Last week a young man whom I met in a church in Florida several years ago came to mind. He had his own small business and he had joined the reserves to earn extra cash to support his family as his business grew. He had just been called up for active duty when I talked with him. He was prepared to fulfill his obligations, but he knew that his fledgling business could not survive his long period of absence, and his family would be forced to survive on his military earnings and those of his wife.
That soldier's story has been replicated thousands of times in thousands of communities across the nation over the past three years. When the nation recently passed the milestone of 2,000 American soldiers killed in Iraq, it was a sobering reminder of the ultimate sacrifices made by young men and women at the behest of their commander-in-chief. That number is small compared to the losses of Vietnam, Korea or either of the world wars. Yet it is huge to each and every family and each and every community from which these service men and women come.
In this war, reservists and National Guard members who have been called into active duty are paying a high price, with a quarter of the deaths coming from these two categories. Many of them were well-known and valued in their communities — including police officers and fire fighters, teachers and farmers. Many of these soldiers and reservists are now on their second tour of duty in Iraq.
The New York Times recently ran an article telling the story of a young father who returned home for the birth of his child, only to return to Iraq for his third tour of duty — where he was killed. At least one estimate predicted that all troops will have completed three tours of duty by next spring. Will we then require them to return to Iraq for a fourth tour of duty? If not, where will we get more troops?
What happens to those National Guard and reservists who have been kept in active duty under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's stop loss provision, even though they have fulfilled their contracts and more? What happens to those businesses, those farms, those communities that have done without those called up to active duty for three years now?
This Veterans Day will be a sobering one, not only for the families that have lost loved ones, but also for those 15,000 families of soldiers injured in the war — soldiers struggling with lost limbs, with burns, those who have been blinded or left paralyzed by the war.
Americans continue to support our troops in many ways. But more and more Americans are coming to the conclusion that we are paying too high a price for a war for which the American people have been given no truthful, legitimate reason.
More and more Americans are disturbed that there is no exit strategy being discussed, let alone shared. More and more Americans are coming to the conclusion that the war in Iraq has only nurtured a new breed of terrorists who are killing Iraqi civilians and American soldiers every day.
We owe it to our troops to support them and their families. We owe it to our nation to ask difficult questions about this war and to demand truthful answers. This is a sobering Veterans Day for us all.
The Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson is executive minister of the United Church of Christ's Witness and Justice Ministries.