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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Nation needs to back troops all the way

Don Harding Special to Voice

This is a story of luck – good luck and bad luck. It’s all true.

A co-worker’s son made it back to his hometown of Spokane, just past the midway point of his tour of Iraq. Dressed in desert fatigues, he made his way off the plane to the gate area inside the Spokane airport.

As he walked to baggage claim, people stopped to applaud him, cheer him, wish him well and thank him. That’s his good luck.

We Vietnam-era veterans were treated indignantly, even spat upon. The word was not to fly in uniform.

We took pride within our unit but hid ourselves off-base. That was our bad luck.

In my son’s unit in Iraq, there are men of all different skills mostly from Idaho and Washington. One, Spc. Timothy Kiser was a replacement from California.

Formerly in the Army as a combat engineer, he rejoined to combat terrorism. Upon his return, he asked for and received orders for medic training.

A stroke of luck, but before he could complete medic training, he was ordered to Iraq as a replacement in his old specialty, as a combat engineer.

Kiser died in Iraq, maintaining control of his vehicle to the end, saving others in the process. He left behind a wife and kids.

Honorable, good man that he was, his luck ran bad as he was called out of medic training. Mourn this good man, as do the other occupants of the vehicle he piloted to safety despite his mortal wounds. It was their good luck he was there.

My son was on an urban patrol recently in a convoy of Humvees. Upgraded Humvees. They were upgraded due to public furor caused in large part by a National Guard unit that refused a mission through the streets of Baghdad in inappropriately armored vehicles.

Their stance caused them to be brought up on charges. Their bad luck.

An Iraqi soldier repeatedly paced the side of the street along the parked Humvees as my son noticed something odd about him. Though he wore an Iraqi uniform, he carried an AK-47 – an insurgent weapon. You learn to notice those little things.

Suddenly the fake Iraqi soldier, at point-blank range, shot 23 armor-piercing bullets at the Humvee behind my son’s. All the shots hit the vehicle’s heavy plating, falling harmlessly except for the shots that hit the bulletproof glass, shattering it.

As it shattered, a soldier dived under the back seat, sustaining a wound in the wallet area. Evacuated to Germany for medical treatment, he’s going home safe.

The other occupants in the attacked vehicle will have that chance too, due to the upgraded Humvees. Their luck was good.

My son in the next Humvee jumped out, fired and put down the escaping insurgent, the first time he had to do that in this war. The insurgent lived because my son did first aid on him – the right, Christian thing to do.

That was the insurgent’s good luck. What would the other side have done?

With the increase in insurgent activity, medical visits and soccer ball distribution have decreased dramatically. Bad luck for the civilians, especially the kids badly in need of care.

But luck doesn’t confine itself to the battlefields.

On our own shores, the same government that decries a declining military enlistment rate is acting on legislation to reduce veterans’ medical benefits at Veterans Affairs hospitals. With the number of active and retired military in the area, and a VA hospital, this may have a direct effect on us, but a more important issue is at stake.

It took years for the civilian populace of this country to get it right: You may disagree with the war, but don’t take it out on the 19-year-old fighting it under orders from our country.

We’ve even learned to make it known that we want our troops to have the best equipment available. Our sons and daughter deserve no less.

But as a nation, how can we accept any program reduction in the medical care of our veterans? Two out of three – more troop respect, better equipment, but less medical care – isn’t acceptable. We have to go three for three.

First-class medical care for our veterans, now and in the future, isn’t a matter of luck, but rather a matter of honor – our nation’s honor.

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