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August 1, 2012

Yes, Mr. President, Itís War

Norman M. Covert

I’ve had a number of significant emotional experiences in my life. A couple at the hands of my dad, who had to make some course corrections, a time when I realized God is not the invention of a Jerusalem Public Relations firm.


No less moving has been seeing soldiers headed out to war and returning from combat.


I’ve had the experience of saying goodbye to my family at the airport, lugging my duffel and wondering what would be in store when I reached my destination.


This past weekend I took part in a three-day convention in Easton of a veterans’ organization called The Society of the Forty and Eight, named for the French box cars which were rated at a capacity of either 40 men or eight horses. They transported our doughboys to the front in World War I.


My first mission was to meet the National Chef de Chemin de Fer (commander) Robert Molina at BWI/Marshall Airport.


We were early, grabbing seats in the nearest watering hole to the passenger gate. We munched on sandwiches and became keenly aware that groups of military members occupied nearby tables, their duffels stacked where they could be seen.


The empty table across from us was suddenly occupied by a young man, his hair cropped to the scalp. He was wearing the signature computer-generated-pattern battle dress uniform, any identification missing including rank, the table almost too small to accommodate his large frame. He was alone, not just by himself, but alone.


The waitress brought him a large draft and it sat in front of him untouched as he looked disinterestedly at the television broadcasting the Orioles’ game. He was obviously within himself when his telephone rang. He talked about three minutes, the conversation unheard, but obviously with someone near and dear. He said, “I love you,” then grabbed the beer and took a long pull on it.


I couldn’t resist. “Are you headed out or incoming,” I said to him.


“Out,” he said.




“No Air Force. They have us wearing these uniforms so we blend in with all the services in country.”


“What is your branch?”


“I’m a C-130 pilot, going to Kyrgyzstan.”


Being a C-130 pilot out of Kyrgyzstan is no Sunday afternoon touch-and-go out at Frederick Airport. It is fraught with danger. Pilots must maneuver their vulnerable, unarmed aircraft to air-drop or land in the barren terrain to off -load ammunition, food, medical supplies and the vast assortment of materiel needed by troops in the remotes camps of Afghanistan.


Kyrgyzstan is the only supply base in Central Asia. Supply aircraft transship supplies from Manas Airfield near Kyrgyzstan’s capital of Bishkek.


This seven-year veteran of the Air Force is aware of the assignment’s risks. He had flown out of Little Rock, AK, on a direct flight to Baltimore, where aircraft arrive and depart each day filled with soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen headed to a war America seems to have forgotten.


Were it not for the veterans groups which meet returning combat troops on a regular basis, few might even know what a significant emotional experience this is for the troops. With each group I passed in the airports corridors, I made eye contact, spoke to them warmly and thanked them for their courage.


I could see it in their faces: they wondered what reaction, if any, they would receive from fellow Americans in the crowded airport. They perked up with each greeting I gave.


Those of us who served during the Vietnam War understand this current crop of combat veterans’ uncertainty about the reception “back home.” Would they be welcome? Ignored?


Back in the watering hole, I asked the pilot if that was his wife to whom he had been speaking.


“Yes,” he said, “and I had the chance to say goodbye again to my seven-month old daughter.”


They live off base, he said, which means she wouldn’t have the daily interaction and support of military families and other spouses enduring separation, plus the return deployments that characterize the face of our military members in Afghanistan.


We got up to leave and I gripped his hand in solidarity and we wished him a safe journey and return. He picked up his phone and showed us his young family back in Kansas City.


A uniformed father or mother with spouse and baby is the face of America’s defense, not the pandering, benign neglect of the Obama Administration and his cronies in The Congress, who seem to think the troops are going to Germany, Korea, or other outposts where the guns are ready, but silent.


I picked up my VIP, who is a three-tour combat veteran of Vietnam. The Air Force pilot walked by and waved.


“God Bless you,” I said, as he went down the steps to his departure point.


I explained who he was to Chef de Chemin de Fer Bob, who looked around at the groups of military members with their worldly goods in backpacks and duffels.


“I remember coming back from Vietnam,” he said, “enduring the anger and violence from the Peace groups, the anti-war groups…They are still unrepentant over what they did to us and I will carry my anger to the grave!”


Yes, Mr. President, there is a real war going on in Central and Southwest Asia, a “mother loving, shooting war,” as Kirk Douglas said in the movie, “In Harm’s Way.”


Many military members undergo that significant emotional experience at BWI/Marshall airport and they need us behind them 100 percent. Say a prayer for them and their families at home. This isn’t politics at play, it is WAR!


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