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Family Business


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Interesting article in Newsweek

The Family Business
They are proud to see their children follow them into service-and worried that their decisions could get their kids killed. Inside the military's special father-son bond.

By T. Trent Gegax and Evan Thomas

June 20 issue - Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno comes from a military family. His father was a World War II Army sergeant. His son Tony served as a platoon commander with the First Cavalry; Ray served as commander of the Fourth Infantry Division in Iraq. As a family, they had shared joyful news from the front. Ray's wife, Linda, was asleep in a hotel room in Lubbock, Texas, on Dec. 13, 2003, when her husband awoke her, calling from his base in Tikrit. "Turn on the TV," was about all he could say. It was still a secret that his men had captured Saddam Hussein. Linda and Tony, who was still in Texas getting ready to shove off for duty in Iraq, were watching when Saddam's capture was announced.

But not all calls from the war zone are so happy. About eight months later, Ray and Linda were up in New Jersey visiting his father when the phone rang. It was General Odierno's old friend Maj. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of the First Cav. Chiarelli came right out with it: "Tony was in an ambush, and he was injured pretty seriously." The medics weren't sure if they could save Tony's left arm.

General Odierno is one of about 300 Army generals in the U.S. military. About a third of them have sons or daughters who have served or are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. "Pretty amazing, isn't it?" says Odierno. It is not unusual in military families for children to follow their parents into the service. History is full of heroic examples. Driven by his father's legacy-Arthur MacArthur won the Medal of Honor for charging up Missionary Ridge at the age of 18 during the Civil War-Gen. Douglas MacArthur relentlessly sought glory and victory. Theodore Roosevelt won the Medal of Honor for leading the charge up San Juan Hill in 1898; his son Teddy Jr. won it for leading the troops ashore on Utah Beach at D-Day in 1944 (and five days later died of a heart attack). The father-son tradition of inherited sacrifice and honor goes on and on, and now includes some mothers and daughters as well.

But it also underscores the isolation of the military from the rest of society. Increasingly, it seems, America is divided between the vast majority who do not serve and the tiny minority who do. The shared sacrifice of World War II is but a distant memory. During World War II, 6 percent of Americans were in uniform; today, the Pentagon says, the figure is four tenths of 1 percent. On military bases, wives warily watch for a pair of somber-faced officers emerging from a car, a sign that bad news is about to arrive at the front door. At military hospitals, young men and women missing limbs are an increasingly familiar sight. But for the rest of us, going about our daily lives, it can be hard to tell there's a war on.

Soldiers are widely honored, not scorned as they were during Vietnam. But mothers, horrified by grisly TV images, do not want their children to join up. Since February, the Army-Regular, Reserves and National Guard-has been missing its monthly recruiting goals by as much as 42 percent. On the other hand, re-enlistment rates are up, especially for those serving in combat arms in Iraq. Incongruous as it may seem for the millions whose closest brush with battle is on cable, soldiers and Marines on the front line are proud to be there and willing to serve again. The overall effect is to heighten the sense that the military is becoming a proud cult that fewer and fewer outsiders want to join.

"The whole country's undergoing patriotism lite," says Charles Moskos, a Northwestern University professor generally recognized as the nation's leading military sociologist. Moskos suggests one solution would be for leaders to set a better example with their own children. "If Jenna Bush or Chelsea Clinton joined the military," he says, "the recruiting problems would be over."

Military sons tend to spout worthy bromides about duty when asked why they followed their fathers to war. But their more personal motivations are not hard to divine. Combat has been a test (in some cultures the test) of manhood for millennia. There is no better way to win a father's respect than to defy death just the way he did. Indeed, the effort to surpass one's father's or brother's bravery has gotten more than a few men killed. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., a Navy pilot, cried himself to sleep when younger brother Jack became a hero for his PT boat exploits in World War II. Then Joe Jr. went out and volunteered for what was basically a suicide mission.

