24 February 2006

Op-ed: Supplies for GIs.

This piece originally appeared on the Commentary page of the Austin American-Statesman on 8 June 2005.

Our Troops Should Not Be Lacking Clean Socks

Last weekend, my wife and I spent $70 for supplies, mostly medicine-cabinet basics, to send to U.S. troops in Iraq.

Like many opponents of President Bush's Iraq policy, I have attacked the policy while crowing about my support for the troops. Our shopping expedition was a small way for me to put my money where my mouth is.

The supplies are headed to Iraq through the efforts of a charity organization called Any Soldier, which was started by an Army sergeant who has served in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. Through its Web site (www.anysoldier.com), donors select a contact name from among thousands of male and female service members. Donors send packages directly to these contacts, who then distribute the supplies among the members of their units.

My office started a collection drive for Any Soldier because it is a simple, well-organized effort to put a care package, or even just a personal letter, into the hands of someone in uniform who might not get one otherwise.

The Any Soldier site expresses the same well-earned pride I have encountered again and again from the members of our military. Two of my brothers-in-law have been on active duty since 9/11, one in the Coast Guard and one in the Marines.

Their willingness to serve reminds me of what a boon this country has in its fighting forces. But the confusion my relatives faced over stop-loss orders and exit dates reminds me of the human costs of the administration's confused policies. Sending a care package may be a simplistic way to address those costs, but at least it's something.

As for what to send, I focused on a few of the basic hygiene items on the list supplied by Any Soldier: deodorant, toothpaste, soap, acetaminophen, razors and antiseptic ointment. I also threw in a couple of packages of crew socks, which I was surprised to see listed. The one "luxury" item I included was reading material -- a few paperback novels from a used bookstore and some recent back issues of National Geographic and Sports Illustrated.

When my wife first read the Any Soldier shopping list, she teared up. My own reaction was anger. The Web site downplays the suggestion that the military is shorting its troops in any way, pointing out that most office workers do not expect employers to buy them a briefcase, a day planner and so on.

Baloney, I say. I can quit my job if I want, and anyway I don't work there 24 hours per day for a year at a time. Mind you, by no means do I expect Uncle Sam to supply our troops with a lending library or a cache of gummy bears, but since we're spending a billion dollars a month in Iraq, you would think that we could keep the troops in Tylenol and fresh socks.

But maybe not.

Now I am confronted with the spectacle of an office charity drive like we hold for poor families at Christmas, except that we're extending our charity to the front-line troops of the richest military in the world. Those service members deserve the support of citizens everywhere, but they also deserve better support from an administration that seems unwilling to count human costs in its grand strategic formula.

Too much of our talk about Iraq -- pro and con -- is cheap. For two years, I have sworn up and down that I support our troops but oppose their deployment in Iraq, but this shopping trip was the first time I put my sentiments into action. And plenty of Bush supporters succumb to the easy jingoism of a yellow-ribbon bumper sticker, thinking that "God Bless America" somehow answers the administration's gross failures in executing its Iraq policy.

We need action. Our troops will appreciate the cases and cases of supplies the folks in my office are sending over, but they deserve better support from the top. Sending enough troops to do the job in Iraq would be a start. I won't even insist that Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fess up that they have been wrong for two years in their claims that we have adequate forces there.

Given this White House's track record, that simple, wise change of policy looks to be a long time coming. So I suggest you head to the store and pick up a few items that any soldier can use right away.


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