Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Recently, I met some of my Vietnam buddies at one of the Indian Casinos in California for a little R&R. This is the second time we've done it, mainly to honor Scotty who died a gcouple of year's back. And, get this: he left several thousand dollars in his will for us to show up every year or so to commemorate a day when fifteen of Scotty's comrades were killed. They were ambushed by a battalion of NVA soldiers. Our guys fought them tooth and nail, killing or wounding over a hundred. This is war, not a movie. But, Scotty and the rest of the platoon felt they'd failed. Not so but they were unconvinced.

In fact, at the gathering we worried that one of our guys was so morose that he might do himself in while they were here. Try as we might, we could not snap him out of it. A little like the Kansas City Chief linebacker who recently killed his girlfriend and then shot himself. Our good Sergeant didnot kill hself at our gathering but a few weeks later, he disappeared into some remote area in Alabama and probably did. What moves a person to take such a desperate out. I thought about our soldiers and vets and decided to do some research.

"For every soldiered killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 vets are dying by their own hand. An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average in combat. Veterans kill themselves on average one every 80 minutes. More than 6500 veteran suicides are logged every year. More than the total number of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined since those wars began (A columnist in NY Times).

What the f..k! This is outrageous and guess who is to blame. We are. For example, recently I had breakfast with about six or eight fellow Vietnam vets. To a person, talking about the rash of suicides, they felt that repetitive tours is the culprit. The emotions of going back and forth have to take its toll. And why is this? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to piece it together. During Vietnam, we had the draft, a ready pool of soldiers. Few Vietnam veterans did more than one tour, usually lasting 12 or thirteen months. That is it, over, finish, next case. The military wants some more soldiers/cannon fodder, they draft some more. The draft was far from perfect as about anybody who wanted could get out of it. Interestingly, often soldiers were happy to be drafted. It was a point of pride. Then along came SecDef Melvin Laird and icon Milt Friedman who sold Americans on ending the draft. The unintended consequences was a Volunteer Military that was too small and totally unrepresentative of our democracy. In other words, we now have a military of other people's children fighting our wars. Less than 1% have any investment in our ill conceived wars or our military. And, of course Donald Rumsfelt and draft dodger, Dick Chaney, who had other priories during Vietnam, only added to the difficulties now causing an epidemic of soldier suicides. Military leadership has to bear some responsibility with their "can do" attitude. Fluctuating economy, kids who have limited options have joined this AVF (all volunteer force) and added to the fact that you have a lower socieo economic category of soldier which also means that he has less coping skills.

It is scandalous as my mom would say. So, what is the remedy. Too late for those soldiers who have cashed out. Bring back the draft or some sort of community service. We don't have the political will. So, what then. F..K, I don't know.