Men and women in uniform sign up to serve their country, and in the past decade that service likely meant to leaving one’s family for months at a time to travel to distant lands and face the possibility of serious bodily harm. They did not sign up to be used as a pawn in Washington, D.C.’s game of politics, neither while they served nor after.
Fortunately, unlike 2011, the full pay of active duty military was secured prior to the current government shut down.
What was not secured was the assurance that Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen would not used as pawns in partisan squabbles. The current government partial shutdown has displayed the lengths to which government is willing to use active military and veterans in their partisan gamesmanship.
Most who have been paying attention to the news are aware that the National Park Service has “closed” the open air World War II monument on the National Mall. As the government shutdown barricades were moved to the monument to keep visitors out. Some of those visitors were the men and women the monument is dedicated to, who came to D.C. on an Honor Flight, hosted by an organization which attempts to take all interested World War II veterans to D.C. to see their monument in the twilight of their lives.
The veterans were helped into the monument by lawmakers, who moved the barricades for them, even though they were threatened with arrest.
The events at the World War II monument have been the most visible, but only one in a number of hardships placed upon veterans and the military in an attempt to make the shutdown as painful as possible, even for America’s fighting men and women, past and present.
Like it’s neighbor on the National Mall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, another open-air monument, has been closed. The Vietnam Memorial, for anyone who has not seen it, is a black granite wall with the names of the 58,272 killed or missing in action etched out of the stone. On October 4th police removed veterans paying respects to their fallen brethren after they breached the barricades.
The closure of monuments, which are undoubtedly under the authority of the National Parks Service, is not a necessary closure. In fact, it makes one wonder how much additional money is spent on moving the barricades out of storage, the set-up of those barricades, and the extra enforcement to ensure that they are not visited. There are no doors to close, no guides necessary; the monuments are self-explanatory: brave men and women sacrificed for the nation that is now treating them as a pawn.
In addition to the monuments, veterans have to worry about barricades between them and the Department of Veterans Affairs. World War II veterans through Global War on Terrorism veterans face uncertainty about whether or not they will continue to receive their disability compensations, among other things. Some of the newer, Global War on Terrorism veterans have just made it through the veterans backlog, and now face a further delay of their benefits. If they have yet to clear the backlog, they may face an even longer wait.
These veterans’ benefits differ from other entitlements in that they are truly earned and are a component of the contract between a service member and their government at the time of enlistment or commission; they are not given just because they were lucky enough to be born in the United States. The fact these benefits are subject to manipulation is a disgusting exhibit of the disingenuous nature of a government that does not take seriously its charge “to care for him who shall have borne the battle.”
Veterans are not the only pawns, so too are those who still wear the uniform. Some Catholic service members faced the inability to celebrate mass on Sunday due to the furlough of Catholic chaplains. One would think the chaplains, while not being paid for their services could, in theory, out of the calling to serve, celebrate Mass. Not so. The priests were told they would face disciplinary action if they conducted services for their parish.
Those Catholic service members overseas who missed Mass because it was too expensive for priests to do, even if they were willing to forgo pay, faced the possibility they would then return to their barracks or their Moral, Welfare and Recreation facility and find that Armed Forces Network, the militaries television station, was “blacked-out,” and no football games were available for viewing.
The chips and dip and other food at the blackout tailgate parties was not bought from the base commissaries, which service the military and dependents by offering tax free grocery stores. Those commissaries are shut down.
The President shared the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. Among the list of government facilities closed includes his favored golf course on Andrew Air Force Base, just outside of Washington, D.C.
The military cannot take action the way civilians can. Strict discipline and the Uniformed Code of Military Justice does not allow them to be openly defiant or call the government on its impotence. They are told, “get it done,” “make it happen,” and “kit up.” It is likely for these reason they are being targeted for extra sacrifice by the government: they cannot speak out the way you and I can. What the government did not factor in is the outcry from us, civilians. We owe it to them to help; whether it be by bypassing monument barricades with our heroes, calling our elected members of government and expressing our disgust, or any other way that can be fruitful in ensuring our military is not used as pawns but respected because of the blank check they wrote to ensure the continuance to our way of life.
Kenneth Depew | University of St. Thomas | @DepewK