Re-Enlistment or Stop Loss?
My plan was to simply show the NY Times photo to receptive Stand Down participants and ask them one single question. "What would you say to these re-enlisting men and women in the photo?" Their responses ranged from ironic disbelief to patriotic slogans. If there was any consensus among those questioned, it was to say, "God help them."
What I didn't expect was to be blown away by the energy of Stand Down. The outpouring of love and concern for these homeless vets was palpable and I regretted that I had not been there from the beginning. It is a measure of the program's success that many of the volunteers were once participants who have rejoined society. These people bring tremendous spirit and energy to the task of helping their fellow veterans regain a sense of personal worth and dignity.
Many of these men and women started life as my contemporaries, baby boomers heir to all the promises American kids believed in the 50's and 60's. These were the same soldiers I watched go off to fight in Vietnam, and all these years later, some of them are still fighting for their lives on the streets.
I cannot express how moving it was to participate in the closing ceremony last Sunday afternoon, as everyone joined hands in a circle of camaraderie and prayer, with "Amazing Grace" emanating from a lone bagpipe player.
Veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom are already joining the ranks of homeless veterans. Our soldiers and their families are suffering longer and longer deployments than ever before. Whether the New York Times photo was a representation of re-enlistment, or evidence of stop-loss , the leaders of Stand Down and VVSD are expecting the numbers of homeless veterans to swell as more return with traumatic brain injury , the so called "signature" injury to come out of this war.
We Americans do a great job of celebrating our soldiers on national holidays, but often turn a deaf ear when they fall through the cracks of society later on.
If we truly "honor our soldiers" we will do all we can to bring them home, and once they are here, insure that they are adequately nurtured in return for their service. At the very least, we as a rational society owe them that.
Photo: Candace Suerstedt
-Citizen Voices blogger Candace Suerstedt is a filmmaker and a mother of three who lives in Coronado.