By Alex Ashlock
More than 1.5 million Americans served in the war in Iraq. A hand-picked handful of them will be honored at the White House Wednesday night during a formal state dinner. They were selected from all branches of the service and represent all 50 states.
Jason Hansman is one of them. He’s from Washington state and told Here & Now he’s excited to attend the dinner, but he’d like to see bigger events, like parades, that would allow more Iraq war vets to participate.
State Diners: Appropriate For Now
“We have heard from countless supporters who say they want to honor the troops and they want to do it in a big fashion across the country, so that all the vets from Iraq can participate, not just 200 at a state dinner,” Hansman said.
Hansman served in the Army and worked on reconstruction projects in Mosul, Iraq in 2004 and 2005. He’s now membership director at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He says recognizing Iraq war vets can start with festivities like the state dinner and the parade that was held in St. Louis last month, but that recognition should not be all ticker-tape.
“It’s more than just about a one-off parade or even a one-off state dinner,” he said. “It’s about connecting vets who are struggling in a variety of fashions with the resources they need to transition home.”
Getting America’s Attention
Vietnam vet and Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich, a critic of the war who also lost a son in Iraq, said the state dinner is an appropriate gesture for the president to make, but he wonders whether the rest of the country is paying attention now that the war is over.
“In making this gesture of appreciation, the president acts on the nation’s behalf,” Bacevich said. “Yet I wonder how veterans assess the actual attitude of their fellow citizens. ‘Thank you for your service’ has become a stock phrase, the equivalent of being told ‘Have a nice day’ after you give your money to a cashier.”
For his part, Hansman believes the rest of America is paying attention.
“I think St. Louis is a good example of the wider country recognizing Iraq war vets and welcoming them home,” he said, “especially because the St. Louis parade started with just two guys — two civilians in fact — wanting to do something special for the troops.”
The last U.S. combat troops left Iraq in December. Nearly 4,500 Americans died in the nine-year war, more than 30,000 wounded. An estimated 100,000 Iraqis were killed.
There are still nearly 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. More than 1,900 Americans have died there since the 2001 invasion.
Jeremy Hobson joins Robin Young as co-host of Here & Now in its new 2-hour format, from WBUR and NPR.
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