I read and hear it all the time. Newspapers and TV stations like to report that this has been an “unpopular war.” Now, I may be an Irish person, and like A.A. Milne’s beloved bear, “of very little brain.” But I do not understand this contention. It’s as if WWII was a hoot, or Korea was one giant episode of M*A*S*H. I want to say: “Of course, it’s unpopular! It’s a war!” Observing that war is unpopular is at least as ridiculous as observing that there is an unpopular recession. I can’t help but feel that the mainstream media might report on the conflict in the Middle East a little more accurately of we could only convince them that it’s a camouflage fashion show. Perhaps someone at the Pentagon ought to take that under consideration … Just a suggestion.

I have spent considerable time in the Middle East, first playing professional golf, and more recently on USO-sponsored troop visits. On these tours, I have been amazed by the job American and Coalition troops have done. I am also amazed at the difference between what I have seen with my own eyes and what I see on the news and read in our papers. It seems to me that the only time soldiers make the news is when something has gone wrong. America holds its Armed Forces to an incredibly high standard. What stands for justice must be seen to be served. The fact that we are at war becomes irrelevant unless the price of gasoline is $4 a gallon.

What these soldiers have endured in order to preserve our way of life, in my opinion, has not been properly reported, as apparently the average American does not have the stomach for it. Frequently, our troops find the remains of children who have been tortured to death in front of their parents. These scenes are too often a reminder of what happens to those who are seen talking to, or cooperating with, American or other Coalition forces. America’s Armed Forces are presently engaged in making sure that the type of people who engage in this uncivilized behavior do not make it to American soil. The cold truth is they would wreak their havoc here too.

Every day, on countless occasions, our service members display extraordinary skill, compassion, and restraint while performing their duties under the most difficult and stressful conditions. Yet we hardly ever hear about this. They fight an army that refuses to wear a uniform, but they are continuously criticized. Again, America seems to forget we are at war, and once more, for the record, I believe we are fighting enemies who have displayed an utter lack of respect for life.

*****

So, call me old-fashioned. But when one of our brave men or women comes home with an injury sustained in the act of protecting this great country, I believe it is the duty of every American resident, citizen or not, to do whatever is within their means to help. With USO supporters like Gary Sinise and Robin Williams (to name but a couple) we are making headway into the damage done to the veterans of Vietnam. But we still have a long way to go before the public truly understands how much it owes the men and women of our volunteer Armed Forces, Some may consider it to be the government’s job to look after these people, but not I. Furthermore, although my Troops First Foundation is a registered 501(c)3, I do not consider it, or the USO, a charity.

*****

Supporting organizations like these is merely a way of paying a tiny part of the bill that we owe our servicemen and women for the protection they have given so much of themselves to provide. Our fallen and injured troops do not simply lose their lives or limbs, and the rest do not simply risk the same. They give of themselves so freely so that we, and our children, may continue to enjoy the freedom and quality of life that most of us take for granted.

I am not an American citizen … yet. But I’m working on it. During the course of my studies for the citizenship entrance exam (which most Americans would fail), I have become somewhat obsessed with the 3rd president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. Sir Winston Churchill may have been the greatest man of the 20th century, but the more I read Thomas Jefferson’s words, the more convinced I become that he was the greatest human being ever born.

 It’s a shame that every country didn’t have a man such as TJ, as I like to sometimes call him. Jefferson’s Virginia Resolution, which became the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, is arguably the greatest piece of literature ever written. It safeguards us all against the governmental cancer more commonly known as officially sanctioned organized religion. Most of the original settlers of this country fled to these shores to escape religious persecution. Jefferson was determined to ensure that they succeeded. He was among the first to recognize that religious leaders kept their power by keeping people ignorant and afraid, and therefore controllable.

“History,” he said, in an 1813 letter to Baron Alexander von Humboldt, “furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government.” Not a damned thing has changed since he wrote those words. Jefferson understood that the key to a free society was education. While the credit for the birth of pragmatism (the only philosophy born in America) is given to another, Charles Sanders Peirce, I believe it belongs to Jefferson, who, when he was asked to support a motion to build a series of churches specifically to give Americans a place to pray for the souls of those who were trying to make landfall along the dangerously rocky northeast coast, suggested (with the greatest respect) that a series of lighthouses might prove significantly more helpful. This was the moment, I believe, when pragmatism was born. Praise the Lord! Or not, as Jefferson might have added … I mean, whatever floats your boat — that’s what he was saying.

