Right to the Point (11/12/09)

Veterans Day has special meaning for Vermonters

Nov. 12, 2009

By Mike Benevento

On Wednesday, our nation celebrated Veterans Day. Observed on Nov. 11, the holiday honors all American military veterans — whether or not they fought in combat.

Originally known as Armistice Day, the 11th day of the 11th month was chosen as the holiday because it was the anniversary of World War I’s end in 1918. First observed in remembrance of World War I veterans, following World War II, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day to honor all United States veterans.

With the upcoming deployment of Vermont Army National Guard soldiers to Afghanistan, Wednesday’s holiday holds special meaning this year. The Burlington Free Press reported a week ago that 1,210 soldiers from more than 250 Vermont communities will participate in Task Force Phoenix. Col. Will Roy will be their commander. Following training at Fort Polk, La. and in Ohio, the soldiers are scheduled to spend most of next year in Afghanistan.

According to its Web site, TF Phoenix’s mission is to train and mentor Afghan police and military forces to conduct independent, self-sustained counter-insurgency and security operations to defeat terrorism and provide a secure, stable environment in Afghanistan.

Maj. Gen. Michael Dubie noted, however, that the mission may change from training and mentoring Afghan security forces to counterinsurgency and security operations in a single area. According to Dubie, Vermont soldiers could participate in “clear-and-hold” missions that are evolving in Afghanistan.

Peter Hirshfeld of The Barre Montpelier Times Argus wrote, “The strategy calls on U.S. forces to eliminate Taliban and other insurgent forces in a specific area, and then live among Afghan communities to ensure the regions remain friendly.”

This means Vermont’s citizen soldiers may end up participating in a counter-insurgency strategy reminiscent of the surge in Iraq, which was extremely successful in reducing the violence in that nation. The goal would be to better protect the Afghan people while rebuilding the nation — thus making local citizens strong allies in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Over a period of time, the Afghan people would view Americans as their friends and the Taliban and Al Qaeda as their enemy. Thus, they would be less likely to turn a blind eye toward terrorist activities and more likely to actively aid American military personnel in destroying a mutual enemy.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal — President Barack Obama’s choice as NATO commander in Afghanistan — wrote, “We will not win simply by killing insurgents. We will help the Afghan people win by securing them, by protecting them from intimidation, violence and abuse.”

President Obama said the war in Iraq was a war of choice while the Afghan War is one of necessity. McChrystal has asked the president to increase troop strength by 40,000 to implement the new war strategy. Since Afghanistan is central in defeating terrorism, Obama will likely have to honor McChrystal’s request for additional troops.

This being the largest wartime deployment of the Vermont National Guard since World War II, there is a good chance that every Vermonter personally knows at least one departing soldier. That soldier could be a spouse, parent, child, sibling, friend, neighbor, acquaintance or co-worker. Everyone in Vermont will be affected by the yearlong absence of these fine soldiers.

Employers, government, volunteer organizations and especially families will be left with big voids to fill. While most will be up to the task of making due without their missing soldiers, there is a good chance some will not.

We need to watch out for others and support the families. Oftentimes, the true heroes are those left behind who go about the extraordinary task of daily living while a big part of their family serves overseas.

A final note: I would be amiss not to mention last week’s massacre of Army soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas. Exactly a week ago, U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan allegedly opened fire on unarmed military personnel. Only a quick response by Fort Hood Police Sgt. Kimberly Munley — who confronted and shot the Army officer — ended the tragedy before more personnel were harmed. Even still, Hasan is accused of killing 13 and wounding 29 soldiers before Munley stopped him.

Although military members know the risk of injury and death is inherent to their chosen profession, it is still a shock to have suffered such violence from a fellow soldier — especially so far away from the battlefield. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by Hasan’s assault — and their loved ones. Because of what many consider homegrown terrorism, unfortunately, Veterans Day held a special meaning for Fort Hood personnel.


Michael Benevento is a former Air Force fighter jet weapon systems officer. He has a bachelor’s degree in Military History and a master’s in International Relations. Mike resides in Williston with his wife Kristine and their two sons, Matthew and Calvin.