From the first time I listened to news reports, reporter interviews, or politicians speaking to the public using the term “boots on the ground” it has had a rather disgusting ring to it. Perhaps that is too harsh to say, but nevertheless it makes me shudder whenever I hear it. They’re my ears and I’ll explain myself. To me, terms like this are something that are not necessarily politically correct or terminology that lumps individuals into a group, or certain phraseology. To me, the phrase works to sanitize the idea of military operations. The notion seems to say, “If we can find a term that does not invoke an actual human construct, then by all means let’s use it.” I don’t mean to question the sincerity of some who use phrases like these, but in a world of sound bites and conversations stylized to be 140 characters or less, I much prefer genuine dialogue. We should embrace polite discourse rather than find new and exciting ways to get around it.
I think the use of phrases such as “boots on the ground” tends to put a more distant spin on the military; that things are happening in a faraway land. It’s impersonal and detached. To the spouses and children of those far away, they’re not boots; it’s my Mom or Dad, my husband or wife. Plus, I’m a veteran myself, and I know the feeling of being deployed and your family doesn’t know where you are, doesn’t know when you’ll return, and every minute of every day wonders if you’re okay. And the most painful wounds the family and community carries aren’t physical, and they are not easily treated.
The distance “boots on the ground” elicits also has an effect domestically. 2013 data from U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development shows 12% of homeless across the country are homeless. Unfortunately, there is not much publicity on this front. Embedded in this data is the statement “since these data were first collected in 2009.” While this number has declined in recent years, for women the number of homeless has doubled. There are health care, mental health, housing assistance and job training and housing assistance programs being utilized in communities to assist the homeless. My area of health and human services has been working on a Texas veteran’s app for smart phones that will assist the homeless vet or social worker. Even 1 person homeless is too many. The VA estimates about 22 veterans a day commit suicide. How many of these boots that were on the ground got adequate support while they were taking their boots off?
I hope you understand where I’m coming from. Support for our service men and women shouldn’t stop when they come home. And, we don’t need to shorten anything to get in a sound bite or a tweet. Just call them what they are: Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines. Or, men and women fighting for our country.
As long as I’m ranting here, I have an issue with “In harm’s way,” too. It’s not harm’s way, a skirmish, conflict, a clash, or an encounter. Somebody’s trying to freakin’ kill you. OK?
Hudak, T. (2014, Jan 10). January 2014 VA Suicide Data Update. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/11973/january-2014-va-suicide-data-update/.
Tsai, T. (2012, May). U.S. Homeless Veteran Population Decreases Since 2009, but Female Homeless Veterans More Than Doubled. Population Reference Bureau. http://www.prb.org/Publications/Articles/2012/us-homeless-veterans.aspx.