Young parent, families shouldn't bear brunt of war's cost

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 3:47 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I don’t know who was the most irresponsible last week, the Army mom who reported for duty with her two young children or the U.S. Army for putting her in that position. I’m sure it’s hard to recruit for wars that go on for year after year and could potentially go on indefinitely. And it’s easy for inexperienced young people to believe that they can learn to be a soldier when they don’t have a clue about what will be required of them. Since fathers of young children go off to war, I’m sure people would consider it sexist to suggest that young women shouldn’t be required to do so. The point is that parents who have no one to watch their children should not join or remain in the military if that is the case.

This is just one more reason that I’m not a fan of Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs. Playing soldier in school and being a real soldier on the battlefield in a war are certainly two different things. But I’m not sure when one is young and impressionable that he or she realizes the difference. I thought Americans learned a lesson with the Vietnam War and that they would be more careful and watchful to be sure that their children would not be easily influenced by military recruiters.

Although I seriously believe that all citizens should perform some kind of government service, I feel that they should be at least 21 years of age before they are allowed to serve in the military. Although a voluntary army is probably here to stay, I think when the country is at war a method should be found for all citizens to participate in the effort. I just don’t like the idea that only a certain few families bear the brunt of the conflict.

I’ve honestly never met a young person who was about to go into the military that didn’t have some unrealistic ideas about what service would be like. And I’ve watched their heartsick parents agonize over their decision. When young men and women choose to enlist, I think it should be done independently and without the influence of people with whom they interact within the educational institution.

Certainly there are advantages to entering the military during peace time. It affords people the opportunity to advance their education and develop marketable skills. But there is always the possibility that they will wind up on the battlefield and things won’t go as planned.

When we pick up the newspaper and read about all the problems veterans face, I don’t understand how parents can continue to have these military programs as a part of their children’s high school experience. The problems some veterans encounter attempting to get proper health care are mind-boggling. The strain many families endure trying to care for a wounded son or daughter is daunting. But because only a small portion of the population is affected, a lot of these situations remain unknown to the majority.

At the time of the Vietnam War, I had friend whose son was a conscientious objector. Since the draft was still in force then, and my son was a little boy, I made sure I learned what needed to be done in case my son’s freedom was ever challenged. I think it would have been very shortsighted for individuals to have endured that horrible experience and not profited from it in some way. Still, I learned with the Gulf War what short-term memories people have.

After Iraq and Afghanistan, I imagine most reasonable people will have had all they want of engaging in conflicts with individuals who are so culturally different. Maybe we will be more willing to try diplomatic means of settling differences. We just can’t keep sending these young people off to do battle with people with whom they can’t even communicate.

I remember the last time someone in my family believed a recruiter. It was a young cousin who joined the Marines. The recruiter promised him that he could learn to be an electrical engineer. He wound up as a cook and had to work several months in the kitchen before his grandmother was able to appeal his case to her Senator.

If we are going to continue to allow these military officers to sway our young high school students, I would think we could petition our government more forcefully to provide adequate health care and other benefits for our veterans, in the event that they sustain injuries while carrying out their duties.

Under the circumstances, it’s the least we can do.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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Ayn Rand March 17, 2009 | 9:26 a.m.

There's a saying in the Army: If the Army wanted you to have a family, it would have issued you one.

As for mandated government service, I've been doing that since I was 15: paying taxes.

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