The heart of an army has always been its enlisted men (and now women), and many is the master sergeant who has proudly sewn chevrons on the sleeve of his son. Military families come from all ranks. And blacks and Hispanics make up a disproportionately large number of our servicemen and women, and a disproportionately small number of the top brass. Their courage under fire for generations-particularly in World War II, when African-Americans were defending a system that excluded them from the mainstream of life in many parts of the country-is honorable and noteworthy.

Conversations with officers at the top-most of whom are white-show that there is a special poignancy to the stories of fathers and sons in the military, because a guy with heavy hardware on his chest knows that his decisions can get his own kid killed. Former chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt Jr. agonized over the death by cancer of his son Elmo III, who patrolled past shores denuded by Agent Orange. The toxic defoliant had been ordered up by Admiral Zumwalt when he was commander of riverboats in Vietnam.

Career service members often see themselves as a breed apart. "You know, you don't make a lot of money, but there's a lot of good things about it," says General Odierno. "It's good people, it's very rewarding, you feel a great sense of service, duty, personal discipline." The Marines, in particular, have their own culture of duty, honor, sacrifice. These ideals are both noble and actually lived up to in the Marine Corps, but as Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks noted in his book "Making the Corps," many Marine officers harbor a disturbing disdain for the decadence and selfishness of modern American society. And it's not just Marines: Army officers for some years have passed around copies of "Once an Eagle," a 1968 novel by Anton Myrer about a duty-bound Army officer who tries to rise above back-stabbing civilian harpies.

No matter how noble, a soldier who is also the father of a soldier must weigh parental pride against the fear that his progeny is heading into harm's way. Ray Odierno, West Point '76 (he was a tight end on the football team), never put pressure on his son Tony, West Point 2001, to follow in his footsteps. "I'd never go out of my way to tell him war stories," says Odierno. As a rebellious teenager, Tony wasn't listening anyway: "For a little while, I really didn't want to get into the Army because he was in the Army." Ray's daughter became an architect, and another son, a high-school senior, has no military plans. But Tony ended up joining the Long Gray Line. After West Point, he was sent to the First Cavalry Division. His father's Fourth ID is also based at Fort Hood, Texas, but most of Tony's comrades had no idea who his father was, and Tony did not tell them.

Tony was a 26-year-old Airborne Ranger-trained platoon leader in the First Cav when he arrived in the Middle East in March 2004 for duty in Iraq. His father, whose tour was over, was just leaving. They had time for a 90-minute dinner in a mess tent at Camp New York in Kuwait. "We talked," Ray said, shrugging. Once Ray was home, they exchanged e-mails every week. Lieutenant Odierno was able to give General Odierno a junior officer's-eye view of what a combat infantry platoon needed in the way of equipment and support.

For Linda Odierno, it was different. "It was hardest on her," Ray says. "Her husband was over there for a year and her son was going right in when I was leaving." Tony did not share with his mother in quite the way he did with his father. "To his mother," Ray says, "he'd say, 'Everything's fine, nothing's going on.' Then he'd talk to me and say, 'I was on three raids; I was on 12 patrols'."

There's a long history of generals and their wives worried about their fighting sons. (Harry Hopkins, FDR's top aide during World War II, lost a teenage son in combat in the Pacific, prompting Winston Churchill, who also had a son and daughters under fire in uniform, to send Hopkins these lines from "Macbeth": "Your son, my lord, has paid a soldier's debt;/He only liv'd but till he was a man/ ... But like a man he died.") Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose son John was with the 71st Infantry Division in World War II, is said to have feared nothing more than telling his wife that their son had been killed or wounded. He couldn't very well move John to the rear without devastating morale, but he was saved when Gen. Omar Bradley did it for him. Ray Odierno says that he did not share Eisenhower's fear. "My wife," he says, "understands the risks."

