They are coming home.
During a prime time address to the nation scheduled for this evening, President Barack Obama is expect to announce the withdrawal of roughly 30,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. According to the White, the first wave will leave this summer. While the speed and progression of the drawdown continues to be debated, the move is the first step toward giving Afghans control of their own security by 2014.
Each of them is owed a debt of thanks that almost none of us is prepared to pay. The men and women who serve our nation at home and abroad, in wartime and in peace, leave the comfort of their homes so we can feel safe in ours. At times serving multiple tours in combat, their lives constantly in harm’s way, it’s easy to forget why we sent them in the first place.
While we are in the line at Starbuck’s waiting for the morning double espresso, young men—some not old enough to buy a beer at the corner store—are evading landmines and dodging sniper fire. More than 15,000 troops and civilians have been injured or lost the lives in Afghanistan.
And when and if they finally do come home, there won’t be a parade. Still they fight because they believe in the time-honored ideals of freedom, liberty and honor.
According to the U.S. Census, there are approximately 2.3 million African Americans serving in today’s military, nearly 15 percent. Many enter as young high school graduates in search of a career or as a means to pay for college. They, too, serve our country even as support for military missions in the Middle East continues to all but dry up in the Black community.
A 2007 CBS News poll showed 83 percent of African American respondents said the Iraq invasion was a “mistake”. A Pentagon-sponsored survey suggests that attitudes among military-age African-Americans may have changed for good.
In so many ways, Black America is still trying to reconcile their disdain for wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya, with the very real notion that their own war—the one they fight at home—has been largely forgotten.
Since the war began, the American economy has collapsed. While Wall Street bankers counted their millions, Black America was losing its homes. African Americans took the biggest hit as home values crashed, unemployment soared and the cost of food and gasoline hit an all-time high. Black unemployment is now at 16 percent. And for young Black men, like those serving in the Middle East, that number is an astounding 40 percent.
It begs the question: When will the country they fight for start fighting for them?
My older brother is a retired Naval officer and my brother in law is an Army major. I was in good company when I enlisted in the Marine Corps and trained in public affairs. For us, serving was an incredible honor—one that changed our lives in significant ways. But as I look around today and think about the young men and women who go to work in our service, who put their lives on the line, I wonder when we are going to stand up for them.
So maybe we don’t throw a parade. But maybe we find meaningful solutions to provide more educational and job training opportunities. If we’re serious, we will come to the table with real ideas about how to fix our flailing economy so they too can enjoy the comfort of home.