The Commander-in-Chief With The Heart And Mind

The Commander-in-Chief With The Heart And Mind
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Today on October 7, 2016 — the 15th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan— we must recognize the heavy burden shouldered by the less than one percent of the population who serve in the Armed Forces. As a Korean War veteran who almost died in combat, I know all too well the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make every day to defend America. In this era of global terrorism, it is more important than ever to have a Congress and a Commander-in-Chief with the heart and mind to make prudent decisions that keep our military safe and our country strong.

Since October 2001, more than 7,000 American families have received the devastating news that their loved one will not return home, as more than 2,300 men and women have died in Afghanistan and more than 4,800 have died in Iraq. More than 50,000 have been wounded, their lives often narrowly saved by modern medicine. Too many in our military have served multiple tours of duty, kissing their parents, spouses, and children goodbye as they depart for deadly warzones over and over again. Even now, 15 years after the start of the war in Afghanistan, 8,400 troops will be stationed through January 2017. The first soldier born after September 11, 2001, will be deployed to Afghanistan during the next President’s term.

Our policy of endless war weighs heavily on our men and women in uniform even if they return home safely. One-in-four active duty military personnel suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and an average of 20 veterans die by suicide every day. Half of my unit did not make it home from Korea and I know personally that the experiences of war stay with you for a lifetime. The real cost is often not properly understood by our nation’s elected leaders, including Members of Congress, who have the constitutional power to declare war.

“Our policy of endless war weighs heavily on our men and women in uniform even if they return home safely.”

Hence since January 2003, at the height of the debate on the possible unilateral strike against Iraq, I have introduced a bill to reinstate the draft. With less than 1% of the population bearing the entire weight of our military operations, it is important for everyone in America of all backgrounds– men and women, black and white, rich and poor, and Members of Congress and the President – to share in the sacrifice of war. Every American family must have a real stake in the heavy decision to go to war, not just the ones who do the fighting. The true costs of 15 years of conflict have not been felt by the public as the burden is not shared by all of America.

Congress in particular has been quick to forget the costs of war as conflicts overseas continue endlessly, year after year, without authorization, oversight, or review. Today, we are fighting a war against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) that we have yet to declare. I have repeatedly called on Congress to vote on a War Powers resolution or legislation to grant Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), as requested by President Barack Obama. Congress must live up to our constitutional obligations and debate the question of war. We cannot continue to send off our sons and daughters to fight battles without deliberation. To do so betrays a lack of understanding about the seriousness of war.

The problems that face our military men and women deserve the attention of our nation’s elected officials. These leaders must be serious men and women who understand the gravity of war and the costs paid by those who serve. Our military personnel and their families have borne a tremendous burden every single day for the past fifteen years, and they need all of America – especially the next Commander-in-Chief, whoever she may be – to understand their pain and share the sacrifice.

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