The Always-On Military

Monday’s New York Times features a long story on how the military’s speeded-up schedule of war-zone deployments and redeployments is affecting troops and their families. One thing comes through in so many of these stories: the lack of enthusiasm so many of the interviewed service members have for the job that’s been dumped in their lap. They come off as stoic and steadfast, determined to carry through on their military commitment and to stand up for their buddies. But you don’t read about any of the lower-rung troops who get quoted in these stories to talk about the “march of freedom” or “transformative power of liberty” or any of the other catch-phrases that Bush and his crowd throw around. Maybe the reporters just leave out those quotes and focus on the doubts and dissatisfactions they’re hearing. Or maybe the ones who have to go and face the reality of this war aren’t really seeing or feeling the nobility of the cause. Or hell, maybe even in World War II, which my generation and those following see at a great distance, the men sent to fight saw it just as a job. Maybe, even then, there was no explicit talk about the bigger issues and forces involved.

Anyway, you feel for these people and their families, so many of whom are now subject to constant upheaval in their lives, not knowing when the next deployment will happen of what it will bring when it comes. The story ends:

“In Tucson, Elena Zurheide is preparing Christmas for her 7-and-a-half-month-old son, Robert III. ‘I hate Christmas,’ Ms. Zurheide said. ‘I hate holidays. I hate everything right now.’

“Her husband, Robert Jr., was a lance corporal in the Marines. He was killed in Falluja this spring, a few weeks before their son was born. He was on his second tour to Iraq.

” ‘I never wanted him to go a second time,’ she said. ‘I just started having the feeling that we were pushing our luck too far, and he thought so, too.’

“She said she wrote to Corporal Zurheide’s commander before he left, asking that her huband be permitted to stay behind – or that he at least be allowed to wait for the birth of their son. She said she never heard back.

” ‘I should have broken his arm to keep him here,’ she said. “‘ knew it was too much to go again.’

“Her son, Ms. Zurheide said, looks just like his father.”

The story says that 100 of the 1,300 U.S. military fatalities in Iraq have occurred among soldiers and Marines on their second tours. Times columnist Bob Herbert’s Monday column, talks a little more bluntly about the effects of the repeat deployments.

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