Military Families Carry A Nation’s Burden

Army Spc. Louis Neidermeier should have been coming home from Iraq this summer to his family and fiancee. Instead, June 1, he stepped out of his Humvee in Ramadi into the sights of a sniper.

At his memorial service, his father, Eddie Neidermeier, told The Tampa Tribune: “We want everyone to know that our boy fought for our country and loved our country. … He was taught to fight for what was right.”This Largo family knows the burden of freedom and has paid the price. But I’m not so sure the rest of society knows.

Consider this for a moment: Harvard, Yale and many other Ivy League colleges kicked their ROTC programs off campus years ago and continue to keep out Army recruiters.

Charles Moskos, a military sociology expert, says that when he graduated from Princeton in 1956, 400 out of the 750 men went on to serve in the military. Last year, out of Princeton’s class of 1,100 men and women, only eight did.

But that’s nothing new – the elite often have escaped military obligations. What’s disturbing is mainstream America’s indifference.

Right after the 9/11 attack, every public event was an ordeal that shoved the terrorist threat in the faces of most Americans. We have since established security systems, allowing those concerns to fade into the background. And for almost four years, we have not relived that horrendous experience.

So we can go about our daily lives, taking little notice of the fight our military has taken to the terrorists off American soil.

For all our flag-waving and yellow ribbons, most of us seem to have little connection to those exceptional countrymen who are sacrificing to protect our cushy lives. Certainly the Big Mac-eating, Target- shopping, Oprah-watching everyday American is not signing up for the job.

While the Army met its June recruiting goal, it has missed its target for four consecutive months and is lagging for the year. Meanwhile, re- enlistment by active-duty soldiers is increasing.

The few carry more and more of the load.

In the 1940s everyone knew someone, often a family member, in the military. I frequently meet people who don’t know one person in uniform.

Six percent of Americans served during World War II, compared with a fraction of 1 percent today. This recalls Winston Churchill’s tribute to the Royal Air Force, “Never in the face of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”

And now most members of two generations have enjoyed the relative peace achieved by others’ sacrifices.

Here in Tampa, MacDill Air Force Base keeps us better connected with a local pulse on the war. Military families and friends here reinforce our understanding.

To many other Americans, the personal stakes in this war just aren’t significant.

Fortunately, there are still families like the Neidermeiers carrying the burden for the rest of us. On this Independence Day weekend, I thank God for folks like them.

MyLinh Shattan graduated from West Point and served as an Army officer. She lives with her husband and three children in Lutz

Jul 3, 2005

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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