It was around midnight on a stultifying summer's night in Baghdad when the rocket-propelled grenade hit Tony Odierno's Humvee. Odierno had been "in country" for five months, patrolling the deadliest turf in Iraq, the airport road. He was riding on the passenger side, leading a column of Bradley fighting vehicles. He heard a whizzing sound, then an explosion. The RPG ripped through his door, clipped the bicep in his right arm and nearly severed his left arm before lodging in the chest of the driver. Gunfire rang out, along with the deadly whoosh of more RPGs.

Odierno tried to move his left arm and realized it was hanging by only a few strands of muscle. Around him his driver was mortally wounded, his gunner in the back was knocked unconscious and his door was smoking, shredded metal. Odierno's training and instincts kicked in. "I'm the platoon leader. I have to take control of the situation," he recalls thinking. "It's hard on my men, too. I've got to be the strong one, I don't want anyone to freeze." He had to get moving and giving orders. "If I don't get out and do this, the situation's going to get a lot worse," he thought.

The only way out was up. Cradling his mauled left arm, he snaked out of the gunner's hatch and hit the ground running for the nearest radio. His own was dead. Calling for reinforcements and medevac support, he directed his men to lay down suppression fire. After 15 minutes or so, the blood loss finally hit him; he lay down and waited for the chopper to safety. As he lifted off, his thoughts drifted to his parents. He hoped that he'd get to see them again.

Ray Odierno recalls his reaction when General Chiarelli called him at his parents' in New Jersey. "The first thing I thought was, 'I just wanna get home'." On the drive back, Chiarelli called again. "Tony just finished surgery, and he lost his left arm." Odierno could feel that Chiarelli was crushed by being the bearer of such bad tidings, and he tried to reassure him. "You're doing a great job over there. I understand the risks and Tony understands the risks, and we'll work through this together." Odierno tried to stay focused: his son was alive.

It helped through the long months of convalescence and rehab for father and son to both know that Tony had handled himself well under fire and in extreme pain. "I was happy with how I reacted," says Tony, who was awarded a Bronze Star for valor. "They always told me how physically tough and mentally tough he was, and what kind of lead-by-example kind of person he was, which always made me feel good," says Ray Odierno, "because that's the kind of son you want to have."

Father and son acknowledge that Tony has had some bad moments, but he never complained. "He's never once said, 'Why did this happen to me?' " says Ray. "I'm sure he's said it to himself, but he's never said it out loud."

Just because fathers and sons don't express their worries doesn't mean they don't have them. "It affected me more than I would have thought," says Lt. Gen. James Conway, commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq, whose son Scott, 31, served under him (five command echelons removed) as a reconnaissance officer, a risky frontline post. Another son, Brandon, 33, served nine months in Iraq as a rifle-company commander. "I got awakened every night," says Conway. "Among the 10 things I thought was, 'Gee, how am I going to tell their mother?' "Conway, like Odierno, would not have dreamed of taking any step to remove his sons from the line of fire, and their sons would have been incensed if they had. But, says Conway, "you never stop being a father." Both his sons won Bronze Stars for their bravery under fire. How did their mother deal with her fears? "She immersed herself," says Conway. As a volunteer at Camp Pendleton, Calif., she met every returning wounded Marine, no matter what time of day or night.

The Conways are a warrior clan. At Christmas, they discuss whether Humvees have enough armor and what an RPG round looks like when it's arcing toward you. Their view of the civilian world is mixed. General Conway says he "doesn't buy" the idea that Marines feel somehow superior or isolated from the civilian world. Yet his son Brandon says that when his buddies get out of the service, most are unimpressed by the civilian work ethic. "They just don't have as high expectations of civilians," says Brandon. On the other hand, most Marines recall the abuse heaped on Vietnam vets returning from war and are grateful for the support they now get. "You wind up with more care packages than you know what to do with," says Brandon.

