"These are not the first soldiers and this is not the first war."
Those were the words someone said to me when she also told me she thought I was a little too enthusiastic about my support for our deployed soldiers.
"Don't you?" I asked.
"Yes, of course I support the soldiers but you don't have to be so - obvious - about it," she said.
The reason I am enthusiastic and passionate about supporting our deployed soldiers stems back to 2004 and 2005. I was a reporter for a daily newspaper. Our local National Guard unit deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This - along with the events of 9/11/01 - was new ground for all of us. From our managing editor down to the youngest reporter, nobody had ever covered soldiers or families in a war before.
We were hometown reporters so we knew these families very well, they were our neighbors.
It made that job harder and easier. Harder because every time we heard there were casualties and especially in the areas we knew "our" soldiers were, we waited on pins and needles to hear that everyone was safe. In an odd way, the few of us who did cover the unit almost did become part of the support group for those soldiers, part of the big extended family.
We were blessed with two incredible people who headed up the Family Readiness Group. They understood the value, even if the military didn't then, of keeping the public informed and getting the public support behind their local soldiers. They made sure we stayed informed, they hooked us up with families for interviews, pointed out interview opportunities - even for soldiers who weren't in the unit but were from the area.
I loved covering these soldiers and their families because they were then and are now so dedicated to their task. They are ordinary human beings, just ordinary young men and women, doing an extraordinary job in unbelievable circumstances. Their families are the same way, hometown people who have jobs and lives who have to wait on pins and needles for their children to return from war.
Of course this is not the first war and these are not the first soldiers but these are our generation's wars and these are our generation's soldiers and we should support them as completely as the Greatest Generation supported the young men who marched off to fight in the Pacific and in Europe.
That first deployment, all of the soldiers from our hometown unit survived, a few were wounded, one very seriously, but they all came home. They came home to parades and dinners and free beers and the adoration of entire communities. Some of them, sadly, came home to deal with the effects of PTSD and the aftermath of their deployment, the effects of which were only beginning to be addressed. The unit lost one member to suicide on Thanksgiving Day 2005. His death galvanized his parents to demand that the military take a better look at PTSD and soldier suicide. It taught everyone that just because a soldier has returned home, doesn't mean his battles are all over.
Even though I'm in a different job now, where opportunities to cover the military are fewer, I still support them through Twitter and Facebook and care packages.
Everybody needs a cause, that same person said to me another time. Well, she is right. Everybody does need a cause. It makes you feel good at the end of the day that you did some small thing, without needing or asking for reward or thanks, for someone else.
Everybody does need a cause and supporting the military is mine.