‘Unit co­he­sion’ in a time of dis­cord

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE - —Kim Clark Salmon The writer is a jour­nal­ist from Ce­cil County.

I’ve re­cently started ac­com­pa­ny­ing my hus­band on the VAshut­tle buses to the Baltimore VA hos­pi­tal. It’s al­ways an in­ter­est­ing ride — a mix of hos­pi­tal staff and vet­er­ans of var­i­ous ages and wars.

Mike says it re­minds him of the many bus, plane, jeep, etc. rides of the Army: an un­likely mix of men of all types all crammed to­gether, all united as they try to cheer each other up and for­tify each other’s courage as they head to­ward some dif­fi­cult, ter­ri­fy­ing and pos­si­bly fa­tal or­deal. Back then they were fac­ing bul­lets in a jun­gle or desert.

Now, in the VA van, these ex-sol­diers are rid­ing to a dif­fer­ent, but just as deadly, bat­tle­field. Each vet­eran on that bus knows that he and his van­mates are head­ing to the hos­pi­tal to fight some med­i­cal en­emy — can­cer, di­a­betes, men­tal ill­ness. And so they fall into the old pat­terns of “unit co­he­sion.”

On our last van trip home, it was just Mike, me, and one other gen­tle­man who ap­peared to be in his late 60s or early 70s, who used a cane, and who hap­pened to be African-Amer­i­can. He fell asleep on the ride, and I gen­tly shook his arm a lit­tle to wake him up when the driver ar­rived at his stop. He ap­par­ently had been in deep sleep and seemed kind of con­fused when he woke up. He had great dif­fi­culty in get­ting off the van and then stood for a minute on the street, hold­ing on to the van door, seem­ing a lit­tle un­steady and lost.

Though this was quite a few miles from our own stop, Mike jumped up and took his arm and said “I’ll walk you home,” and told me to go get the car and re­turn to pick him up. My eyes leaked a lit­tle as I watched Mike pick­ing his way through the bat­tle­field of aging and sick­ness, arm in arm with a “stranger” (but fel­low vet­eran, Amer­i­can, hu­man) fight­ing a dif­fer­ent (but the same) bat­tle.

This is the best of Amer­ica. This is what our lead­ers should be pro­mot­ing. Not di­vi­sion. Not re­sent­ment.

All the vet­er­ans in my fam­ily (fa­ther, hus­band) say they com­pletely sup­port any­one who wants to protest any­thing about Amer­ica. Mike re­minded me that the oath you take to join the Army re­quires you to de­fend the Con­sti­tu­tion. Not a pres­i­dent. Not a flag. And the Con­sti­tu­tion in­cludes the First Amend­ment. The abil­ity to cri­tique the many real prob­lems this coun­try faces is what has en­abled our democ­racy to sur­vive more than 200 years. If we stop re­spect­ing our fel­low Amer­i­cans who hap­pen to dis­agree with us, we risk head­ing into an­other Civil War.

I’d guess that many of the folks who claim that some pro­test­ers are “dis­re­spect­ing vet­er­ans” prob­a­bly haven’t served in the Armed Forces and thus haven’t had the ex­pe­ri­ence of trust­ing a (dif­fer­ent from them) fel­low Amer­i­can with their lives. Mike and I have no­ticed that in our cir­cle of friends, which tends to be dom­i­nated by the well-ed­u­cated, al­most no one has served in the Armed Forces. And no one even con­sid­ers that as an op­tion for their chil­dren. We won­der why.

Yes, there are risks. But there are also great ben­e­fits, not only to the young peo­ple, who learn dis­ci­pline and ser­vice, but to our so­ci­ety, be­cause the ser­vice in­stills a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity to your “unit” — your fel­low sol­diers rid­ing this big blue plan­e­tary Huey that is hurtling us through space and time to­ward doom. No one gets out of the ul­ti­mate bat­tle alive. So let’s start sup­port­ing our fel­low pla­toon­mates in the hu­man army.

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