The View from the Ground
from the Washington Post: For Decorated GI, Grief, Recovery and Redeployment
At a Pentagon ceremony this month, 1st Lt. Walter Bryan Jackson became one of a handful of soldiers since 2001 to receive the Distinguished Service Cross, the military's second-highest medal, for saving another soldier's life while himself wounded and under heavy fire in Iraq.
Jackson's award was overshadowed a week later, though, when he learned that his closest friend and West Point roommate, 1st Lt. Matthew C. Ferrara, had been killed in a mountain ambush in Afghanistan. Last weekend, Jackson was on stage in Los Angeles for his friend's eulogy. And on Friday, after a quiet Thanksgiving with his parents in Fairfax [Virginia], Jackson packed his bag for another yearlong deployment, this time to lead a rocket platoon along South Korea's demilitarized zone.
"It's kind of hard to explain" how it feels to be part of a small segment of the U.S. population that is "bearing the brunt of the responsibilities" from today's conflicts, Jackson said as he waited for his flight at Dulles International Airport. "It doesn't affect society at large in the slightest. Life just goes on, and a lot of people . . . are more concerned about the price of gas than about soldiers fighting and dying," said Jackson, who has lost several comrades in the wars.
Proportionally, Army lieutenants suffer the highest casualty rate of any rank in the service because they tend to lead combat patrols, and lieutenants and other soldiers in combat units can now expect to deploy to a war zone at least every other year. Indeed, the personal impact of the past few years on Jackson and his Army peers has been profound. "We are a lot more serious," said the fresh-faced artillery officer, who turns 25 today, "because we know how short life is."
Amid rising attrition among graduates of some West Point classes, Jackson said he and most of his peers from the class of 2005 are "on the fence" about whether to make the military a career. "We're expecting to see at least a third of our class get out" at the first opportunity, he said. "Everyone has their breaking point."
We thank 1st Lt. Walter Bryan Jackson and his buddies for their service and sacrifice to our nation. We cannot help but wonder whether our nation's current and future political leadership, both in and out of government, really understands. As long as they don't personally know anyone like Lt. Jackson, they won't care, because they don't have to.
Exhibit A: Henry Hager.
Photo tip to the Seattle Times.