The most memorable was the first day planes flew again after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when I witnessed traumatized travelers of all ages, genders and stages of social importance stand without prompting while CNN played the Star Spangled Banner as a tribute to fallen first responders, receptionists, and financial analysts. I saw people rush to hug or shake the hand of any unsuspecting soldier that just happened to be transiting between postings. A year later, when the first men and women in sand-colored camouflage returned from Afghanistan and walked along the crowded concourses, literal waves of applause accompanied them from arrival to departure gates.
But now the first signs of spring are evident with winter-stiffened golf clubs to polish, the lawn mower to be serviced, and gutters to be cleaned. We are four years from the opening shock-and-awe drama of the war in Iraq and still engaged in an increasingly unpopular battle in a place whose culture we had done little to understand before the first deadly sortie flew over Baghdad.
Hundreds of thousands of fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, friends and office mates have dutifully responded to the call to sacrifice for the American way of life. Tragically, more than 3,000 will not experience the inalienable right to pursue happiness; and tens of thousands more will do so with physical and emotional limitations.
Thomas Friedman scored a three-pointer in a recent column when he said that except for those directly involved in the Iraqi War, average Americans have not been asked to sacrifice anything. Nothing; not even demanding a “Patriot Tax” to raise money and lessen our dependence on deadly Mideast oil. For the majority of Americans, this war has now become an inconvenient truth about what we are willing to ask others to sacrifice.
Perhaps the height of embarrassment occurred in March when Congress finally conducted hearings on the appalling conditions of our flagship military medical facility, Walter Reed.
Apparently, some of our wounded soldiers traded their protective camouflage for complete invisibility when they entered those landscaped grounds in Northwest Washington, less than five miles from the seat of the most powerful government ever conceived.
If the reports are accurate, Congress and the President should be insulted into action that goes far beyond demoting a few inattentive generals. It is bad taste not to acknowledge camouflage in our streets and concourses, but it is inhuman to extend their suffering through complacency and apathy.
I wish I could accurately report how many from our corrections community have served in Afghanistan and Iraq during the past five years, but a reasonable estimate would be in the thousands. Hopefully, their return finds a welcoming handshake and their job waiting at a minimum.
Perhaps the American Correctional Association could waive registration fees for its summer conference in Kansas City for those who have returned from military operations oversees.
Perhaps the rest of us could sponsor the cost of their attending so we could collectively say thank you for the sacrifice.
Wouldn’t it be an amazing gesture if we asked the ACA to raise registration fees by $50 just this one time to invite all those who answered the call to stand in our midst and be honored?
Play that forward to the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association, the American Institute of Architects, and all the associations that claim “America” in their name and we could just begin to show appreciation in a very small way for their service. The point is: what are we willing to sacrifice?
For those who have served and are preparing now to serve and sacrifice for us, we salute you.
Stephen A. Carter, AICP, is principal of Carter Goble Lee LLC in Columbia , S.C.