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An Open Letter to President Obama: Why Syria?

by on September 16, 2013 6:30 AM

As a citizen who lives under the flag of freedom and who enjoys the comforts and safety of living in these United States, I'm sure I don't understand the many facets of the conflict in the Middle East.

I know that it's been about religion. It's been about oil and perhaps gas and to whom and how much those energy sources are directed and who gets the profits. I know it's about dictators who use their power to kill their own people.

I have some questions. Why now and why this dictator? There are atrocities against the innocent carried out by dictators, rival tribes and clans and by those who seek power all over the world and yet our government has remained silent. Hollywood actors have done more to address the crimes in Darfur than our government, including those administrations that I supported with my votes.

In a just society, those who are the strongest must protect those who are weak. America has been strong. We have made defending the weak our motto.

Are we strong enough to take this on? There are many who argue that our strength has been compromised by a shattered economy, a culture that increasingly fosters dependence on the government and policies that have weakened our military.

An attack on a country, embroiled in civil war with sides and enemies that are difficult to distinguish, will only further serve to weaken us.

As I listen to the ranting on TV and radio and hear the President's attempt to convince us of the need for military strikes in Syria, I'm reminded of the voices of the many wounded warriors that I have met in the last several years. I have been fortunate to have worked on a variety of military bases across the United States and abroad.

How many American families will be damaged by an attack that is not supported by our allies? The resolve and dedication of those who serve cannot ward off the ravages of war.

Advancements in medical care, design and materials used in protective body armor, and in the ability to rapidly evacuate injured personnel from the war zone to acute care facilities have resulted in a 90% survival rate in the recent conflicts In Iraq and Afghanistan. Higher survival rates are associated with greater numbers of disabilities. It is reported that 1 in 4 US troops returns from deployment with health problems that require either medical or mental health treatment.

We don't fight wars like they do in the movies we watched as kids. There is no front where people go to shoot at others in different uniforms and then go back to comedy and humor like they showed us on M.A.S.H.

Our young men and women are sent to patrol as "peacekeepers" and are not given what they need to do their jobs. They are under constant threat from an unknown or deceptive enemy. They are on alert 24-7 not knowing if the enemy might show him or herself as a teenager with a bomb strapped to the chest or as an improvised explosive device (IED) in a building or on a roadway.

According to the Report on the Global War on Terrorism, 64% of the total injuries in Afghanistan and Iraq were a result of IEDs. Injuries that come from these devices include blindness, spinal cord injuries, amputations, burns, traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Traumatic brain injury from those blasts has been called the "signature injury" of the recent conflicts. The constant threat and the body's reaction to that threat damages the brain's ability to regulate itself. Sadly, it is believed the reports of mental health issues from those coming home are inaccurately low due to under-reporting related to fear of reprisal, loss of rank or status and/or unawareness of diagnostic criteria.

If our servicemen and women survive the injuries, they are often left with trauma that changes their lives forever. Flashbacks and night terrors. Hyper-arousal and numbness of emotions. Debilitating depression and anxiety. Inability to concentrate or focus. Survivor guilt. These symptoms don't include the social problems of divorce, domestic violence, addiction and other criminal behaviors that are missed in tallying the results of combat stress.

We then compound the problems by not offering our veterans and their families the help they need after they come home.

According to a report in the LA Times last week, there are currently more than 751,000 Veterans Administration (VA) claims pending nationwide, 457,000 of them have been in limbo for 125 days - an unconscionable but the VA's acceptable threshold for "wait time."

The treatment for physical ailments is more cut and dried than the damage to the psyche. Those who are eventually seen for psychological trauma are often given chemical band aids, without the support of real and intense treatment. Those drugs often come with side effects worse than the symptoms. These troubled young men and women are then expected to return to their families and communities and act as if nothing ever happened. Wait times for medical treatment means disrupted lives, financial problems, havoc on the family and unbearable pain.

According to the government's own statistics, our vets are committing suicide at a rate of 22 per day.

Our military - the men and women who voluntarily step forward to serve their country in both active duty and in the reserves – have been under a different kind of "friendly" fire from their own government. Defense budget cuts. Reductions in benefits. Pay that has created its own "military class." Asking them to do more when we give them less.

Making the ultimate sacrifice.

Although I may not understand all of the politics related to the conflict in Syria, I have come to learn and appreciate the sacrifice of our service members. In this citizen's humble opinion, even one life damaged by being sent to fight another country's war is one life too many.



Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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