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A Ranger’s Death, a Generation’s Devotion

Last Friday I stopped by to visit with the local Army recruiter.
No, I did not go in to re-enlist – my duty has been done and I passed my torch quite some time ago. I actually stopped by to chat with the recruiter about how he is keeping his head above water in these demanding times.
 
The recruiter is involved in a never-ending search for more fine young representatives of society to fill the ranks of our Army. I thought I would let the young staff sergeant know that I and many other Americans are behind him in this effort.
 
To tell the truth, I thought that I might be in the recruiter’s way by stopping in. With the nation at war and the demands on our already-stretched Army increasing on a daily basis, I figured the recruitment office would be crowded with patriotic young men and women who wanted to enlist.
 
Was I ever so wrong!
 
The recruiter’s coffee pot was full and it smelled old. His handouts, flyers, and pamphlets, stacked and filed, were inspection-ready in the bookcase and on the coffee and end tables. One could even hear the battery-operated clock on the wall ticking off the seconds. I felt like I had just walked into an abandoned cave.
 
I was not encouraged when the recruiter gave me the past thirty days recruitment low-down. “Not one recruitment in the past month,” the NCO said. I found this deeply troubling.
 
Deep within my own thoughts about the future of our country, and more immediately the welfare and the condition of our soldiers deployed worldwide in numerous and largely dangerous operations, I ambled on and chanced to see a newspaper on a small newsstand.
 
I, like many others, learned of the death of a young man named Tillman. Another one of our soldiers, cut down, in the global war on terrorism. But he is just another soldier to the score of dead and wounded, why was his photograph in the newspaper, front and center, dressed in Ranger Tan? It did not make much sense given the current climate on soldier deaths.
 
So, one must ask further, why, did the Department of Defense generate an official press release, only the day following, which affirmed the death of this soldier? At the same time, flag-draped coffins are being concealed from view and from the curious and prying photographers?
 
The fact of the matter is that the U.S. Army, and the Department of Defense, are both playing the public relations game like a finely-tuned instrument. Late last week, PR translated into the death of a soldier being advertised. The Army’s latest effort at bolstering up “national will” in hopes of garnering support for our global war on terrorism effort is of both questionable intent and honor. In fact, I believe it is disrespectful and shameful.
 
Here are the facts. Last Thursday, Spc. Pat Tillman, assigned to the Fort Lewis-based 2nd Ranger Battalion in Washington state, was killed during a firefight in Afghanistan. Tillman was killed when his small combat patrol was ambushed. Tillman, unfortunately, was not the only American soldier killed last week – quite to the contrary.
 
Do you know the names of all our soldiers who were killed in combat last week, right off the top of your head in the absence of a minimum amount of research?
 
Personally, I had never heard of Pat Tillman until last week. This is probably because I am not a football fan. However, after reading the stories, tributes, obituaries, and accountings of this young soldier’s life, I learned that he was cut from a different mold, and for that matter, so was his brother, Spec. Kevin Tillman.
 
Now, while seeking to suppress the fact that our dead soldiers are once again coming home in metal boxes covered with flags, the Army has reversed itself and if not created, has fueled a media event triggered by the death of Pat Tillman.
 
Serving its own interests, the Army announced Tillman’s death to the world the day after his demise. The Department of Defense released Tillman’s photo and it oiled up, and encouraged, the networks and airways to spread the news while at the same time downplaying the deaths of so many other soldiers.
 
The Army has done it again! Not unlike the veil of smoke, mirrors, mistruths and disinformation related to the Jessica Lynch story. Young Spc. Tillman has become another “tool of opportunity” for the Army and DoD.
 
This time, I have to admit, it makes me just a little bit sicker than the last time. I cannot help but wonder how much respect was paid to the Tillman family before the Army made a spectacle of their son, his life, his personal accomplishments, and now, his death. 
 
In this forum I am not going to cite how Pat Tillman walked away from this amount of money earning potential - to that money earning potential as a soldier. I don’t care about his football exploits, I only care that he was an American soldier, and apparently a damned good one. What we all need to do is recognize in both Tillman brothers a clear case of patriotism and genuine personal sacrifice to the nation in a time of need.
 
He was a patriot who was clearly motivated by the voices within him to defend his homeland. Tillman joined scores of thousands of other young men and women and rose up when the call came to defend America.
 
In retrospect, his actions bring to mind the heroes of sixty years ago who stormed the European continent, and those who sustained through the green hell of jungle fighting, and all the other heroic operations of World War II, and how they were termed “The Greatest Generation.”

So despite the cynicism of Army and DoD flacks, we all need to pay a fitting tribute to Spc. Pat Tillman, and to extend that tribute not only to those who have perished in the global war on terrorism, but to each and every one in serving in uniform today, volunteers all.

Unlike past wars, when some were conscripted and some enlisted voluntarily. Today, our soldiers are unique to themselves, their time, their war, their country and their spirit of volunteerism. As was Spc. Pat Tillman.

It was young men, like the Tillman brothers, that I expected to see at the Army recruiter’s office last week. I’ll keep hoping for more young men and women, cut from this cloth.
 
It is young men and women such as this who will preserve our way of life. Our country will remain the land of the free, only as long as it is the home of the brave.

David Galland

J. David Galland is Deputy Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at defensewatch02@yahoo.com

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