“What’s happening? Why did someone do that?” asked my five year old nephew the morning of 9/11. I had no answers. I held him tight and rocked him in my arms. The world was forever scarred, painfully so. That morning, his little arms soothed me. Our world had irrevocably changed. Violently. Abruptly. The world he would grow up in had changed. I knew it. He knew it too.
Nine years later, the images of the twin towers imploding while thick ash clouds choke the screams of people fleeing, remains indelibly imprinted in a traumatic memory. Since 9/11 the United States and its allies have been at war on two fronts. More than 1.8 million American soldiers have left the safety of their homes and homeland to the IED ridden roads of Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars are different, vastly different than any conflicts the U.S. has engaged in previously.
What’s different? First, 30 percent of U.S. combat troops are National Guard and Reserve soldiers. Many have been deployed multiple times. Recent research confirms that combat related medical and mental health conditions like Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) rates are highest amongst National Guard and Reserve soldiers when compared with active duty military personnel.
Second, women comprise 15 percent of combat forces. Women are front and center along with their male comrades. Many women are mothers whose deployment has left their young children home with Dad or a grandparent to run the school carpool, figure out math homework and raise a generation.
Third, new war weapons like Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) that threaten limb and life liter the paths of soldiers on foot and in Hummers. TBI is a signature injury of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom caused by IEDs. When an IED explodes, the sheer sound of the explosion jolts and rattles the brain of soldiers on the scene. This forceful trauma causes the brain to swell exacerbating the damage. Tragically, one in five soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq returns home with a Traumatic Brain Injury.
My nephew will soon celebrate his 15th birthday. He and his generation have gown up in wartime. On a minute by minute basis, in vivid, high definition detail, they witness the tragic consequences of war. My deepest hope is that he and his contemporaries will learn the lessons my generation failed to learn. Being right is overrated. War changes people and countries. Success is the best revenge. Often it takes more courage to move forward than look back. Decisions of a few can phenomenally impact many. The cost of war is always a price no country, generation, or citizen can afford.