National Guard

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(HOST) Commentator Madeleine Kunin reflects that the holidays can be a bittersweet time for many – especially this year.

(KUNIN) It’s so easy to shut the realities of war out of our holiday season lives. The beautiful lights, the parties, the family gatherings make this year seem like every other year as we follow the usual festive traditions.

A wrenching photo on the front page of the newspaper of a family wrapped in an embracing hug, like a protective blanket, around a departing Vermont guardsman reminds us this is not like any other year. This year there are tears, there is loss and there is fear.

More than one thousand guardsmen and women have left to go to the Middle East war zone, leaving behind thousands who suffer their loss. The speeches were uplifting at each departure ceremony as public officials bade them farewell and wished them a safe return. But it is hard to forget the faces: of children crying, of a soldier cradling his infant son in his arms and giving him a bottle, wondering when he will hold his baby again.

A friend tells me of being on a plane with a group of marines, and when the plane landed, the coffin was taken off first, with the marines standing guard on either side. There is the photo of a young man and a young woman, looking perfectly fit and normal, until I look down their bodies and see that each of them is standing on a high-tech steel and plastic false limb.

I feel both angry and pained when these reminders of war enter my everyday life. Angry that the costs of the war in Iraq were never calculated in terms of lives lost and lives changed, pained that there is a sense of helplessness as men and women in their thirties and forties are deployed to fight battles for which many are not prepared. It is usually the very young who fight wars, but these guardsmen and women are leaving in the midst of their lives – attached to families, jobs, responsibilities.

A recent study stated that a higher percentage of guardsmen have been killed and wounded than professional soldiers. But the next day the Pentagon admitted they didn’t even know how many guardsmen and reservists they had.

This is a war that Donald Rumsfeld never thought we would fight, against deadly insurgents attacking unarmored vehicles. It was all supposed to be over long before now: the day George Bush announced, “Mission accomplished.” But we are there, and our soldiers are risking their lives and leaving their loved ones behind. The least we can do is to honor and remember them, as we lift a glass to peace and goodwill on earth.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

Madeleine Kunin is a former Governor of Vermont.

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