On March 8, 1965, the United States sent its first combat troops into Vietnam to thwart the expansionist threat of communism in Indochina during the height of the Cold War. The end result of this decision would be a long, divisive political battle in our country over the use of our military abroad and the deaths of over 58,000 Americans overseas.
Of the many things troubling about this hotly debated conflict, the fact that at least416 of those deaths occurred before March 8, 1965, raises questions about those who died in combat before “combat troops” were ever supposed to be there. Today, 51 years later, a similar battle over semantics is playing out throughout our country and desperately needs to be addressed.
The same way “advisors,” not “combat troops,” were sent to Vietnam before 1965 as a way to quell public fears of military intervention and ensure that “American boys” weren’t doing what “Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves,” we are currently being ensured that there will be no “boots on the ground” in the wars against Islamic terrorism; we’re simply there to train their fighters to do what they ought to be doing for themselves.
But, like Vietnam, many of our troops are still very much in harm's way; the only difference is that today they are spread all across the globe.
DespitePresident Obama’s repeated assurance that there will be no boots on the ground in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, this is not the case. When asked last month whether U.S. troops would be participating in combat operations, Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the top general in Iraq, told reporters, “The decision as to whether or not … something is on or off the table is not my decision. That's really, at the end of the day, that's my commander in chief's. So, you know, all of us in uniform are … preparing various options. The president will decide.”
Combined with the nearly 10,000 troops still currently serving in Afghanistan, America is very much a country at war with boots on the ground in numerous countries. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
As we’ve seen in Afghanistan, it’s easy to forget that young women and men are still putting themselves in harm's way to serve their country honorably in very hostile locations throughout the world. This grows even easier when media coverage of this war diminishes and an actual dialogue about the problems our current warfighters face doesn’t exist, which is why it is so important to not blur the lines between what an “advisor” does, or whether or our troops are on a “combat mission” or not.
We owe it to U.S. troops to support whatever they do, and that gets harder to do if you don’t think they are in harm’s way.
Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, "Fatigue is the best pillow." True story, Benny. There's nothing like pushing your body so far past exhaustion that you'd willingly, even longingly, take a nap on a concrete slab.
Coast Guard cutter Bertholf on a counterdrug patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, March 11, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Trees
U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bertholf left California on January 20 for a months-long mission in the Pacific to support U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, the largest of the U.S. military's geographic combatant commands.
Coast Guardsmen aboard the Bertholf left Alameda on the 30th day of what is now the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. They left a few days after not getting their first paycheck since that shutdown started and without knowing when the next will come.