Saturday, June 10, 2006

In Our Image: Be Like Mike

As I try to point out in the Mud Huts, Chai Tea postings, the shooting war is only a small part of the real war that goes on every day. It's a war about image, about ideas, about people who may or may not be sympathetic to insurgents or Islamist terrorists.

In World War II, having just defeated the Germans, our men and women, through big and small efforts alike, rebuilt Germany and instilled a new idealism. Some of that was simply through the natural behavior of free men and women. It's no different in Iraq or Afghanistan or in any of the many places our men and women go on any given day in any given country. It's not just about buildings or supplies or medicine or soccer balls. It's about the behavior and attitude that our men and women exude. They have confidence that comes natural when you have been educated, when you can speak your mind, when you have a belief in your ideas and your way of life.

Our men and women in uniform don't even know that they are behaving in a way that is different than men and women who live in other nations. They just are who they are. They are created in our image by the very ideas and institutions that we take for granted every day that many people in the world have never experienced.

Almost by osmosis, this confidence, idealism and way of behaving towards others, begins to transfer itself to those who never had it before. They don't know what it is exactly. They aren't sure how we get it. Some see it as a product of our ideals and others see it as a product of our wealth. Whatever they see, however they think it comes about, people everywhere want to imitate it. Even people that think they don't like our "policies" or actions:

Be Like Mike

Anbar province is the center of anti-coalition sentiment. Or is it?

The Iraqis in Anbar profess to not like Americans, but they are trying mighty hard to look like them. As you pass the men in the streets, they look with flint-hard stares -- underneath their New York Yankees or Chicago Bulls caps.

American companies find excellent billboards on Iraqi T-shirts, and Nike and Reebok shoes are "tres chic" here.

The Iraqis even emulate the servicemembers who are enforcing security around their cities. The latest fad among young men is to get "high and tight" haircuts like the soldiers and Marines who patrol in the area.

You want to know what Bin Laden, Zawahiri and the rest of the Islamists fear the most? You just read it.

Do you want to help the war effort, but don't know how? Do you think you're too old, too fat or to broke to be much help in the direct effort? You would be very wrong. Just by reading this, you have taken the first steps in basic training. You have just been told how we can and will win the war. Your next objective is to learn to use your weapon. The weapon in your power is you. It's your fingers, your pen, and your voice. It's the soccer balls, the candy, the toys, the few dollars in your pocket you can spare for projects being undertaken by our men and women and NGOs everywhere.

Go to Soldiers and sign up to send letters and care packages if you can afford it to a soldier. If you're short on money, just do letters. By writing a letter, you will tell a soldier that he or she is supported and cared about back here in the states. You will give them confidence. You will remind them who we are and why soldiers serve their country and fellow citizens. When you do, without them or you even knowing, you will be giving them the weapon they most need to fight this war: support.

Some are injured in the line of duty. For them, the war is not over yet. It shouldn't be over for us either. They do the hard job every day for the same pay as working at Wal-marts. When they come back injured, their entire life is changed. They are different. The thing they know how to do, be a soldier, sailor or marine, is no longer theirs to do. They can no longer be part of the mission, working with their friends and comrades with boots on the ground. They need a way to re-connect and stay connected, even when they can't walk, can't see, and can't type.

In fact, for Sergeant Elijah Allen, 25, getting a Valour-IT laptop was exactly like giving sight to the blind.

A civil affairs reservist involved in building infrastructure, he was injured during combat operations in southern Iraq and nearly lost his vision.

His left retina was torn and his right retina was detached, leaving him with some ability to see light and motion but little else in the way of sight.

He, too, ended up at Walter Reed, where he had operation after operation to restore his sight.

Patti Bader got in touch after his fourth time under the scalpel.

"When she told me about the laptop, all I could say was: 'You're fricking awesome! That's great!' ," he said.

"I couldn't see or read, but I could always log into Yahoo or IM. I was so surprised there was a programme that existed for this."

He used his Valour-IT laptop for everything from keeping in touch with his family to daily Bible readings.

But, what he wanted most was to get back in the fight, however he could. To be with his men, his unit, however possible, and he did:

'Accomplish the mission'

And he was able to reconnect with his unit and his mission.

"I remember an Air Force optometrist as I was being medevacked saying 'Your fight here is over'.

"I felt like I hadn't accomplished what I set out to accomplish. When you leave the theatre so quickly, you want to know if somebody has picked up your job."

So he got in touch with the sergeant who replaced him, and quickly became a pain with all the advice he sent.

Project VALOUR-IT provides voice activated laptops to injured trooops who cannot use or have difficulty using conventional computers and keyboards. Men and women with amputations, severe soft tissue damage, nerve damage, shattered bones, spinal injuries, head injuries and, like Sgt. Elijah Allen, eye damage. It's a fantastic organization. It has supplied over 400 laptops to injured troops in just under a year.

Unfortunately, the war goes on and so do the number of wounded soldiers that need these laptops. Re-connecting these soldiers with laptops and special voice activated laptops is not just an effort to bring entertainment to them, though these laptops do offer the ability to watch DVDs or listen to music. Like Sgt Elijah Allen, many use it to stay in contact with friends, family and comrades; a network of support that helps injured soldiers heal, both physically and mentally. After long days of rehabilitation, in a hospital far away from everyone and everything you know, connections give encouragement when times are hard, reminds them they are still part of the network they once gave most of their time and life to, and gives them a chance for a new beginning. Some injured soldiers use it just like anyone else; they pay bills, go to college, handle business.

Here is a sample of just some of those who are waiting for a laptop :

Army SGT injured last month by VBIED: shrapnel damage to legs and right hand.

Army SGT injured in February: multiple gunshot wounds through right leg, ribs/lungs, forearm and shoulder.

Recently-injured Army SGT (cavalry scout) who experienced several IED explosions: I want to obtain a laptop so I can take online courses, and start college when I separate from the army. Thank you.

Army CPT injured last year who has received three purple hearts in 3 years and is being medically retired: needs computer for college study

In today's world, not being able to use a computer is like not driving, not writing a check or not reading.

Soldier's Angels is sending out an SOS. They have a backlog of 11 soldiers in need of voice activated laptops. We need to raise $7000 immediately and work to establish another cushion to handle incoming troops with needs. On top of that, it's spring and in this war, it means spring time operations by the enemy that results in even more injured.

In the soldier's world, their first job is to complete the mission. The second job is to bring everyone home. If someone is hurt or in need, fellow soldiers come to the rescue. They live by the creed, "No soldier left behind." Where did they learn such important concepts? They are our citizens, serving in our armed forces and they represent us; they are in our image. Now it is time for us to "be like Mike". It's our turn to make sure there is "no soldier left behind".

Please help our injured men and women. Become part of the fight. Join the Fighting Fusileers and make a donation to Soldiers' Angels VALOUR-IT project. Help a soldier, sailor or marine by clicking on the fighting fusileer and make a donation today!

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