By Megan Castle
America’s military is highly ranked and highly respected, but how acknowledged do United States soldiers actually feel?
In order to understand a soldier’s perspective, it’s helpful to have an understanding of the wars in general. The Iraq war, started on March 20, 2003 and didn’t end until December of 2011. The Afghanistan war began in 2001, shortly after 9/11, and is still occurring.
Although the wars are closely linked by the anti-terrorist motives leading to the U.S involvement, there are multiple differences between these wars that set them apart, including geography, timeline and the pivotal fact that both Iraq and Afghanistan were in different stages of “stability” when U.S involvement began. In the beginning of the war in Iraq, the country had a weak, but existent, political system. Iraq had a higher rate of education and was in general more sophisticated than Afghanistan was in 2001.
But although there are differences, the prominent fact that ties these wars together is that they are both wars on terrorism.
Bryan Solem, my cousin, formerly served in the military as an Aerospace maintenance journeyman, or more specifically a C-130 Crew Chief in the United States Air Force. Solem spent six months fighting in Afghanistan and says that his outlook on the war never really changed during his time in the military.
Instead, his service simply, “cemented the idea of how much time and money we waste,” Solem says.
When asked his opinion on American success in Afghanistan he replies, “There’s no way to measure success, as problems are always getting better and worse.”
However, he continues, “without us, ISIS would never have been created.”
American soldiers are portrayed as being passionately supported by the American population, which implies the belief that soldier morale is at a top notch level.
“I’d say soldier morale was pretty high,” Solem expresses. Although he continues, “people kind of forget about you when you’re gone, and they just kind of learn to live without you.”
For the most part, though, Solem says he felt acknowledged by the American population, “we got letters from kids for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most were humorously grim, but entertaining.”
Solem believes there was a reasonable amount of effort from the government to help assimilate him back into normal society.
“The post 9/11 GI bill helps me pay through college,” says Solem, adding, “near the end of your enlistment, they force you to undergo some ‘job interview’ nonsense. That didn’t help at all, but they tried.”
Solem now lives in Southern California and is going to school full time. Although he agrees that parts of the American military has flaws, he adds, “it was some of the best times of my life.”
Dale Stull, an Iraq war veteran who served in the United States Army as a 19K, M1A2 SEP Main Battle Tank Crew member, shared similar experiences as Solem.
Stull was deployed when the U.S invaded Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom One, and spent a total of 12 months in Iraq.
This operation illustrated that the Bush Administration’s promise to do everything in it’s military power, including the use of preemptive strikes if a country proves to be a threat to American national security. In context to Iraq, the military was used to contain Saddam Hussein and prevent a further buildup of Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.
Unlike Solem, Stull says that his opinion on the war has in fact changed a lot since the start of his service.
“During the beginning, my opinion was we needed to let the terrorists know that we were not going to sit and just let them take our towers down on 9/11,” says Stull. “Now I am really angry at our government for pulling troops out of Iraq way to soon, ISIS has a lot of control of territory [and] I feel everything we worked for the last ten years has gone out the window.”
Like Solem, Stull agrees that during his service he felt supported by the American population, but upon return, received some harsh criticism.
“Yes at first, it was really nice being recognized by fellow citizens, now a lot of people have turned hateful towards veterans and service-members, people think military/veterans are baby killers, Muslim haters, people often ask why are we not done in Afghanistan/Iraq and then proceed to say that we failed,” Stull explains.
Stull says that the government was “not at all helpful” in returning him to normalcy after his service.
“I was given a very simple debriefing when we returned home, ‘Don’t beat your wife, don’t beat your kids, don’t beat your dog, and no more killing people. Also do not drink alcohol for six months,’” he says.
He says, parallel to Solem’s perspective, that the only help he received from the government was access to his GI Bill which allowed to earn a degree for free, which he remains grateful for.
Stull adds that, “[he has] been struggling with the Veterans Affairs for physical and mental help since [he] left the Army in 2006.”
It’s as if soldiers feel forgotten, they’re used for their service and then dropped off at home and left to fend for themselves. It’s creating a pessimistic view on an already despondent subject. There should be more help, Obviously easier said than done, but as of now the soldier morale is dwindling and it will only grow worse if the system continues this way.
As a result of these ongoing issues, Stull says he feels “the morale is pretty low, the deployments are taking a toll on mental health and physical well being. Soldiers are seeing the President take funding away for vital equipment and this hurts them.”
A Soldier’s point of view
By Megan Castle