March 23, 2013
By John Larson
Ten years after the war in Iraq began, one thing that remains steadfast is our nation's ability to separate the warriors from the war.
The men and women of our military have performed extraordinarily through the throes of battle, and under circumstances that most of us will never understand. Service members have been called on time and time again to represent the nation and flag they were sworn to serve, and each time have responded with valor and commitment.
What I recall most about the last 10 years is not just the sacrifice of our troops, but the sacrifice and strength of the families that stood behind them.
I will never forget the Mother's Day prayer that Leesa Philippon from West Hartford said on behalf of mothers everywhere after she and her husband lost her son Larry. She was a beacon of hope for those with sons and daughters in the service. I remember Pene Palifka of East Hartford, who made the public aware of the lack of armored vehicles and body armor for our troops. I think of Rachel Kenyon from Manchester, who spoke so eloquently about her husband in the field and the challenges of being both a military wife and mother of a child with autism.
These are our friends and neighbors, whose actions have not only inspired us, but shown us how raising your voice in the face of adversity can impact a nation.
With our troops out of Iraq and continuing to return home from Afghanistan, our nation faces a number of challenges that require the attention and discussion of the American people. Tens of thousands of troops were wounded throughout the war. Many are struggling with the effects of post-traumatic stress. Veterans who have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan are looking for employment in a difficult economy.
In Hartford I am fortunate enough to have on my staff Ryan Dion, a Wounded Warrior who now works on behalf of veterans in Connecticut and understands the difficulties that veterans have obtaining the benefits and services they need. Programs like the Wounded Warrior and others are crucial and have helped thousands, but oftentimes are not enough. As local Vietnam veterans like Paul Bucha, Craig Jordan, and Paul Barry have long said, just as the military's promise is to leave no soldier behind, we must always remember to leave no veteran behind.
Ten years after this mistake of historic proportions, the most important take-away is to have an active and engaged citizenry.
I remember the calls of people like Mims Butterworth, who in various forums and discussions expressed their views and shared their knowledge of what they knew to be right. Many opposed the war, but it was these mothers, fathers, and engaged citizenry who, through tenacity and knowledge, strove for change.
The protests of the American people, the voices of our veterans, and the engagement of citizens like Philippon, Palifka, Kenyon, Bucha, Jordan, Berry, and Butterworth, in a chorus of concern, ultimately make the republic what it is today. Their advocacy ensures our service members and their families receive the services they deserve, and stops blunders like the war in Iraq from being repeated.
There is considerable work to do now that the war has ended, and it will take our neighbors showing up at various forms of dissent, discourse, dialogue, and conversation to make a change for a better future.
We no longer have a draft, but we should have a common call to public service for all our citizens so that we remain involved and committed to the liberties and freedoms that are often taken for granted. That is the role of an informed and knowledgeable citizenry, and it remains the obligation of our elected representatives to engage the public in the major issues of our day. This responsibility should not rest with our armed services alone — it is the responsibility of every single one of us.