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Troops Were The Accessory Of The Night As Politicians Tried To Out-America Each Other
Who wore it better? No, not Melania’s Dolce and Gabbana, or the Democratic women’s black garb, or the Republican women’s red, white, and blue garb, or all the men’s dark suit-bright tie combinations. I speak of the one item no Washington politician would be caught dead without at a State of the Union address: a troop.
Don’t have a troop of your own? You simply must get one if you want to be a serious player. Sen. Mark Warner, the Virginia Democrat, had Simone Askew, the first African-American woman to command West Point’s Corps of Cadets. Republican Rep. Randy Hultgren had Alex Vandenberg, a Naval Academy plebe who rocked the Superintendent’s List. Tim Kaine, Virginia’s other Democratic senator, had military spouse Lakesha Cole. Rep. Joe Kennedy III — yes, there’s another Kennedy in Congress — was accompanied by Staff Sgt. Patricia King, a transgender soldier. President Donald Trump had a staff sergeant from the recent Syria campaign, a Coastie who did hurricane relief, a Marine who reenlisted after an IED left him blind and legless, and a 12-year-old who put flowers and flags on the graves of California veterans.
The Constitution requires the president to deliver an occasional report to Congress on the state of the union. It does not specify that the report be given in a speech. Nor does it require that attending politicians bring a military plus-one. But they do, because the most powerful — and dangerous — rules of American governance are the unwritten ones.
What’s dangerous about highlighting the plights and sacrifices of our uniformed service members? On some level, that’s something we all accept that we should do. The military transcends our petty politics. The military does what we ask of it, without much guff. What’s the problem?
Part of it is that military worship isn’t what makes America exceptional. It’s maybe the least exceptional, least democratic thing about our quarter-millennium experiment. North Koreans have their juche. Russians still have their Kremlin parades. You can’t travel across the former Soviet Union without running into a memorial for the troops or the Great Patriotic War. Our marching doesn’t make us special. Our freedom does.
But deifying the military isn’t simply a non-unique brand association. It’s a politician’s lazy way out of telling Americans hard truths.
Let me give you a recent historical example. “Last month, I went to Andrews Air Force Base and welcomed home some of our last troops to serve in Iraq,” President Barack Obama said — right out of the gate — in the opening of his 2012 State of the Union address. “We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world.”
We who worked passionately on the Iraq War effort know what a clusterfuck it was. We knew we left behind a fragile Baghdad government in the thrall of foreign powers and fighting factions. We knew we’d have to be back, someday, somehow, to fix the mess. But most of us celebrated that last Humvee getting over the line to Kuwait anyway, because the president promised good times.
Nobody gets elected — or reelected — by telling the American public that this shit is difficult, that you can’t really obliterate terrorism from the face of the earth, that the harder you try to bend the universe to your will, the harder it resists you.
And so President Trump’s State of the Union guests were fitting: They typified the laziness of a political class that can’t rally Americans around the hard facts — just the easy, “neutral” cultural touchstones. “In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life,” Trump said, before launching into a star-studded celebration of government servants and their worshipers.
Trump told tales of “Americans like Coast Guard Petty Officer Ashlee Leppert,” who “was aboard one of the first helicopters on the scene in Houston during Hurricane Harvey. Through 18 hours of wind and rain, Ashlee braved live power lines and deep water, to help save more than 40 lives. Thank you, Ashlee.”
Never mind that Puerto Rico, home to 3 million Americans, is still a post-hurricane wreck of epic proportions, in need of more urgent aid and infrastructure. Never mind that 12 seniors died in a South Florida nursing home — a building that I drive past almost daily, in the middle of a bustling city — after Hurricane Irma knocked out their power, and frantic direct voicemails to the Florida governor, a longtime Trump ally, went unanswered… and got deleted when the press started asking questions about them.
It’s just easier to thank a Coastie for the good hurricane-relief work she’s done and pretend that’s the end of the story. Actually fixing the damage? That doesn’t make for a good talking point.
Trump extolled the sacrifice of Staff Sgt. Justin Peck, who “bounded into” a booby-trapped building to rescue his severely wounded comrade. “He applied pressure to the wound and inserted a tube to reopen an airway,” Trump said. “He then performed CPR for 20 straight minutes during the ground transport and maintained artificial respiration through two hours of emergency surgery.”
Trump then used Peck’s exemplary lifesaving instinct to explain that ISIS is evil for booby-trapping hospitals, that Guantanamo Bay needs to remain open as a prison without due process for suspected terrorists, and that “our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.”
Never mind that it’s worth debating whether America could do better to minimize civilian casualties, whether Gitmo produces as many radicals as it stops, and whether it’s a step back that even American citizens are now in the dark about how many of their service members are fighting where and for how long. This staff sergeant did something incredible: Who are you to complain?
And that brings us to my favorite fashion accessory of Trump’s — not a vet, but a kid who honors them: Preston Sharp, “a 12-year-old boy from Redding, California, who noticed veterans' graves were not marked with flags on Veterans Day. He decided all by himself to change that and started a movement that has now placed 40,000 flags at the graves of our great heroes,” the president said.
“Young patriots like Preston teach all of us about our civic duty as Americans,” he added. “Preston's reverence for those who have served our nation reminds us of why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.”
Preston’s is a touching gesture, to be sure. It is an act of love and communal sentiment. It’s also literally the least you can do. Our president says we should all be like that 12-year-old, who may not grasp the causes of wars, their full consequences, or the circumstances that put all those veterans six feet under. The important thing is that the dead have flowers and glowing tributes at football games, and if you disagree, whatever your reason — an eye toward continuing injustices in the United States, your constitutional rights — you must hate our war dead.
When I was a midshipman, we were required to remember a toast by the old naval hero, Stephen Decatur. “Our Country!” he declared. “In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” It’s often misquoted as “My country, right or wrong!” But that’s not what he said, and the difference is all-important.
What Decatur said was we, as Americans, own our nation’s failures as well as its triumphs. We are responsible for what we do… and what is done in our names. He exhorts us to constantly ask: What is right and wrong with our nation, and how will it reflect on us? What do Americans see when we look in the mirror?
Like the Soviets before us, our wars produce more heroes than clear-cut victories or stable policies. We stand bitterly divided over this country’s fundamental values. And while we bicker, we ask much of our veterans. We lean on them in low-intensity conflicts, hope they’re ready for high-intensity conflicts, turn them out with a host of transition challenges, dick around with their benefits, delegate responsibility for their problems to the business sector — yet fashion demands that whoever you are, whatever you stand for, you’d better have a troop as a prop to make your point. To shut down debate.
Somewhere along the way, it became easy — patriotic — to conceal our blemishes and faults. To ignore them as they fester.
Just stick a troop over it. It’s not going out of fashion. It’ll be just fine. It’s all the rage today.
'It just happened' — the Iraq War’s first living Medal of Honor recipient recalls his harrowing fight against 5 insurgents
On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.
Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.
In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.
With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.
After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.
Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.
McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.
Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.
The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.
They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.
It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.
WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions onIran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.
Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."
"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.
While it can be difficult to peg down just how star-spangled a state is, one indicator is the rate at which citizens enlist in the military, especially during the United States' longest period of sustained conflict. At least, that's the thinking behind WalletHub's new study, 2019's Most Patriotic States in America.