Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Luck of the Irish
Stop-Loss. That is the Army's term for preventing soldiers who have honorably served in George W. Bush's Iraq war from leaving the Army on time. It means they are sent back into combat rather than being discharged and free to go about their lives. Some have been caught in stop-loss and returned to combat tours as many as four times.
Last summer, I had the chance to meet some of my daughter's military friends. Robert and Jason are in Iraq right now, likely driving patrol even as I write. A third friend, Sgt. Lee Hetzler, has already served two tours of combat, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. He is currently stationed at Ft. Riley, and set to leave the Army in April. He has honorably served over seven years.
Lee is one of the finest young men I have met. He rides a Harley Super Glide, so of course that proves what a truly discerning guy he is! Lee is one of those soldiers we all have in mind when we think of the best our military has to offer. He is simply a nice human being. He is funny, polite, easy going, an excellent soldier, and a good-looking American guy. Any one would be proud to call him a son. He carries himself well and possesses a particular sort of humility, a stillness, I have seen in men who have been in war.
The first time I met Lee, the exact day of his pending discharge from the Army came into the conversation. Every soldier I have ever met knew the day he was to be discharged from the Army, and knew exactly how many days left until THAT day arrived. It is not that they hate the Army. It is that their lives do not belong to them as long as they are in the Army. They anxiously await the return of their freedom, the return to their own lives.
The first time I met Lee, he also mentioned being caught in stop-loss as his discharge date was drawing near. He and the other soldiers discussed it. They all understood.
It is not yet certain, but it looks as if Lee will be sent to Afghanistan rather than discharged in April. It looks as if he is going to be caught in stop-loss. It is another hard experience the Army hands out to its soldiers along with all the other hard experiences. It is merely a numbers game the military plays and there is no room for human hearts in those games.
I hope Lee does not have to return to Afghanistan. I hope he gets to go home to California, to ride his Harley wherever and whenever he wants. Sunday, I called and emailed Senator Pat Roberts' office about Lee. A woman from the Senator's Topeka office left a message last night:
"This is Gilda from Senator Robert's Topeka office. I am calling in reference to a phone call about Sgt Lee Hetzler. Please call me at 785-295-2745. Thank you."
I called Gilda today. I asked if Pat Roberts can do anything to prevent Sgt Lee Hetzler from returning to Afghanistan for another tour rather than leaving the Army and going home. She did not give me any hope except to say they could "look into it". She said Lee would have to be the one to ask their office to look into it, anyway.
There is another man who can be sent to war in Lee's place, a man who once missed his chance to serve honorably. George W. Bush recently came into some free time. He can take Lee's place.
May the luck of the Irish bless Lee, and Jason and Robert, and Wade and Ken, and all the men and women who have served, and are serving, our country.