Be proud to be American

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By Ken Begley

About 23 years ago, I was sitting as an active duty senior sergeant at a commander’s conference at the 125th Army Reserve Command. We were being addressed by who was then the 2nd Army commander. He was a three-star general, commanding about a quarter million men and women in the Regular Army, Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.

The Berlin Wall had recently fallen. The Cold War with communism was ending. 

We watched as that mighty evil empire known as the Soviet Union broke-up and crumbled before our eyes. The U.S. was the last superpower standing after a decades long Cold War confrontation that could have ended the world as we knew it - but instead ended without us firing a shot.

The three-star general at that conference had the double-edged sword of a task of telling us that we had done our job well, had won the cold war and the country was about to enjoy a great “peace dividend.” The general also had to say, “Nothing against you, but we just aren’t going to need most of you anymore. There won’t be any big wars to fight in the future. You accomplished your mission and have, as a result, worked yourselves out of a job.”

This was April 1990. We began to deactivate and encase the colors of a huge number of our standing military and send our troops to the house.

Then in August of 1990, just four months later, the unexpected happened. The Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, launched a massive armored attack across his southern border into Kuwait and overran their oil fields. It was accomplished in a matter of days. His cocky armies were poised on the border with Saudi Arabia and ready to overrun their massive oil fields, which fed the world most of their energy. 

If someone did not respond quickly and Saddam succeeded, then it would have thrown the entire world economy into a chaos the likes we had never seen and left a mad man at the energy switch ready to put us in the dark if we didn’t do his bidding.

Everyone knew that that “someone” had to be the United States of America. No one else was capable. The U.S. military’s downsizing plans came to a screeching halt and thrown into reverse. The might of the armed forces were called in to fight a massive land battle that no one had expected. That included the three-star general from just a few months back at our commander’s conference.

The one singular event that startled America most during the build up for the war came early on. It was news to the public but was something the military had known since the early 1980’s. The active military was too small to fight a major conflict on their own. They had to rely on a massive mobilization of the National Guard and Reserve Forces to go with them into battle.

The public looked on in disbelief when they saw units, large and small, riding out their armories and reserve centers from little towns to big cities that stretched across our nation and all 50 states. They were headed for the coming Desert Storm that was gathering on the Arabian Peninsula. No one in the civilian community ever thought these citizen soldiers would be called upon to actually fight a conflict such as this.

The event seemed to galvanize the country all the more as they watched these local citizens like themselves pull on their uniforms and leave there homes for distant and dangerous shores. Many parades and tearful departures were witnessed as they left to join their active brothers in the fight that was coming.

During one of these scenes a Reserve soldier was being interviewed by a TV reporter.  He was asked if there was anything he would like to say before he left. The reply he got wasn’t what the reporter was expecting.

The soldier said, “Please don’t forget us when we head over there.”

The country didn’t. The nation sent so many cards, so many letters, so many gifts, so many care packages, that it completely overwhelmed the military postal system at that time and our military leadership had to ask them to stop or at least slow down. With the backing of our country, our military was full of romp, stomp and pure born hell as they proceeded to take the Iraqi war machine and country apart, culminating in a record 100 hour ground war until hostilities ceased. Most of the Iraqi Army was destroyed as they fled Kuwait and back into their own country.

The war ended. The troops came home. At one homecoming, a returning soldier saw an old Vietnam Vet standing to one side welcoming back the troops. The soldier went over to the man, shook his hands, and said, “This was for you.” He said that because he knew they didn’t get that when they came home.

I was proud of the military and what those guys did back then. But I was more proud of our country and how they stood behind the troops. You know what that means to a soldier? EVERYTHING! The nation learned its lesson well.

Ten years after that war, the twin towers were blown away by more mad men intent upon setting the world on fire. The military responded again. And this next generation did what I thought, with all my experience, would be impossible. It was to fight the longest running land wars in U.S. and modern history trying to liberate Iraq and Afghanistan.

The America people responded again by pouring out their love and support on these young folks that joined the military in wartime and put their bodies and blood on the line while trusting in our political leadership. And we are so proud of them. You know I’m not a prophet. I can’t tell you how things will turn out in either of those countries.

But I can say one thing! We gave the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan the chance to live in freedom and have what we most cherish ourselves. They can choose to reject it or fight for it. Liberty is earned, never given.

Yes, our country has people willing to fight and die so others we don’t know, and can never repay us, can live free because that’s the way God wants it. No other country in the world but America has this kind of power or the willingness to use it for good. Can anyone imagine what the world would be like if the United States ceased to exist? You don’t have to be an American to shudder at the thought.

The late Canadian commentator Gordon Sinclair once said, “I can name you 5,000 times when Americans raced to the help of other people in trouble. Can you name me even one time when someone else raced to the Americans in trouble?”

The rewards for doing all of the above from the people of this world have been meager. Americans have been envied, mocked, spat on, lied about, and hated. The only other person I can think of that suffered the same was Jesus Christ when He was nailed to the cross while doing His Father’s will. Yes, I believe we are an imperfect country that has committed grave sins against God. But I also believe that there is a basic goodness of the American people in total that the world has never seen before. You can be proud of that.

So I end by saying - God bless you, God bless your family and God bless America.