The latest 'Greatest Generation'

ASAN: A sea of Memorial Day Flags waves at the Asan Beach Park on May 27, 2018. The National Park Service placed 1,880 U.S. Flags to represent the U.S. soldiers and 1,170 Guam Flags to represent the CHamoru people who died on Guam during World War II. Post file photo

A number of people have been trying to get me to take a position on the military buildup and firing ranges. I have one and the various "protect Guam" movements probably won't like it and I don't care, because I support the next "Greatest Generation."

Unlike the previous Greatest Generation, of which only 39% volunteered for service in time of war and 61% were draftees, the latest "Greatest Generation" is a 1OO% volunteer force and most enlisted after 9/11 knowing they would be going into combat.

The previous Greatest Generation went to war for four years, many enduring tours of duty that average 18 months or less. The latest Greatest Generation has been engaged in the wars for 29 years, with many members completing multiple one-year tours of duty, while more than 90,000 service members have completed five combat tours or more. Almost every veteran I know has done multiple "sandbox tours," including my own brother.

My mentor and his friends served as Marines in the Pacific and saw combat on Saipan, Guam and Guadalcanal. My current veteran friends and family served in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. After listening to the war and post-war stories of both generations, I believe the evolution of technology that increased war's lethality and changed the combat environment is causing the latest Greatest Generation to come home with a heavier load of emotional baggage than the earlier Greatest Generation. 

There is also a very big difference in the stories about the level of support given to the two Greatest Generations by a grateful nation.

My World War II Marine friends talked about the efforts the government and community made to help them readjust from combat to civilian life, the jobs available to them, the colleges that welcomed them with open arms through the GI Bill, and affordable homes made easier with Veteran Home loans.

My Gulf War friends talk about the lack of medical support, lack of jobs, lack of affordable housing and lack of emotional support. They talk in despair about having to wait months to see a doctor, or having to fly to Hawaii or California for treatment. The lack of support for the latest Greatest Generation has consequences that we as a society can no longer afford to ignore. My nephew, a medically discharged Marine on 100% disability, lost his battle with PTSD. Another friend of mine, medically discharged from the Army on 100% disability, barely survived his dark moment with PTSD.

My family suffered during the Japanese occupation of Guam, and we lost family members as did so many other families. On Liberation Day we remember and acknowledge the sacrifices made by those families, and the members of the Greatest Generation that came and – at great cost – liberated our island.

They were able to liberate our island because residents of Monterey, California, supported Army training at Fort Ord, whose firing range noises could be clearly heard within the city limits as late as 1994; and the residents of San Diego who supported Marine training operations at Camp Pendleton.

Casualties during the four years of World War II were 9% of forces. Casualties over the past 29 years of combat operations are less than 1% forces. At the end of Desert Storm, the Russian general in charge of advising Iraq's generals was asked by the media, why he thought Iraq lost despite its larger army (5-1), larger number of tanks (3-1), and larger number of artillery pieces (8-1). The Russian general replied: "The Americans won because they train like no other fighting force in the world."

Just about every family on Guam has members who are part of the latest Greatest Generation, and we want them to be safe. We want them to come back home to us at the end of their tour of duty; and that requires constant training no matter where they are stationed.

So when we look at the infrastructure to provide the level of training, that makes America's combat soldiers the best trained in the world, we should be proud our island has the facilities to help keep them the best. And through their Guam-based training, it helps keep them safe and helps bring them home to us and families all across the United States.

In my opinion, we can do no less for the Marines based here on Guam, than what the residents of Monterey and San Diego did for Army and Marine personnel who risked their lives to free the people of Guam.

Ken Leon-Guerrero is a resident of Santa Rita.

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