I am an “old soldier.” I am no hero; however, I recognize heroes when I see them. I served with a few.
Not all heroes wear military uniforms. Many of them wear scrubs. In a traditional war, we know who the enemy is. Like 9/11, COVID-19 is an asymmetrical war. It is a war we couldn’t anticipate, didn’t expect and really aren’t sure how to fight. While traditional wars are fought far from home, COVID-19 is a war in the homeland.
Police, firemen, emergency medical technicians, teachers, trash collectors, grocery store cashiers, pharmacists and too many other people we take for granted are critical to the successful operation of our community, our state and our country. These critical services are being stressed to the point of failure.
The U.S. military gets the most attention. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines pay a heavy price for defending the homeland in far-away places. They often come home with physical and mental injuries. Some don’t come home at all. A complex network of not-for-profits has sprung up to help veterans and their families recover from the wounds of war. I salute all who try to help my brothers and sisters who were sent to fight in far-away places for complicated reasons.
Those fighting the war we didn’t expect here at home also deserve attention. Our military members go where they are ordered and do what they are told. They have no choice.
Those who support the homeland are volunteers who can just walk away at any time. In spite of the enormous risks posed by COVID-19, they don’t. Like those who serve in uniform, they face long hours, sickness, post-traumatic stress and possible death every day. When they go home, these folks carry the risk of unknowingly transmitting COVID-19 to their family and friends.
I can’t imagine what that stress must feel like.
The United States is approaching 350,000 deaths from COVID-19 in less than a year. That’s almost seven times as many Americans as were killed in Vietnam, a war that lasted 19 years.
When we get through COVID-19 and return to something approaching normal, it will be time to take care of those who served at home keeping our country running. The collateral damage to the lives and health of those who were part of our critical infrastructure is already significant. It’s time for government at all levels and not-for-profits to start considering ways to help these people and their families rebuild their lives.
Many of those who serve at home are truly heroes. Nurses who served in critical-care wards manning ventilators for dying COVID-19 patients come to mind. Many others share similar risks. They deserve to be honored, compensated and taken care of. Perhaps those who gave all deserve a wall on the National Mall. What they don’t deserve is to be forgotten. They were overworked, ill-equipped and disparaged by those who really didn’t understand what was occurring; they were unwilling pawns in political games and stressed to the limits. We can’t do enough for these veterans of a different kind of war, but we can try.
There is nothing more important right now than winning the COVID-19 war. That is what I want government at all levels to tackle. That is where I want to see my tax dollars spent. This is a war we can’t lose. Everything else can wait.
Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week. You can learn more about Al at www.alborn.net.