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Pause To Pray For Americans Fighting Terrorism
Caspar W. Weinberger, Peter Schweizer and Wynton C. Hall
December 24, 2003
Most Americans don't know the names Javier Camacho or Patrick M. Quinn, but they should. As 150,000 U.S. troops spend the Christmas holiday fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, all Americans should reflect on the unique sacrifices of the men and women like them who form this new generation of brave soldiers.
Americans will give plenty of books and movies this Christmas about America's past heroes. But as we applaud the "greatest generation," which had its roots in World War II, let us also acknowledge that another generation is rising to the occasion. Indeed, this new generation has demonstrated the same heroism and sacrifice of past eras, though, in many respects, it is different from its predecessors.
Consider Sgt. 1st Class Javier Camacho. Had Camacho strictly followed Army protocol, Pfc. Adam Small surely would have died. But Camacho is a native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, where residents are often called vaqueros (cowboys). And it is this cowboy spirit that should cement Camacho's hero status in every American's mind.
On March 25, Camacho braved mortar and gunfire to jump atop the burning and exploding Bradley Fighting Vehicle of a soldier he had never met. As Small sat trapped inside his flaming vehicle near Najaf, Iraq, he pounded frantically against his escape hatch, but it was jammed shut. Worse still, the tank's munitions were starting to explode. Finally, Camacho was able to muscle the door loose before ushering Small to safety.
Soldiers are trained not to leap onto blazing tanks. But procedure means little when one of your own is in harm's way.
For all of his heroics, Camacho remained entirely unimpressed with himself during a Fort Stewart, Ga., ceremony where he received the military's third highest honor, the Silver Star. Instead, he quietly echoed the refrain of generations of U.S. soldiers before him: "I'm not a hero. I was just doing my job."
These words could have easily come from the myriad heroes of World War II, who sharpened our moral clarity as a nation and taught each of us that war, while a glaring reminder of human fallibility, could liberate -- indeed, save -- entire nations.
But the current generation of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen also is leaving its own distinct mark on the long history of American sacrifice. Unlike the soldiers of WWII, who were drafted, today's military is made up of mothers, fathers, husbands and wives who volunteered for service.
In numbers greater than ever before, reservists also are in harm's way, leaving their civilian jobs for the battlefield. And families are literally in the crossfire. During WWII, parents often were exempt from the draft. In today's military, mothers and fathers in life-threatening situations are common.
What's more, war is less and less the burden of the military. Contractors, humanitarian workers and medical professionals are all doing their part to usher in a free and more democratic society for the people of Iraq.
Critics, taking their cues from the media, once branded young Americans as overeducated, unmotivated slackers whose greatest day- to-day concern was the speed of their Internet connection. But those who know today's young Americans best understand that such characterizations describe them least. In the war on terror, "slackers" have more than held their own when compared with soldiers of the past.
Consider Patrick Quinn who, growing up in the tranquil town of Cromwell, Conn., knew his life's calling from the start. As a boy, Army helmets, sword fights and foxholes filled his hours after school. After graduating from high school, he followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and uncle when he enlisted in the military.
Master Sgt. Quinn of the 10th Special Forces Group had no reservations about his mission. Like all in the Special Forces brotherhood, he followed a credo that captures the overarching purpose of America's entrance into Operation Iraqi Freedom: De Oppresso Liber -- "To Liberate the Oppressed."
The depth of Quinn's commitment to this code was tested when, as the leader of his 12-man team, he was charged with coordinating with a group of Kurdish militia to battle an Iraqi armored unit as it fought its way toward Mosul in early April.
When the smoke cleared, Quinn's Silver Star citation would credit him with the elimination of two enemy tanks, four armored personnel carriers and 30 Iraqi soldiers, plus the recovery of 30 kilometers of ground.
Many Americans will be forgoing holiday celebrations with their families this season to serve in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. We need to give them their due recognition for their efforts in the war on terror. As we gather with our families this holiday season, let us pray for those who cannot celebrate with theirs.
Caspar W. Weinberger, a World War II veteran, is a former secretary of Defense. Peter Schweizer is a fellow at the Hoover Institution. Wynton C. Hall, a member of the National Task Force on the Presidency and Public Opinion, teaches at Bainbridge College in Georgia.