I joined the Minnesota Army National Guard on my seventeenth birthday, back in 1990. At that time, the United States was just coming off the Cold War and the "peace dividend" as it (incorrectly) came to be known, was not yet in play. For the most part, my guard unit was a joke, as was my weekend warrior training. We met one weekend a month and were not ready for anything near a fight.
(For the record, basic training was not a joke, however, and neither was the advanced training I received).
In the nine years I was in the Guard, things changed dramatically. As our national defense strategy shifted from a large, standing army to more guard and reserve units, our equipment and training improved to the point where our old selves was not recognizable. While the active duty was still the first line, it was a thinner line that was not supported by a thicker, reserve line.
When I got out in 1999, our unit was actually respectable, but I don't think many troops thought we would ever be mobilized. That active duty line still looked pretty thick, and the idea that we would get called to action seemed remote.
Of course, September 11 changed all of that.
Regardless of what you think about our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, one of the unforeseen consequences of these actions, following the shift in emphasis from active troops to reserve capacity, was just how hard they would impact small towns. Guard and reserve units are, largely, small-town creatures. There is a certain social aspect to this type of service that is embedded in small towns. This means that, when a guard unit is mobilized, it has a huge impact on the community it draws from.
And when a soldier is injured or killed, it doesn't just impact a family, but an entire community.
One of the untold stories of the past seven+ years is the disproportionate impact these conflicts have had on small towns and rural America, now that we count on the Guard for making war.
If you get an opportunity, please make sure and say thank you to a veteran today. Regardless of your position on American foreign policy, these people deserve our respect, admiration, compassion and understanding for all they have done and all they have been through.