*****

When we look at the countries whose populations profess to hate us, it is evident that most, if not all of them, have a couple of things in common. First, they had no one like Thomas Jefferson, and second, possibly as a result, their religion plays waaaaay too big a part in running their country. As a consequence, their populations are badly educated and easily controlled. Forgive me for yet again paraphrasing my newfound hero, but TJ said that the occupants of any given country need only a modicum of education before they become intelligent enough to know when their elected representatives speak with forked tongue. That, my future fellow Americans is, in a nutshell, why America works, and the countries that hate us, don’t.

Jefferson was also a huge supporter of the Armed Forces. In his own words: “Although our prospect is peace, our policy and purpose is to provide for defense by all those means by which our resources are competent.” While his language was considerably more beautiful than mine, I believe that this is what he meant: Cut whatever budgets you want, but leave the military alone. We might be able to survive a liberal government, but we are royally screwed if a soldier ever yells, “Hey! I’m tired of gunfire, it’s really loud. How ‘bout I come over there and we just sing, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke?’ Whaddaya say?” Hmmm … no, that wouldn’t work, although I could probably come up with a couple of names to give it a try.

*****

My “f-troop,” just like Shoebox greeting cards, is a tiny little division of the Troops First Foundation, which may or may not exist. Consisting of severely injured American servicemen, mostly but not all Special Forces (they are all special to me), the “troopers” are almost all amputees. This year I will host six of what I call “IEDs” — Improvised Explosive Days  — for them. There will be two days of golf, two of cycling, one of pheasant hunting, one of skiing, and all of them will be hysterically funny.

I know, it’s hard to imagine someone laughing at a group of amputees as being anything other than an exercise in bad taste, and trust me, it is. You see, when a soldier gives a limb in the service of his or her country, it’s not just an arm or a leg that is lost. More important is the dignity. So when Green Beret Major Kent Solheim gave his leg away in March after two years and umpteen surgeries in an attempt to keep it, I traveled to Walter Reed for his amputation. It’s not a spectator sport, trust me, but when he came out of the ether, the first thing I asked him was what they’d done with his old leg. When he asked me why, I told him that while normally I was just an arms dealer, in this crappy economy I’d try to sell anything. A couple of nurses were momentarily horrified, but when Kent blew a snot bubble and called me a sick bastard, everyone felt better. That’s my trooper, I thought. By making some fun in his time of greatest sadness, I had offered him a chance, by his reaction, to regain some of his dignity. I also called him a wuss for losing 15 pounds the easy way. For our first lED of Cycling I had to match his weight loss within six weeks, or I’d be riding with man-breasts, which he told me was unacceptable.

 Another of my boys is Chris Burrell, who lost most of his leg and part of a buttock, I tell him to look on the bright side, now at least people can’t call him a complete ass. He laughs, and because of his laughter those around him see more than a physically handicapped man, they see the strength and character of American royalty, You can call them heroes too, but they are American royalty to me, and should be treated as such.

*****

I am an alcoholic, a clinical depressive, and an addict. It is no coincidence that the happiest and healthiest time of my life has been since my first USO visit to Iraq two and a half years ago. The time I have spent with the USO and my Troops First Foundation has been the greatest gift I have ever received, for they do a thousand times more for me than I will ever be able to do in return. Our military has made me keenly aware of how lucky I am to be allowed to live in the world’s greatest country. I have been clean, sober, eternally grateful, and even if they all do come home, I will remain their humble civilian servant for as long as I live.

And yes, I’ll be visiting Monticello as soon as possible too … once I pass the test. Thank you TJ, you were the bomb!

Thanks to our friends at the USO for this article and picture from “ON PATROL”, the magazine of the USO, Summer 2009. Please visit www.USOonPatrol.org and  www.USO.org

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