One of my all-time favorite movies is “A Few Good Men.” The movie stars a wonderful, talented cast of Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, and Jack Nicholson.
Tom Cruise portrays Daniel Kaffee, a Navy lawyer who has amassed a number of legal victories while never stepping foot in a courtroom. His victories stem from his willingness to compromise, never accepting a challenge which might lead to defeat. His “winning” tactics remain in place until he is confronted with what appears to be an open and shut case of two young Marines, Dawson and Downey, who have participated in a “Code Red” – military slang for extrajudicial punishment meted out to Santiago, a fellow Marine, which ends in the Marine’s death.
Kaffee is appointed along with Joanne Galloway (Demi Moore) to represent the two young Marines. Their appointment takes them to Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) where they confront Colonel Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson). As Kaffee becomes more and more involved in the intricacies of the case, he begins to understand the very system which he has attempted to avoid. Instead of following his usual path of compromise, he resolves to proceed with the trial.
It is the final memorable trial scenes of the movie that lead to what I believe is one of Nicholson’s best performances. Kaffee presses Jessep for answers about Sanitago’s death, playing on Jessep’s arrogance as well as his air of superiority. In an outburst of rage, Jessep rails at Kaffee:
“Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me there.”
And we want and need our soldiers on those walls. But they must step down from those walls when their duty ends. And when they step down from those walls and their mission of guarding us is over, they deserve to have the care and support that was promised to them when they enlisted.
U.S. Senator Larry Craig said today that VA’s 2008 budget “sends a clear message to the troops that we support them and we will be here to take care of them when they return. The 2008 budget is an estimated 8 percent increase over this year’s anticipated budget. And it will be needed.
Today’s soldiers are surviving at a much higher rate than those in past conflicts.During the Vietnam War, one in three wounded soldiers died from his wounds – in Iraq, it is one in eight. Our medical trauma units are much more advanced now than in the days of Vietnam. Today, a wounded soldier can be back in the United States for treatment in three days; during the Vietnam War it took 45 days.
Today’s soldiers are also surviving injuries distinct from those suffered in Vietnam. The Improvised Explosive Device (IED) usually combines the effects of blast, fragmentation, and armor penetration. The devices are remote controlled, triggered by infra-red, pressure bars or trip wires or remote control. Heavy duty Kevlar vests protect the trunk of the soldiers, exposing the limbs to increased injuries.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is also on the increase in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. During the Vietnam War, helmets were little more than a bowl sitting atop the head and secured by a chinstrap. Today’s helmets surround the head snugly and allow for little expansion of the brain within the skull when the soldier is hit. Estimates of TBIs range from 30% to 60%.
Adding to the physical injuries being inflicted on our returning soldiers are the psychological and emotional “injuries.” About 40% of current returning veterans face some degree of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The decrease in battlefield-related deaths is increasing the number of wounded veterans who return and survive and who will be disabled for the rest of their lives. We will need every penny of the newly released budget figures to take care of our returning veterans as they step down off that wall and come home to resume their lives.
We owe an obligation to our veterans, past, present, and future. Those of us who do not climb those walls to protect our freedoms must be there to help those who step down and carefully and caringly walk beside them as they again resume the lives they left to serve us. Take time to contact your legislators to let them know that you support the benefits that our veterans were promised.