My Op ed
The Lost Freedom of Our Troops
I received an honorable discharge from the Army four years ago after serving 14 years. I am a 3rd generation soldier. My grandfather served during WWII and my father served during Vietnam. The slogan, “Freedom isn’t Free” is a familiar phrase in our family. It was not until I entered Seminary in 2004 that I began looking at freedom from a humanity point of view. The question I have in regards to this slogan is, “Why isn’t freedom, free? Is there a true definition of freedom? If freedom is not free then “Who” decides how much it cost to have freedom?” When I was in the Army, I wanted to fight for the Freedom of the United States as does most, if not all, of those who serve in the military. Now that I am a veteran and a civilian, I want to know if President Bush, the Commander-in-Chief, will support the Veteran’s Administration Mental Health Department with the necessary funds to support those who have fought and are still fighting against the so-called terrorist war when they return. Will you Mr. President?
Our servicemen and servicewomen in Iraq and Afghanistan are told they are fighting for the freedom of the United States against terrorist. We state that “Freedom, isn’t free” but what is it costing our service people to fight this war? I am not asking about monetary figures or losses. I already know it is costing us billions of dollars monthly to be in this war. The cost is also high when we speak of the thousands of lives that have been lost, American and non American. I want to know how much this war is costing our service members right to freedom; freedom to pursue happiness, freedom of a healthy conscience. Are we counting the cost, Mr. Bush? I wonder how much freedom is lost when a soldier watches her whole squad die brutally from a bomb but she lives through it. What does it cost a husband who serves in the National Guard who has served three times in Iraq during a two year period? What impact does it have on his wife, his children and the life they once lived? Where is the freedom for those who return from war with missing limbs, having life changing injuries or PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Women and men are joining the military to better their lives for numerous reasons and these same people are now returning from war in bondage, bondage physically and mentally.
In my opinion, the “war on terrorist” is costing our service members their freedom. Each American has the right to live a healthy life. This war has changed the lives of these service members and their families forever. It is costing them healthy images love, lost are the loving images of their family, their children playing, and their spouse’s loving face. Now those images are replaced with horrifying images. The image of their battle buddy laying in a pool of blood or the child they had to shoot afraid a bomb is hidden on them. The innocence of a 19 year old soldier is lost as he fires his weapon at civilians when he is ordered to commence firing in defense or retaliation. Lost is the freedom of conscience.
The freedom of conscience is a freedom we civilians take for granted. According to the Wikipedia Encyclopedia, the Freedom of conscience (also called freedom of thought) is the freedom of an individual to hold or consider a fact, viewpoint, or thought, regardless of anyone else's view. Conscience is more than just what you think. It is a difficult concept to study because of its abstract character. I heard that freedom of conscience is without equal in a democratic society as all other rights flow from it. The idea of choice is born out of it. A free conscience is, indeed, the beginning of freedom.
Our service members have lost their freedom in this war. They have lost their free conscience. An article published by The Hartford Courant in May of 2006 addresses the issues of mental health and suicides among military service members deployed in Iraq. For the series, the Courant interviewed more than 100 mental health experts, service members, family members and friends. One article called “Mentally Unfit, Forced to Fight” stated that “Although required by a congressional order, fewer than one in 300 service members sees a mental health professional before deployment”. The Courant investigation found that some troops with mental health problems are treated with antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications but are not provided with counseling or medical monitoring. In addition, some troops with PTSD are sent back into combat despite having the condition. Twenty-five service members committed suicide in 2005, up from a total of 11 soldiers and two Marines who committed suicide in 2003.
Freedom isn’t free, that is true. It is costing our women and men in the United States Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force and their families more than we can ever repay. Our service members have lost their freedom. They will no longer live normal lives in the United States of America, land of the free. As a veteran, I wonder President Bush, Commander-in-Chief, are you willing to pay the price in supporting our troops when they return from fighting your war on terrorist with the necessary mental health funds to give them back their freedom? A free conscience is, indeed, the beginning of freedom.
By S. Harrington