Saturday, November 13, 2010

Boots on the Ground

When I was a kid, my dad was in the Air Force reserves. One weekend a month he would get out the nifty shoe shining contraption we stored in a cabinet with the pet food in the laundry room, hang it on the bracket screwed into the cabinet, get out his military dress shoes, slip one over a sort of rounded triangle at the front, move the heel holder back along the track behind the triangle, secure it by tightening a wing nut, and spend a few minutes brushing on polish and buffing the shoe with a soft cloth. I don't know if he had the shiniest shoes in the office—Did I tell you he flew a desk? All the leaves on my branch of the family fly desks. Maybe the new Whitney coat of arms should have a desk on it.—but no one seeing him would say he was on his way to fly an airplane, or even fix one, let alone headed for a combat zone.

A few times a year Mom and I would go to visit him on Sunday afternoons. We'd get there just about quitting time, and occasionally I was invited into the office. I even got to shake hands with Steve Bramwell, who, during the University of Washington Huskies' glory days, once ran an opening kickoff ninety-something yards for a touchdown.

Everyone there dressed like Dad: they had on pressed uniforms, maybe even neckties (I'm not sure—it's been a while). I seem to remember that the guys I saw actually walking around the planes had on uniforms, but they were work clothes. I didn't look to see if their shoes were shined, but I would expect they weren't permitted to wear shabby shoes.

So I was somewhat surprised when I visited my son awhile back to see that even though he too now flies a desk, he goes to work in camouflage fatigues. Maybe what he wears is ersatz camouflage, stuff he wouldn't wear if he were actually in a war zone, but it looks like it's made out of rip-resistant fabric. It certainly doesn't look like what one would wear to any other office job.

What really makes me think he's only a helmet and a weapon short of battle dress is his footwear. He wears beige boots, what Dad used to call boondockers, except made out of God knows what instead of black leather. He needs boots to fly a desk?

Maybe that's the Army, I thought. Wrong.

I've recently run into a member of our church who's in the Air Force a couple of times at evening church activities, a guy so gifted in logistics that making a pilot of him would be a waste, and he's dressed exactly the same way: camouflage and boots. A pencil jockey for the Air Force needs camouflage and boots to do his job?

When I saw my father in his work uniform, I would think, "This is not a war zone. They don't dress like this in war zones. There is no war going on. [The Vietnamese would have disagreed with me somewhat on that one.] We are at peace." It was like getting a smile from an intelligent guy with two hundred pounds of solid muscle he's not afraid to use.

I don't think we're supposed to view "our" military that way anymore. When our rulers talk about moving people—make that personnel; I'm not sure they're thought of as people—to a war zone, they talk about "putting boots on the ground." Well, the boots are on the ground here in the good old USA.

And lest we think those in charge don't mean business, we should remember the words of President Dubya, who said that the military was in Iraq to give Iraqis the "same freedoms Americans enjoy." New Orleaneans found out what that meant after Hurricane Katrina, when the same military—and some of the same soldiers, I would guess—that had kicked down doors and confiscated weapons in Baghdad kicked down doors and confiscated weapons in New Orleans. The main difference I can see is that the Iraqis were permitted to stay in their homes and face the dangers if they so chose, but the New Orleaneans weren't.

Seeing "our courageous men and women" walking around in battle dress lite makes me feel secure, all right—as secure as a Dutchman after the Blitzkrieg.

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