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Marjorie K. Eastman: My generation of service members has left a legacy rooted in our actions

We need a nation that serves together and carries the consequences of war, poverty, racism, education, she says

Editor’s Note: Marjorie K. Eastman is a combat veteran and author of the newly released book, “The Frontline Generation: How We Served Post 9/11“. The views expressed are her own.

CNN —  

Wednesday is more to me than just another useless debate, an event I’ll DVR because I don’t want my young son to hear the unfortunately vulgar, scorched earth exchange that has become the 2016 election. Although viewership probably won’t be anywhere near the record-breaking numbers of the first debate, most Americans will still check in Wednesday night to watch our nation’s top two contenders duke it out for a chance to become the next president of the United States.

Marjorie Eastman
Hatcher & Fell Photography
Marjorie Eastman

Personally, I wish our nation would have marked the calendar for a different reason. October 19 represents something much more to my family because it was the day that my husband – and hundreds of other soldiers – parachuted into Afghanistan 15 years ago. This was one of the first visible displays to the world that something resembling war had truly begun.

Most recall the night-vision imagery of young Army Rangers jumping out of a C-130. And, if you can take yourself back in time for just a second, recall how a majority of us watched that video with pride; we knew we had the best military in the world, we would rain hell on our enemies and secure retribution for the gutless attacks on our innocent civilians.

Our country was still suffering from 9/11, but we were united and determined to confront the problem.

These faceless shadows that jumped into the dark night were shockingly part of the less than 1% of Americans who serve in uniform. And those who have participated in this conflict – the longest war in our nation’s history – over the last 15 years have not lost the spirit showcased that night. Service members continue to unite against all odds; they continue to show resolve. In fact, I observed during my 10 years of post-9/11 military service that we became an even better military, a stronger force. That selfless commitment only grew.

All the while, the opposite has seemed to happen within our country; we’ve become more divided, angrier and fearful on a level that rivals the 9/11 era.

Nevertheless, October 19 can engender hope and promise. This date marks when the next greatest generation was born: the Frontline Generation.

My generation of service members has left a legacy rooted in our actions: to volunteer and be exposed to the forefront of action, time and time again. We faced challenges head on, charted new paths and transformed military norms. Anyone who said, “count me in,” in this asymmetric environment was exposed to danger. This started with those in the military and extended to journalists, government officials, nongovernment workers and contractors alike. That act of service – this selflessness – took character.

And, as this presidential election should have reminded all of us by now, character matters.

We need leaders to elevate the conversation and to debate the policies in our country. Policies that led us to fight in the Middle East and struggle to maintain the focus and the will to complete our mission. Policies that were voted on by representatives who did not have skin in the game, as the vast majority of members of Congress have never worn a uniform – and nor have many of their children. The policies that should have risen – ones that championed national service – were never raised or passed by these elected officials. This idea could unite seemingly disparate groups in our communities and increase innovation in our economy — because when people solve problems together and struggle together, they also grow together.

Now, imagine if this Frontline Generation was more than 1% of our society. Imagine if the lessons of resilience and resourcefulness had been acquired by not only them, but by the majority of Americans? Do you think we would have the same problems today – the increase in vitriol, racial tensions and disenfranchisement? Do you think our government would have shut down multiple times, turned a blind eye to the national debt or had such a rapid decline in educational rankings? Do you think the same policy decisions would have been made if we all had skin in the game?

As someone who has the Frontline perspective, I have your answer.

The Frontline Generation leveraged differences, built coalitions and found the common ground to make it to higher ground. The post-9/11 service member is well aware of the cost of freedom, the price of democracy and the need for leadership. And, we desperately want the rest of America to know we are one team. As a president in my lifetime once said, “America is too great for small dreams.” We, who have been out front and gave all of ourselves for the dream – and who have lost loved ones who gave their life for this dream – we know America is indeed too great already.

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  • Those who serve witness this truth firsthand in the actions of those to our left and to our right – our brothers and sisters in arms, the embedded journalists, the State Department officials, or those doctors without borders – because there are no front lines today. The people we served beside became them. They showed up, they stepped up, they confronted the problem.

    I believe we would not be in the mess that is this terrible election if more than 1% of our country had had some skin in the game for the past 15 years. So, here it is America. We have bigger problems than this election. We need a nation that serves together, that knows each other and carries the consequences of war, poverty, racism, education, etc. – together. Our good fortune is that we can start to confront these very real problems thanks to the reservoir of leaders from the Frontline Generation.

    This day represents so much more than just the third presidential debate. This day is the day we must realize that the next greatest generation is in front of us – they’ve been on the front lines for all of us, for the past 15 years.