“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers….”
Winston Churchill referred to the Royal Air Force’s heroism in the Battle of Britain. He remarked “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” By comparison with that tiny force the American military is massive. However in comparison with the missions that it has been given since September 11th 2001 and its size relative to the population of the United States it is a small force; a force that much more has been asked than anyone could have imagined on that terrible day.
Since the attacks of September 11th 2001 over 2.8 million young Americans have volunteered to serve in the nations military. Since that fateful day some 5.5 million Americans have served in all branches of the military both active and reserve, many like me were on active duty that fateful morning. Today about 2.2 million serve in the various components of the military, just 1.4 million on active duty out of a total estimated population of 120 million men and women aged 18-49 fit to serve.
That makes the accomplishments of those that have served so much greater. Never before has our country asked so much for such a long period of time from such a miniscule segment of the population. Every single Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman and Coastguardsman that currently serve volunteered in a time of war to either join or extend their service in the military. Over 2.3 million have served in Iraq or Afghanistan with many more that have served in the Middle East and other regions supporting those wars as well as other anti-terrorist operations around the world. While we have been committed to wars that may not be “winnable” we have accomplished so much and exacted revenge upon Osama Bin Laden and many of those who planned and perpetrated the attacks of 9-11-2001.
Many were children some as young as 8 years old when the attacks took place who have grown up in the years following the attack. Others pressed the upper age limits to enlist many seeking age waivers to do so. The vast majority of the men and women who enlisted because they felt it was their duty, not for money, not for glory. They came from every State, District and Territory where Old Glory flies as a symbol of freedom. The represent every race, creed and political party, and come from what the media like to call the “Red States and the Blue States” only for them it is not a question of “Red or Blue” but “Red White and Blue.” Others have come to the United Statesfrom other nations because they felt that there was something great and noble about this nation and our ideals.
Some would wrongly call this military and those that serve in it a mercenary force, but no it is not and they are professionals that serve our country in time of war. Mercenaries simply sign on for the money and fight for any regime that will employ them. We are not mercenaries.
Over the course of this war some of those ideals have faded and of those that go back time and time again do it often because they do not want to abandon their friends or see their sacrifices wasted. The war has taken and continues to take a toll on this small segment of America. Over 6200 have died in action and over 45200 wounded, 77 wounded just today September 11th 2011 in Afghanistan. The numbers do not count the large numbers suffering from PTSD or other combat stress related injuries nor does it count those that have died by suicide following deployment.
Among the many speeches today I was most taken with that of Vice President Joe Biden. The Vice President talked about this generation in a speech today at the Pentagon. The speech was one of the most moving that I have heard about our military in a long time. It made me even more proud of all that I serve alongside. I have excepted this passage:
“Many of them were just kids on that bright September morning. But like their grandparents after December 7, 1941, they courageously bore the burden that history placed on their shoulders. And as they came of age, they showed up to fight for their country – 2,800,000 Americans of the 9/11 Generation were moved to join our military since the 9/11 attacks, to finish the war that began on 9/11. They joined knowing full well that they were likely to be deployed in harm’s way – and in many cases deployed multiple times in Afghanistan, Iraq and in other parts of the world….
Over a decade at war, they pioneered new tactics, mastered new languages, developed and employed advanced new technologies. They took on responsibilities once reserved only for those with years of seniority- responsibilities that extended far beyond the base or the battlefield to politics, economics, and development tasks….And one more thing about this generation of warriors-never before in our history has America asked so much, over such a sustained period, of an all-volunteer fighting force. So I say without doubt or exaggeration that the 9/11 generation ranks among the greatest our nation has ever produced.” (See the video or read the speech at http://foxnewsinsider.com/2011/09/11/video-and-text-vice-president-biden-speaks-at-the-pentagon-reflects-on-the-courage-of-the-911-victims-and-their-families/
I have long contended that this generation of patriots who serve in our military as well as in our Federal police and intelligence services are a “new greatest generation.” All of us have served to defend this country many making multiple deployments to combat zones. I have made just two combat deployments and feel that I have not done enough, especially compared to those that have done far more of these deployments. However I would guess that I will get at least one more in before my long career is done.
All Americans and millions of people around the world owe so much to these men and women as well as those from other nations that stand together with us. For us it is not just remembering that terrible day that changed the world, but to give ourselves to serve and hopefully keep this from happening again.
Always remember9-11-2001, never forget that day or those that died at the hallowed grounds of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and that lonely field outside Shanksville Pennsylvania. But please never forget those that continue to give the last full measure of devotion, the 9-11 Generation.