Let's honor our newest veterans by paying attention to the 2 wars that produce them

By Robert McCartney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 10, 2010; 9:05 PM

Here's a Veterans Day tip. If you meet a service member who's just returned from Afghanistan or Iraq, don't ask, "Did you kill anybody?"

They hate that, and veterans say it happens surprisingly often.

Instead, try asking: "Did you save anybody?" It's much more welcome.

There's another thing that veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq wish the public would do for them: Resume paying some attention to those two conflicts, which the vets stress are still going on.

The veterans fought there, often on multiple tours. They saw friends get wounded or killed. They care deeply about the progress and outcome of the two wars.

The nation, however, has lost interest. There was virtually no debate about the wars in the campaigns leading up to last week's congressional elections.

"There was zero discussion of the wars, which every veteran was tracking," said Todd Bowers, 31, a Marine Reserve staff sergeant who's served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He grew up in Falls Church, lives in Washington and is deputy executive director of the six-year-old group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA.

"We're getting tired [of it]. We get the handshakes and the thank you's for your service, and then everybody changes the channel, they turn the page, they look in another direction," Bowers said.

That's remarkable considering the Afghan war is now the longest in U.S. history. Plus, it's heating up. More Americans have died there in 2010 than in any other year since we invaded in 2001 to drive out the Taliban regime after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Even in an election focused on the economy and government spending, little notice was paid to the $11 billion a month that the two wars are costing the Treasury.

Brendan McElroy, 26, who served in the strategic Anbar province in Iraq as a Marine first lieutenant, said the press is partly responsible.

"The media focus shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan to the economy," said McElroy, who grew up in Silver Spring and now lives in Arlington County.

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