This particular article touched me more than almost anything I’ve read in PAW in 20 years. I wanted to go back in time to be graduating from ROTC with the whole adventures of the world in front of me, fresh, once again.
For 20 years, I have said the U.S. military is the best-functioning social-welfare program in the United States, the best bang for the taxpayers’ buck on health, education, social and economic mobility, and interracial understanding. I would not have gone to Princeton without the Army. Whether or not you think a particular overseas action is correct — and many people in the military do not agree with all the choices politicians have made in the last decade — the positive impact of this service on millions of Americans is tremendously valuable.
Ten years ago I deployed as part of a NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo, the most rewarding job I will ever have. I can only extrapolate that many of those currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan feel the same. Peacekeeping gives one the opportunity to interact with people whose needs — for security, food, water, roads, electricity — exceed our sheltered American experiences.
I’m not naive that it’s a kumbaya world out there. All my years of target practice were spent shooting at human silhouettes. That’s what the Army, and the Marines, do. And they have to do it well. But they do so much more, much of it very valuable for and valued by the local populations. Whether and how we can get it right in Afghanistan and Iraq is another matter. But the military can and does get it right time and again, both at home for Americans and overseas for the world.
Editor’s note: An expanded version of this letter can be found in the comments posted at PAW Online with the “Women’s Work” feature in the June 1 issue.