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Support the Troops?

Support the Troops?

Another guest column here, this time from someone who’s been on both sides of the Iraq war. Lucas Siegel served in Iraq during the original invasion, and has dealt with the cutbacks in veterans’ benefits since returning home. He shares a few thoughts on the ‘Support the Troops’ mantra.

My name is Lucas Siegel. I am a soldier. Am I currently in the military? No, I ETSed back in January 2007. I will, however, always be a soldier.

I would say I joined the military for all the right reasons. There’s the legacy (grandfather in WWII, Father in Vietnam), the sense of duty and wanting to help others (hence becoming a medic), and of course, I was a freshman in college fucking up my life, and I wanted to get some grip on reality again.

To those ends, I’d say I mostly succeeded in my time in the Army. I did a tour of duty in Iraq, where I know for a fact I helped save some lives. I volunteered to be part of the force that went down to Mississippi after the hurricanes (though I admittedly didn’t get to do much in my month down there). I learned a sense of responsibility and leadership.

So, the Army was a good choice for me, and a good experience, overall. That is, until I got back from Iraq, and until I was getting out. When I got back, I came home with a heart problem, likely due to being a bit too close to an explosion. It took 7 months for me to get in to see a doctor through the VA, and an additional 6 after that to get the surgery I needed to correct the problem. Despite the diagnosis, and the surgery, for my remaining time in the military, I was flagged for not being able to pass my Physical Fitness test, and was unable to be promoted. Really, I felt like every time I went to drill, I was looked at as a second class citizen, and as if my 15 months in OIF and my volunteering to go down south meant absolutely nothing. I didn’t get my college loans paid as had been promised in my contract, because I couldn’t pass my PT test (because I had surgery, because I had a heart problem, because I served overseas). Since getting out, I decided to return to school, and use some of the G.I. Bill money. Well, unfortunately, my unit decided that since I was no longer drilling with them, they didn’t think I deserved my $200 kicker anymore. In addition, my G.I. Bill had to go back to the “old” reserve component one, not the one for those who’d served overseas. Suddenly, my $800/mo for college turned into just over $300.

A lot of people in this country live on the “support the troops” mantra. It’s a great one. However, the most basic ways that people can help support the troops often get overlooked. Here in Illinois, during the Primary elections, there was a simple yes or no on the back of the ballot. “Would you like Congress to try to extend greater health and education benefits to the military?” Anecdotally, I spoke to several people who didn’t bother filling it out. Every year that this war has been going on, funding to the VA has been inadequate. President Bush’s plan this year hoped to make up for that by CHARGING THE VETERANS for health care not directly related to service. He hoped for 5.2 billion dollars via this method.

Taking an active role in politics, checking “yes” to such simple questions, even just writing one letter to your senator or congressperson means a lot more than having a magnetic ribbon on the back of your car. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still nice to see those (though they’re in a far fewer number with each passing day). The other much overlooked way to help is in care packages of any kind. There are programs that send comic books, toiletries, novels, movies, and just about anything else you can think of to the troops. Look around the house and see if there’s something you’re not using that might be entertaining to someone that misses their family and friends. Skip the McDonald’s twice next month, and donate that 15 dollars to one of these programs, instead. And yes, keep your signs, flags, and ribbons up, but when you’re reminding others to support the troops, don’t you forget, too.

Lucas Siegel served in the Army National Guard for 6 years, including a 15 month activation to Iraq as a combat medic and a volunteer stint on active duty to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

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