Last week, the Collegian printed a political cartoon depicting a history class in 2060. The instructor was showing the students a photo of a World War II veteran and said they were going to learn about the greatest generation. In the next panel, he suggests that, if given time, they’ll study the “lousiest generation,” and the school is depicted as a dilapidated run-down brick building.
I’ll tell you why we have become the lousiest generation in a moment. Consider your daily routine while studying in college. There’s a lot to complain about, right? You have to get up, consider which classes to attend, study until the wee hours of the morning, and then, if you’re lucky, you may have some free time to share with friends on the weekends, maybe have a drink or two.
I wonder, though, just how much we students really have to complain about.
I spoke with my older brother recently and asked him to describe a typical day while stationed in Iraq, and I feel obliged to share his experience with you today.
Keep in mind that no matter what situation I am describing, no matter when it took place, no matter who he was with, my brother and his “battle buddies” were constantly under fire from random mortar attacks to barrages of small arms fire. They had to maintain constant vigilance lest they fall prey to a stray bullet or a luckily aimed mortar round. The stress this places on the human mind is unbelievably overwhelming.
My brother would be up by 5 a.m. and would immediately report for morning detail. This would include cleaning up the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) and other “chores,” if you will.
Morning detail took about an hour and then his main duties would begin. These would be determined by his commanding officer and usually entailed building some sort of structure for general use. Some days they would build picture frames for fallen heroes, other days, they would build utilities structures.
One such utility structure was built to house a poorly maintained washing machine, which they considered a blessing. Until then, they had no way of washing their clothing.
Some days they were required to build outside the base. During these assignments, the likelihood of coming under mortar fire or small arms fire increased exponentially.
If he completed his assignment, he was allowed rack time until his next shift. Sometimes the job would require extra time investment and he wouldn’t get any sleep for 36 hours straight. Imagine the stress placed on the brain if you’re coming under constant fire and haven’t had sleep in a day and a half.
The daytime temperatures can reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit in Iraq. While on duty, he wore “full battle rattle”: Full Kevlar, flak vest with SAPI (Small Arms Protective Insert) ceramic plates, 210 rounds of ammo, an M16, either night vision or thermal goggles and a Camelbak with 3 liters of water (an insufficient amount on hot days.)
Altogether, full battle rattle weighs between 70 and 80 pounds. It was so hot under all that gear and in that environment that even their own sweat became a problem, crystallizing in their pores and producing a pins-and-needles sensation on their backs.
My brother served his tour in Iraq between the ages of 22 and 23. He celebrated his 23rd birthday there – alcohol-free, mind you, since partaking in such beverages incurred punishment. Rarely did he have a day off.
Perhaps the most difficult part of touring in Iraq, however, was his return home. When he arrived in the United States safe and sound, thank God, the first thing he noticed was that civilians couldn’t support each other.
We bicker, we complain, we protest and criticize the most trivial of matters. We have a hissy fit when our cappuccino isn’t served in under a minute. We cut in line and tell those we’ve cheated to shove off. We forget that we live in the greatest country in the world and are practically worry-free, yet we don’t thank those who have given us the comforts of everyday life that we enjoy. I, too, am guilty of this selfish behavior.
I challenge every one of you today to thank a fellow American in uniform. E-mail them if you have to. But don’t let their sacrifice, their determination, or their fight for your freedom go unnoticed.
Josh Phillips is a senior business administration major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.