference. ” My Pop, WWII era submariner, said this in many ways over many years and I think it key to making sensible policy and law to properly treat our service members and veterans.
    And AKM, that other blogger one, for this place that MF is.

  7. leenie17 says:

    My uncle was killed in the Battle of the Bulge and, due to a terrible lapse in official communication, my grandmother found out when a letter she had written to him was returned with a stamp on it saying “Deceased”. My father served in Italy and Northern Africa during WWII but NEVER talked about it.

    It i simply unconscionable that our troops are sent to battle without the necessary equipment, and return home without the services they have earned many times over. These two items are among the last that should be cut in any federal budget and, yet, are often cut before the expenses that ultimately benefit the military contractors. If billions of dollars can be given to companies like Halliburton (or whatever new name they’re using these days), certainly our veterans can be taken care of before, during, and after their service.

    For the sake of those in the military and their families, the rest of us should certainly be willing to sacrifice more to insure their safety and make their lives better when they come home. Perhaps if all Americans had more of a personal stake in these wars, we, as a country, would not be so eager to continue those battles in progress and start new ones.

    My respect and gratitude go out to all those who serves, past and present, and to those in government who support them. Happy Fourth to all.

    • Lacy Lady says:

      My cousin was a paratrooper and made a jump in the Battle of the Bulge He was fornuate to survive.
      When I was in Belgium, I attended a jazz concert and spoke to a Dr. at half time. We talked about this battle. He said his father ( also a Doctor) helped many American soldiers. As for himself, He and his brothers & sisters lived in their basement .
      My father in law fought in North Africa, and was the only one that survived in the jeep he was riding.
      His driver and two other officers were killed. My father in law suffered from his wounds all his life.
      When I think of all the Wars—-I think of my Uncles, cousins, brother, brother-in -law , nephews & the list goes on.
      We all owe these men and women so much.

      • Lucky Charms says:

        “Those who—while we whine about traffic on the way to the mall, or about having to pay our taxes—find themselves confronting horrors to which we civilians cannot possibly relate.”

        Ain’t that the truth. I am always glad to be reminded that everything is a matter of perspective.

        Most of us have it very good. It’s important to remember the human loss and multiple individual tragedies that have allowed us to live this life. Thanks to all of those who have thought of others first and have been willing to take very real risk.

      • benlomond2 says:

        Was your cousin in the 17th Airbourne ?? My great Uncle was, and at the Battle of the Bulge…when asked,all he would say was “the guys down the road had it worse”….

    • mike from iowa says:

      Speaking of major sacrifices,didn’t Potus dum-bass dubya give up golf for like two weeks?

  8. Mo says:

    Wow. Everybody in the country should read this.

  9. zyxomma says:

    Senator Climate-Change-Is-A-Fraud Imhofe and Senator I’m-Too-Senile-To-Care-Anymore McCain want the US armed services (the Navy, in particular) NOT to fund alternative fuels. Take action here:

    http://action.sierraclub.org/PentagonRenewables

    Meanwhile, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is trying her best to help veterans transition to civilian life; specifically, she’s doing her best to help them find meaningful work. This post is from Memorial Day, but still worth reading:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rep-kirsten-gillibrand/expanding-opportunities-f_b_1550488.html

    Happy birthday, my country.

    • leenie17 says:

      Don’t you just love our Senator???

      For someone who’s only been in Congress a comparatively short time, she’s had quite an amazing impact on policy and legislation. Keep up the good work, Senator Gillibrand!

  10. juneaudream says:

    For a compelling ..flow of idea and views..forward, backward..and curr., I thank you. Also..a ..thank you nod..towards England..for making those of a questing, and curious lot..rise to seek ..Otherness. We could not have done this..without you..and the choices ..made there. And.. an appreciation..to all those who already lived here..over thousands of years..in communitys of wisdom and understandings of this earth. We..are Family…( and NO ya can’t count how many wellchewed rib bones I have already ..marched through..why d’ya think..I have covered them with used napkins…. 😉

  11. COalmostNative says:

    I think the most important thing us civilians and voters can do is insist that a separate tax be levied on all of us (not those who fought in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, or are active duty) to pay for these wars- the first in our country’s history to be funded by credit.

    The Republican- and some others- philosophy that the costs of war should come out of needed social services is shameful, and unpatriotic. We should all sacrifice.

    Colorado also has a law encouraging and supporting the hiring of vets.

    While I seem to follow the Quaker strain in my family tree, I do honor my family members who served valiantly in several wars: both grandfathers, maternal uncle who died at the end of WWII, and my father- plus SIL who is in the Air Force.

    I salute all on the Fourth.

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