General Conway recalled that when the Marines were about to "jump off" into Iraq, the "No. 1" question his troops asked was: "Is the country behind us?" The answer was, and is, a qualified yes ... but. While the troops enjoy support, the Bush policy in Iraq is now opposed by a small majority. And it remains true that an important segment of society has chosen to largely sit out the war.

During Vietnam, many colleges and universities kicked out their Reserve Officers' Training Corps programs. Elite schools including Harvard, Yale and Brown still have no ROTC on campus (though their students can take ROTC courses at other schools). In both the world wars, graduates of schools like Harvard and Yale gave their lives in disproportionate numbers. Not today: among the 1,175 students who graduated from Princeton last year, eight went into the military. "America's elite would prefer somebody else's daughter to die rather than one of their own sons," says Moskos.

Many schools still ban military recruiters from coming on campus on the ground that the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy discriminates against gays. "I've always had a degree of resentment against Ivy League schools for preventing recruiters on campus," says Sen. John McCain. "It is the height of elitist snobbery." McCain's argument for letting ROTC back on Ivy League campuses is "not because it gives us career officers, but because it gives future leaders of our country military experience."

Congressional action has threatened federal funding for schools that bar military recruiters, and the issue is coming before the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, the military will continue to grow its own leaders. Despite the military's difficulty in meeting recruitment goals, no one in a position of authority seems to think that a draft will be necessary, at least any time soon. Generous cash bonuses (up to $150,000 for some highly trained Special Forces operatives) have helped persuade valuable soldiers to re-enlist. In the Third ID, which bore the brunt of the early fighting in Iraq, re-enlistment rates are twice what was expected. To help boost faltering enlistment rates, the military is increasingly offering cash bonuses-and for the first time since Vietnam, lowering the test scores required to join the military.

The modern military is demanding on families. During the cold war, the military was essentially a "garrison force," meaning that soldiers could stay put on base with their families for long periods of time. But in the high-tempo war on terror, the military has increasingly become an "expeditionary force," which means that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines must leave their families for long tours overseas in places like Bosnia or Iraq. There are signs of stress: divorce rates are up, particularly among officers.

Marine Corps duty is especially hard on families. A Marine could once expect to be home 18 months for every six months spent deployed abroad. Now he or she is gone half the time. And yet General Conway, who is now the chief operations officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was surprised to learn that young married Marines re-enlist at a greater rate than unmarried troops. The only explanation is that for many, the Marine Corps is a world in which they wish to raise their families, despite the dangers and frequent moves.

There is no doubt that the military can encourage family values. There are undoubtedly a few fathers right out of Pat Conroy's "The Great Santini," about his abusive Marine Corps dad. But there are many more who fit the model of the Conways, or Ray and Tony Odierno, father and son trading tips on body armor and inexpressible love as they passed an ancient torch, in a tent in Kuwait, on the way to war.

With Martha Brant and John Barry

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.
© 2005 MSNBC.com

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8186600/site/newsweek/
I find a couple of the quotes very interesting from a Canadian perspective, considering that they are from a leading US journal speaking about the US military:

But it also underscores the isolation of the military from the rest of society. Increasingly, it seems, America is divided between the vast majority who do not serve and the tiny minority who do. The shared sacrifice of World War II is but a distant memory


During World War II, 6 percent of Americans were in uniform; today, the Pentagon says, the figure is four tenths of 1 percent

and finally:

Since February, the Armyâ ”Regular, Reserves and National Guardâ ”has been missing its monthly recruiting goals by as much as 42 percent. On the other hand, re-enlistment rates are up, especially for those serving in combat arms in Iraq. Incongruous as it may seem for the millions whose closest brush with battle is on cable, soldiers and Marines on the front line are proud to be there and willing to serve again. The overall effect is to heighten the sense that the military is becoming a proud cult that fewer and fewer outsiders want to join

Seems that the fond Canadian image that everything is rosy for the US military is not necessarily true. We onbviously share some similar problems, although with our far less "militarized" society I wonder how much worse things would be here if we were to be taking the same kind of casualties.