As the nature of war changes, so must Americans’ role in supporting those who serve, the Center for Joint and Strategic Logistics director told those gathered for a Veterans Day ceremony at the McNamara Headquarters Complex Nov. 7.
“Because of the changing nature of conflict and because we’re seeing a different kind of veteran, I believe there is a changing role for you and me in supporting America’s 21st century veterans,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Claude V. ‘Chris’ Christianson.
Americans must recognize that many younger veterans will have to live with disabilities for the majority of their lives, he added. “They will need our embrace to maintain their spirit, to find valuable places to contribute to society, and to feel that they are an important part of the larger American family.”
Christianson joined the Army in 1971, a time when veterans got little respect and being a member of the military wasn’t something people were proud of, Christianson said.
“We’ve come a long way since 1971,” he said. “It’s not unusual today to see perfect strangers walking up to a member of our military and telling him or her, ‘Thank you for your service.’ I think that’s the way it should be, and I don’t want to go back to the late 60s and early 70s.”
The types of conflicts America is involved in have changed steadily since the Korean War, when political priorities began influencing tactical operations, he added.
“The face and nature of conflict changed even more in Vietnam, where the nation’s distaste for that particular war led to a wholesale disenfranchisement of our veterans. Later, in the Balkans we found ourselves involved in regional, ethnic and in some cases criminal conflicts. And over the last 10 years we’ve found ourselves trying to understand how to fight an almost faceless adversary while trying to help build nations that don’t have a democratic foundation upon which to build,” he said.
Christianson described World War I and World War II as “cleaner,” not because they lacked brutality or destruction, but because those involved clearly understood the differences between right and wrong, friend and foe, and winning and losing.
“Without the kind of clarity we enjoyed in World War I and World War II, for example, there’s a very real danger that as a nation we could find ourselves engaged in an unpopular conflict with a corresponding failure to appreciate the veterans who are sacrificing on the nation’s behalf in that conflict,” he said.
Men and women under age 35 make up about 10 percent of the total veteran population. Christianson said that while that’s evidence of the nation’s commitment to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s important to recognize the impact war has had on those young Americans.
“Ten years ago many of these young veterans would have died from the wounds they received. It is these veterans who are carrying with them the kinds of lifelong challenges that we as a nation have not had to face with our older group of veterans,” he said.
Christianson encouraged audience members to seek veterans who need help but don’t have the support of veterans organizations designed to assist them.
“You may have a neighbor who is a veteran and needs a helping hand and doesn’t belong to one of those organizations. You may be unaware of your neighbor’s need, but you can and should take action to change that,” he said.
The 37-year veteran also shared words from George Washington: The willingness with which our young people will fight in any war shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their country.
“Let us resolve to do today what we can individually and together to maintain a deep and meaningful appreciation for those who choose to serve our nation’s military,” he added.