On Veterans Day, Americans Should Be Very Proud of Our Military

ALT TAGIraqi children at the back of Joe Roche’s Humvee. According to Joe, the children are saying “Thank you America,” “Bush good” and “I love you.”

A guest post by Joe Roche

I’ve served repeatedly in Iraq and elsewhere as a soldier in the US Army, and I believe that the real tragedy involved in the Wikileaks revelations was that the good the US military does is being ignored. I saw that the US military provides greater humanitarian relief, rescue and hope than any charity in the world. Little of this is ever reported. In lieu of the Wikileaks sensation, which makes it look like all the US military does is destroy, kill and abet crimes, I truly feel heartbroken for my fellow American soldiers, sailors and airmen.

It is actually a defining mission of the US military to provide relief and help all over the world on behalf of the American people.

Even in Pakistan, where only news of the war makes headlines, the USS Peleliu and USS Kearsarge amphibious warfare ships have provided relief and rescue in response to the devastation of the recent floods. Meanwhile, the USS Iwo Jima continues a four-month humanitarian and civic assistance mission in Latin America and the Caribbean providing critical medical care and infrastructure improvements to eight nations.

ALT TAGJoe Roche’s captain with Iraqi children in a school built by the 16th Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Division

The USS Iwo Jima mission involves health care professionals providing medical, dental and veterinary assistance, Navy Seabees building needed projects in poor and suffering places, 500 Marines working hard to deliver supplies, engineers creating new and important projects in each country that will help people, special personnel to train local officials in these areas, and a huge contingent of supplies from nearly 40 American charities such as Project Hope, Clean the World, Baptist Health South Florida, Islamic Relief USA, and the Austin Plastic Surgery Foundation.

This is part of a long legacy of the US military humanitarian missions. For example, in 2007 the massive USS Comfort Navy hospital ship provided 380,000 treatments, 32,322 immunizations and performed 1,170 life-saving surgeries to people in other countries. This ship and the USS Mercy, another Navy hospital ship, often perform such missions in the Pacific, Asia and Africa.

Since 1976, the US military has undertaken nearly 300 major humanitarian rescue missions that are publicly known. These have saved the lives of millions of people. An unknown number of humanitarian missions have been kept from the public for political and diplomatic reasons because sometimes it embarrasses a foreign ally that American soldiers rescued their own people in their own country.

It happens often, however, and when it does the US military out-performs every charity in the world, including the United Nations. In the first week after the 2004 tsunami, the US military provided 5,560 pounds of water, 142,940 pounds of food and 2,100 pounds of medical supplies. In 2006 in Pakistan, we provided water, translators and 12,000 Islamic meals within hours of the massive earthquake. When a typhoon struck the Philippines, one US military mission brought in 75,000 pounds of supplies each day, while another rescue mission in Central America delivered 161 tons of food, medicine and water in six days.

There are also many small humanitarian missions, such as the rescue of the International Christian Academy students in Cote D’Ivoire, a 32-soldier team planning the deployment of African peacekeepers to Liberia, de-mining missions in Southeast Asia, or US Air Force flights delivering foreign peacekeepers to war-torn countries. In the past several weeks, US military humanitarian and civic assistance missions were completed in Honduras, the Gulf of Guinea, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

This is the defining impact of the US military on the world; not what Wikileaks suggested in the revelations a few weeks ago. I have never heard the press talk about the work of my unit in Baghdad, which built 13 police stations, three dozen power stations, five banks, several bridges, 24 kilometers of main roads, more secondary roads, 224 neighborhood projects, a major hospital, 28 primary and secondary schools, 67 projects for colleges, 23 major infrastructure projects, 31 sewage projects, and major water and irrigation projects. This was the work of just one unit, the 16th Engineer Battalion, averaging 285 soldiers in 2003-2004.

The US military today continues the legacy of great American-led rescue and relief missions of the past, such as the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift. Despite the agonizing negativity of the Wikileaks sensation, I hope that for Veteran’s Day, Americans will realize that we have every right to be very proud of our nation’s military.

Note from Amy Ridenour: Joe Roche is the author of Keep the Faith: A Letter from Iraq, which appeared in this blog on April 7, 2004. It subsequently was reprinted by newspapers nationwide, 286 blogs by my count, and in Stars & Stripes, was read on the air by Rush Limbaugh, Kirby Wilbur and other talk radio hosts, quoted by then-President George W. Bush in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention of 2004. (As far as I know, the first blog entry to be quoted in a speech by a sitting president.) Later, a line from Joe’s essay was displayed on the wall in an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Please visit our Joe Roche page for links to more of his writing. For a profile of Joe that appeared in Stars and Stripes, go here.

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