Clearwater, FL (PRWEB) December 16, 2005
As far as scholars can determine, the world has been an entirely peaceful place for less than 10 percent of recorded history. At this moment there are between 30 and 50 simultaneous wars being waged throughout the world, and that does not include acts of terrorism not affiliated with sovereign nations. Men and women – and frequently children as young as eight years old – are routinely sent into battle to do our dirty work. Often it is for reasons they don’t even agree with or comprehend.
Regardless of our political views – or which team we pull for – the military burial grounds of the world are filled with the bodies of those who were “just following orders”. As decorated Vietnam infantry veteran Fred Steen wrote in his war novel, Black Knight Alfa, “Ours was not to debate the right or wrong of the political issues, but rather to answer the call when the dogs of war were released and someone yelled havoc.”
Until we learn to confront the reality of what war actually means, by listening to those who understand it from personal experience, we will not be able to appreciate the value of protecting and defending our fragile and precious opportunities for peace. Perhaps the most important lesson that combat veterans can teach civilians about war is that we should never send our troops into harm’s way unless our lives absolutely depend on it. As soon as troops deploy, their lives are at risk, for the sake of those who chose to send them to war.
The most dangerous job during combat is that of the infantry soldier. Infantry units usually account for as much as 80 percent of wartime casualties, even though they make up only about 20 percent of all troops. Just by joining a combat infantry unit, an individual’s chances of survival decrease by 90 percent compared to the statistical odds for other combat personnel.
First Sergeant Steen was a “Combat Leader” of the infantry rifle company in the 1st Air Cav Division code named Black Knight Alfa – a combat team so successful that the Vietcong commanders warned their own troops to stay clear of them, and the North Vietnamese government offered large bounties on their heads.
Innovative, courageous, and determined to live, the “grunts” were victorious against overwhelming odds. Steen’s novel vividly describes the tactical brilliance and carefully honed fighting skills of an American infantry rifle company fighting the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong. Black Knight Alfa was “in contact” almost every day, every night, and they were winning. They were almost always outnumbered and outgunned, but never out-maneuvered.
Having survived the war, Steen and other vets faced another battle back home, fed by the news media’s constant stereotyping and by Hollywood’s fictionalized portrayals of America’s troops in movies like Apocalypse Now and Platoon. Honest combat veterans are among the first to warn that we should never glamorize war. At the same time, they understand the grave tragedy of unfairly labeling an entire army because of a few bad enlistees or because of the misconceptions of those who have no experience of combat. Not only does such misinformation demean their sacrifice; it also compounds our misunderstanding of the true nature of war and the twisted complexity of politics.
Military personnel, just like civilians, often have mixed feelings about the political justification for war. They are, however, given the extraordinary responsibility of fighting our wars and finishing them, often paying the ultimate price. Conflicted emotions as a consequence of combat experience often create psychological problems that plague many veterans for the rest of their lives. For instance, medical research shows that veterans of the First World War still suffered the effects of combat trauma 75 years later.
“When it was all over, we acquired a legacy of painful nightmares that never went away,” First Sergeant Sheen says of his experiences in Vietnam. “But we were good soldiers, doing our job of accomplishing the missions assigned to us; and the American soldiers fighting in Vietnam did not lose the war.”
Steen’s book, Black Knight Alfa, fulfills a promise to his men. He told him that he would tell their story to the world one day. That day has finally come.
For a review copy of the book or to set up an interview with Fred Steen for a story, please contact Jay Wilke at 727-443-7115, ext. 223