As a media embed in the United States military, a big part of my job is to observe, but as I watched the members of the 96th Transportation Company out of San Antonio, Texas, work tirelessly in preparation for their mission, I got to thinking that something was missing. Something was definitely different between wartime Americans deployed overseas and peacetime Americans hunkered down in the United States. And then it struck me, like the game show contestant who beats his opponents to the buzzer, what was missing from the time I left the United States, only a week before, was the sense of despair, frustration and self-centered complaining.
Someone tell me when the American public went from being the can-doers to the will-whiners?
Platoon Commander and Sergeant First Class Shirley Jacobs said it best, “I had a choice, and chose the Army to make something of myself.” In three deployments, Sergeant Jacobs has successfully completed over 100 convoy missions into Iraq. Despite barely looking old enough to vote, the men and women SFC Jacobs has safely lead on and off of IED ridden roads call her “meticulous,” “demanding,” “tough,” disciplined, and motherly. Days are long and hard for a military convoy, especially during a time of war. I personally watched Jacobs adapt to unpredictable schedule changes, equipment problems and shortages.
Heavy Equipment Transport System (HETS) The HETS are capable of pulling enormous tonnage, but they have been “up-armored” so much that they get about 2 miles to the gallon.
Despite the obstacles Jacobs rose to every occasion-did I mention that the May weather was exceptionally hot? Jacobs called it “just doing her job,” a job that demanded 12 to 18 hour days. Yet the most extraordinary characteristic about Jacobs, this modern Sojourner Truth, was that she never once complained.
As America has transitioned from a country of participants to a land of spectators, too many of us believe complaining is a form of taking action. We are easily fooled by the appearance of things, and have a hard time placing value on less material results. Like the person who plays video games for hours to win points on a screen, the illusion of getting something done carves the value out of our activities, turning our actions into rut. We dutifully go to work, pay our bills, and meet our obligations. We follow the instructions on the back of the bottle of life. Rinse and repeat.
Ronald Reagan said, “Some people wonder all their lives if they’ve made a difference The Marines don’t have that problem.” Neither do any of the servicemen deployed in the theater of combat. Everywhere I go, anyone I interview, it seems everyone is on a mission. There’s the mechanic who has to work all night to get the rigs running. There’s the logistics person who has to re-adjust the schedules due to enemy activity and accommodate the increasing flow of traffic as the surge places more demands. There are the public affairs personnel who greet incoming media and emphasize that there is no censorship, but ask that all embeds abide by certain rules-rules that not everyone feels they need to respect.
Abrams tanks at rest in the desert. It takes a professional to load and unload vehicles that way up to 30 tons.
For the past week, I have met people who have a purpose and a sense of accomplishment. It seems simple, but the driver who risks her life to bring the supplies to a base “up north” and comes back down to tell the tale gets the instant gratification of having actually done something. How can you place a dollar value on surviving such a dangerous operation or award points to the sense of personal responsibility for the safety of the men and women serving under you?
We made it over the border and I’m writing this from Southern Iraq, but I can’t shake this odd sense of envy that many of those serving are getting something most people back home will miss out on. It’s easy to find someone complaining about the cost of gas, instead of actually doing something about personal fuel consumption. It is easier still to see someone throw up their hands in disgust over politicians, instead of working on a campaign or running for office. There are those who believe complaining about war will actually bring peace. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t all have to run supplies up north to feel better about ourselves, but let’s stop pretending that whining gets anything done.
Matt Sanchez is the recipient of the Jeanne Kirkpatrick Award for Academic Freedom, and is currently embedded in Iraq where he is doing the radio programs “In their Own Words” and “Hometown Heroes”.