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Great frustrations: Veterans shouldn't politicize the honoring of a fellow vet

By David Heath
updated 10:52 AM EST, Thu January 30, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Heath, a war veteran, says celebrating veterans shouldn't be about politics
  • Heath has been in a similar spotlight and felt uncomfortable
  • He says honoring troops is more important than where other vets stand on issues

Editor's note: David Heath served in the U.S. Army infantry for seven years as a paratrooper with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, he was awarded the Army Commendation Medal with Valor for actions during a firefight in Sara Kohleh, a remote valley in northeast Afghanistan. He is working for the Army in Italy and is the writer and creator of an online comic series called "Bilateral Comics."

(CNN) -- In what should have been one of the more emotional and poignant moments of the president's State of the Union address, I'm left with just one feeling after watching the recognition of Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, who was wounded in an IED explosion in Afghanistan.

Frustration.

That might seem like a harsh critique, and it's not directed at either the president or Remsburg. It's pointed squarely at some of my fellow veterans and commentators and their reactions to this event, turning the appearance into political theater.

A bipartisan outpouring for wounded war hero

David Heath served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
David Heath served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As I watched the address Tuesday night, I could feel the emotions of Remsburg. I've felt the same thing.

At the All-American Bowl in San Antonio in 2011, I stood in front of thousands of people in a packed football stadium full of cheering fans, on a field with other wounded warriors and heroes. We waited anxiously, appreciative of the people cheering us, but we were also confused.

What we did, while viewed as heroic by others, was simply our job. It might be hard to imagine, but the recognition felt misplaced. I understood that thousands of other troops have sacrificed as well, along with our nation's firefighters, police and other first responders.

I asked myself, "Why me? What did I do that was different?" I bet Remsburg, the Army Ranger, may have felt the same way in front of all those cameras Tuesday night.

He said what? Obama's speech explained

That being said, the recognition by President Barack Obama at the end of the State of the Union address was appropriate. He shared a personal anecdote about their previous interactions together, a history of Remsburg's service. Then the President expressed gratitude, saluting in the direction of the soldier being honored.

War hero honored at State of the Union
The State of the Union in 2 minutes
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All that was fine. My frustration stems from the public response to that last part of the State of the Union address. Many friends, both veterans and non-veterans alike, are using Remsburg's appearance to further their political or ideological agenda.

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Those who are on the right claim it was a fake, propaganda-laden showing that exploited the deeds of our troops. Those on the left regale the commander in chief with praise, having concrete proof that the president does, in fact, support the troops.

The reality of the situation, however, is a bit more simple.

The President made a respectful gesture of recognition toward an individual soldier and his accomplishments, and showcased this on a national stage. That's it.

Regardless of where you stand on health care, gun laws, big government, the minimum wage or other divisive issues, we should all be able to, for just one night, applaud Remsburg and our troops in harm's way.

We have plenty of time to return to the partisan bickering and politics of division later. For just one night, it's really OK to simply honor a soldier and his sacrifice.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Heath.

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