They Also Serve: No matter what side you are on, they fight for us
by Doug McQuiston
I frequently visit the Colorado National Guard Armory in Denver. It is a privilege to see the servicemen and women there drilling or training. They all have "regular jobs" throughout Colorado and Wyoming, but give their time to serve their country and their state.
Recently, the enormity of their sacrifice has been revealed even more clearly. As I write this, we are in the midst of a massive mobilization. Whole units from the Armory I visit have been called to active duty. These fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, have quietly put aside their civilian lives, picked up their rifles and field packs, and shipped out to points unknown. They haven’t questioned it, haven’t objected. To them it’s simple, really: they are soldiers, and their country has called.
By the time this article is published, we may well be involved in armed conflict in Iraq. Those guardsmen and guardswomen I see at the Armory all the time may well be standing guard at bases in Kuwait or on patrol in Iraq taking hostile fire. Like the "Minutemen" of the Revolutionary War, these courageous people are doing something few of us would ever have the guts to do. The risk they undertake is made clear to them in the various forms they have to fill out prior to deployment. One lists those relatives they wish to be notified in the event of injury or death, and those they do not want to be notified (because of the effect it might have on them). Another form is a checklist of things they have to do before deployment: settle leases or mortgages; stop newspaper service; make out a current will.
When I am in the Armory, it is usually in the evening. Only a few Guard members are there. During this deployment, however, the place is humming well into the night, with soldiers busily checking equipment, standing in lines, copying forms, going through their checklists. I see the duffle bags and equipment crates stacked up ready to be loaded onto trucks and buses. I see the "Deuce and a Half" trucks lined up in the yard ready for a fresh coat of desert tan paint and a long trip onboard ship to points unknown.
I see the chairs lined up on the Drill Floor, mute evidence of another of the series of "Deployment Ceremonies" they have held. Maybe you’ve seen them on the news. Maybe you’ve seen the tearful good-byes between wives and husbands, the last hugs given to the kids, the uncertainty and fear etched into the faces of those who are left behind. Many of these citizen soldiers won’t see home again for a year or more.
These people are your neighbors, the people you work with every day. They may have signed up to get a little extra money for their families, to help with college tuition, to build up a retirement nest egg, or to gain experience. Many may not have ever thought they would see action. Yet here they are, ready to board buses to head off to final training in California or Fort Carson, then on to points unknown to serve on the front lines guarding bases.
Regardless of how you feel about the wisdom of going to war, in Iraq or elsewhere, it is impossible not to be awed by the courage and steel will of these citizen soldiers. Even if they never see combat, they freely shoulder the nation’s burden, leaving their families and jobs, going halfway around the world to live in tents, eating MRE’s and working gruelingly long hours, with e-mail and letters their only contact with home for a year or more. If harm comes their way, they must fight, and will. Theirs is a level of service and dedication to country that few of us could ever hope to approach. You probably know a guardsman or guardswoman. Maybe you have one working for you. If you do, tell them thanks. Tell them their job is safe and will be waiting for them when they return. Look in on their families from time to time while they’re deployed, to see if there is anything you can do to help them through the long absence of their loved ones. Say a prayer or two for them. Send a letter. Support them. The unit motto of the MPs at the Armory, posted there on the wall of the Drill Floor: is "First to Fight." As you read this, God willing, maybe they won’t yet be in harm’s way. But if they are, they will fight, proudly and ferociously. They care more about freedom—yours, mine, and theirs—than they do about their own lives. Regardless of your politics, you are in their debt. It’s simple, really: the country has called, and they have answered.
"A man who has nothing which he cares about more than he does about his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the existing of better men than himself."—John Stuart Mill (1859)