January 30, 2008 Editor's note: The following guest column was submitted by LTC Steve Russell (Ret.), founder and chairman of Vets for Victory headquartered in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. While active in the U.S. Army, Russell was a central player in the hunt for and capture of Saddam Hussein and is a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The lack of support shown by national lawmakers to give troops the support needed to achieve their mission has become egregious. Americans wag at political assertions of troop support as the mission is obstructed. Every day, it seems as if another public official has claimed that victory in Iraq is impossible. This would come as quite a shock to the fighting soldiers. They know better. They also know that such proclamations are made solely for political gain, and are perhaps most welcomed by the enemies they fight.
It is past the time for national lawmakers to abandon their political investment in defeat. We must reassure our fighting men and women that they aren't fighting alone.
What can the average American do to back up our troops when our national lawmakers will not? This is a question I get asked frequently. The answer is, "take it to the states." Several states have already stepped forward with resolutions that promise to "not abandon our service men and women in this time of war and pledge full support of them and their efforts to secure victory."
Exactly one year ago, defeat seemed a foregone conclusion to many. Groups of "experts" sought an "honorable exit." But Vets for Victory, a pro-troop and pro-mission organization I head, began working with state lawmakers who were as frustrated about this as the people they represent. The result was a legislative proclamation telling the troops, "We will not abandon you."
Last February, average Oklahomans working with their state lawmakers rose up to declare such support. Despite the midterm elections and the pessimistic Iraq Study Group report, more than a thousand veterans and troop supporters filled the plaza at the state capitol building to take a stand on their behalf. A respectable group of bipartisan lawmakers were also in attendance and read the state's pledge to not abandon the troops.
Vermont followed suit with its own proclamation in May. In June, Florida's Hillsborough County of six million people became the first non-state government to pass the resolution. And last November, the Massachusetts legislature followed with a strong variant of the bill. The Florida State Legislature will consider its own version this spring.
Do such resolutions matter? The soldiers and their families sure think so. And state legislators know they have to pump gas and buy groceries with their voters when the legislative session ends by summer in most states. To be fair, lawmakers are relieved when they are not alone in their views of backing the troops and their mission when all political 'savvy' would suggest leaving it alone.
Now is time to act at the state level. National media and political groups have allowed opponents of the war a steady national say. When the surge began to bear fruit, they began to focus their tactics of defeat by attacking the integrity and character of our men and women that serve in uniform or as contractors.
First, soldiers and marines were subjected to despicable political statements asserting instant guilt regarding war crimes that never were, with no apologies forthcoming upon acquittal.
Then we saw the same tactic in the celebrated Blackwater case. The media circled with vulture-like appetite to declare all contractors as out-of-control criminals. These former soldiers and law enforcement agents obviously chucked all their integrity and character the moment they took a paycheck from a private firm to serve their country as civilians.
Now we see returning veterans caught in the blast of hit pieces portraying us as maladjusted beings of pity, likely to kill our loved ones and then come after you. Please don't tell my wife.
Instead, tell your local lawmakers. Enough is enough. Ask them to sponsor a resolution declaring that your state will not abandon the troops. This simple official message tells our troops that their sacrifice will not be in vain. It also goes a long way toward raising the morale of our troops instead of our enemies.