New York, N.Y. The organization Stand for the Troops (SFTT) had a benefit at New York’s famed Gotham Comedy Club next to the Chelsea Hotel headlined by Saturday Night Live’s Colin Quinn last week. I did not really want to go. I find Rah-Rah America, pro-military organizations offensive. However, I did attend.
During the VIP reception I was approached by an affable gentleman who introduced himself as Major General John Batiste. I admitted to him that, raised by parents deeply active in protest against the Vietnam War, I was not overly excited to be there. He smiled and said he understood. He reminded me that he was the officer who took part in what Vanity Fair had called The Night of the Generals.
So my mind opened. This maverick West Point grad, who served in the Gulf War and Iraq and helped plan our role in Afghanistan, explained to me that the organization was a leader in advocacy and treatment for returning veterans and their families. Co-founded by Col. David Hackworth and his wife Eilhys England Hackworth, the organization is not so much pro-military as much as pro-soldier. It struck me as a union-organizing effort for GIs — how cool.
My valiant, wonderful husband, one of America’s greatest heroes and most valor-decorated soldiers, died in my arms (six) years ago this past May. During the last weeks we shared, he thought not a whit about himself; and his love for me burned so brightly. I still feel surrounded by the awesome warmth.
But, he worried too about the frontline troops he spent his life protecting, and particularly about Stand for the Troops, the foundation we started together. So, I promised Hack I would pick up the torch and keep SFTT viable — and continue our commitment to get the kids out at the tip of the spear, the best leadership, training and equipment.
In spite of the major stories we broke — such as the lack of up-to-date body armor, or none at all, when the troops first went back into Iraq or the unarmored Hummers; or Abu Ghraib which pointed so clearly to flaws in both training and leadership — most people we addressed when we tried to raise awareness and funds found it difficult to accept that our soldiers and Marines were not getting the right stuff with which to wage war.
Hack had warned us about on Larry King when we first went into Iraq: in spite of all our vows to the contrary, we have allowed ourselves to be sucked into another Vietnam with far greater potential fall-out. Sure, because of medical and technological advances, we will not have a black granite wall listing 58,000 fallen warriors; but depending upon how much longer we are stuck in Iraq, we are likely to have far more than 58,000 wounded, many grievously.
As an American citizen, it is extremely offensive that our football players have more effective and more comfortable helmets than our front line troops: 18- and 19-year-old kids, out at the tip of the spear, protecting our cushy good life. These kids deserve to come back and enjoy it too.There is no way that one organization — or fifty organizations — could raise the money and buy our own equipment and send it to the troops. Our strategy is to ‘take truth to power.’
Excellent organizations offer countless services to take care of the troops, from entertaining them in Iraq, to helping them and their families when they come home. The USO, Wounded Warrior, Fisher House and so on. However, no organization, except SFTT, is dedicated day in, day out, to being there for our stalwart warriors as they stand tall for their country out in the shifting sands of the Valley of the Shadow of Death — to try to prevent them from being killed or wounded in the first place.
SFTT’s mission is to get the troops the best available, basic five critical pieces of combat gear that give them the best chance possible to come home alive and in one piece — helmet, rifle, sidearm, boots and body armor.
SFTT has also launched a PTSD initiative which has mobilized a top medical task force to give seriously traumatized warriors access to the latest Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)/ Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) therapeutic modalities, collaborating with CDS Warrior Salute on a Pilot Treatment Program, and developing a comprehensive national referral resource. This mission is high priority: PTSD affects one in every five soldiers and Marines, 20 percent returning from Iraq and Afghanistan; while, overall, about 18 veterans a day commit suicide.
Lorraine Cancro is the Executive Director of the Global Stress Initiative (GSI) and also serves as a Global Advisor to The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation. SFTT has formed a medical advisory task force including the most prominent in the field of mental health, including renowned psychiatrist Robert Cancro, M.D. Chairman Emeritus of N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry, Grant Brenner, M.D. of New York’s William Allenson White Institute, and Jaine Darwin of Harvard.
Stand for the Troops (SFTT) is a leader in advocacy and treatment for returning veterans and their families. Founded by David Hackworth who passed away in 2006 and run today by his wife Eilhys England Hackworth.
Originally published in The Huffington Post, July 12, 2012.
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