|Your account||Today's news index||Weather||Traffic||Movies||Restaurants||Today's events|
Sunday, February 22, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
James Vesely / Times editorial page editor
What happens when they get home?
Thousands of members of the Washington National Guard's 81st Armor Brigade will go to Iraq soon in the country's largest deployment of Guard and Reserve units since World War II.
We are so close and so far from them in urban Seattle. Reserve and Guard duty rarely interfere with the commutes of daily life unless you have starched uniforms in your closet and orders for activation arriving.
Washington Sen. Patty Murray's latest package of legislation intends to bridge the gap between military and civilian lives, a gap that grows at our peril as a democracy and a nation at war.
Murray is hard to brush off as another lefty Democrat, as members of the political right are so happy to do. She grew up in a family with a World War II vet in the house, worked as an intern in the local veterans' hospital in 1972, voted against the war in Iraq in the Senate and at the same time relates her conversations with Guard and Reserve members with the poignancy of anyone looking into the face of the young at war.
"The country has not been asked to share the burden of this war," Murray said last week before The Times Editorial Board. "For too many people, the Iraq war is an asterisk in their lives."
Murray's legislation, the Guard and Reserve Enhanced Benefits Act, would offset the distance between civilian and military life the activated soldiers must travel when they are on duty or coming home.
Among the nine areas of expanded Guard and Reserve benefits would be extension of medical and leave benefits and relief from interest and deferral of payments for some student loans.
The measure would also provide employers with $12,000 in tax credits to pay for differentials in salary, and give access to the military's care system for Guard and Reserve families, regardless of their employment benefits.
Murray makes the point that active-duty troops and their families are clustered at posts and bases with support facilities nearby, while families of activated servicemen and women are scattered within the civilian population.
Her legislation would also reduce the retirement age for serving members and expand the GI Bill for reservists who are called on active duty for 12 consecutive months or 24 months out of 60 months.
"They are committed Americans, to a one," she said.
I think so, too.
Not since Korea, when reservists were put into the trenches and valleys without enough training or conditioning, has this serious a burden been put on civilian soldiers.
Guards and Reservists are now 40 percent of the U.S. troops in Iraq 194,000 in total serving on active duty. The idea of reservists filling in behind active troops sent ahead of them into war zones is a long-gone notion of the way the world fights wars.
"They are also at Walter Reed (Army hospital) with some kind of infection from sand fleas we don't know enough about," Murray said.
This asterisk war carries implications deeper than the verbal war-against-the-war occurring each day on these opinion pages. This kind of war has to have an effect on the weaving of civilian and military ideas about our country when the war is done.
A hidden value of the Guard and Reserves is that they remain one of the few links between civvie street and military posts that dot our country but not our consciousness.
Want to blog about it? www.seattletimes.com/stop is the daily conversation point between editorial writers of The Times and you. Send your messages to us to begin a dialogue about this topic or on such recent blogs as the Sierra Club's immigration debates.
James Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: email@example.com
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company
Home delivery | Contact us | Search archive | Site map | Low-graphic
NWclassifieds | NWsource | Advertising info | The Seattle Times Company
Back to top