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Rachel Helm

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June 9, 2014
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Serving with honor and distinction

I write this on the eve of the 70th anniversary of D-Day. As a member of the baby boomer generation, I know all too well the importance of D-Day. It was our parents’ generation that fought in World War II and faced the threat of fascism from both the East and the West.

I also have a personal connection, as my father, a chaplain in the U.S. Army, was part of the Normandy invasion in that June so long ago. He didn’t talk about it much, usually keeping remembrances to amusing anecdotes. He spoke more openly about it to my brother after he too chose a career in military service.

My brother joined the Army in 1967 as an enlisted man and served in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. He served as a helicopter crew chief, first near the DMZ zone and then close to the Cambodian border. This was one of the hardest times to be serving as a soldier in Vietnam, and crew chiefs suffered one of the highest mortality rates.

My brother survived but he did not come out unscathed. He was honorably discharged, went to college on the GI Bill and returned to the Army as an officer. He retired after 20 years of service as a lieutenant colonel serving throughout the Cold War in the ’80s and during Desert Storm.

My first sister-in-law was also a career Army officer. Sandy also served in Desert Storm and was a major when she died. She was no powder puff. She was one of the first female officers to earn her jump master wings.

All three were laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery.

My second sister-in-law, whom my brother married after Sandy’s death, is still, I’m happy to say, very much alive. She served in the U.S. Navy and retired as a Naval captain.

My love, devotion and respect for these family members are more than words can say. So what’s my point? These men and women truly, truly served with honor and distinction.

I watch the sad unfolding of recent events. The disgraceful Veterans Administration scandal, the unfortunate speech by President Obama at West Point and of course the latest, the Sgt. Bergdahl negotiated release, and I wonder what my family members now buried at Arlington would think. I know they would strongly agree with the importance of always bringing your men and women home. At any cost, however? They would definitely struggle with that, as most of us are.

First, there’s the issue of the terrorists who were released. Chuck Hagel described them as prisoners of war, but someone who guns down little girls in their school room just because they had the audacity to want to learn isn’t a warrior, he’s a war criminal, and suggesting otherwise in order to “sell” the swap denigrates our true warriors and belittles the deaths of those girls.

As to the concerns raised regarding the threat these men may and most likely will present to active U.S. military and private citizens, the president seems to want to shrug it off as a normal part of a war’s end. This war is not over, though. We still have troops in Afghanistan and U.S. citizens work and live throughout the world. Does the Obama administration really believe the threat that these terrorists present is so dismissible?

Then there are the issues around Sgt. Bergdahl’s service. Certainly Bergdahl is owed his day in court and owed the presumption of innocence. I don’t know anyone who disputes that. Evidence does strongly indicate, however, that he deserted his platoon, not just in a time of war but in a war zone. Given that, you would think the president’s administration would opt for discretion rather than trying to use Bergdahl’s release as a photo opportunity to be exploited to gain political points. Wow, talk about tone deaf and misreading the public.

When Susan Rice announced that Bergdahl served with honor and distinction, I felt she was spitting on the graves of my dad, brother and sister-in-law and insulting the service of every member of the military, current and past.

During President Obama’s speech at West Point, he used the hammer and nail cliché to stress militarism isn’t the only way to deal with international conflicts. Fair enough. But one can use the same cliché to remind the president that every event isn’t just about your political backside.

Maybe the fact that they haven’t grasped that explains why the true meaning of “honor with distinction” eludes them.

Rachel Helm lives in South County.

I know they (deceased family members) would strongly agree with the importance of always bringing your men and women home. At any cost, however?


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The Union Updated Jun 9, 2014 12:22AM Published Jun 9, 2014 12:22AM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.