Today marks the birthday of my brilliant brother Vincenzo. Vincenzo, like my baby brother, Gomez, is a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. He has always been an extraordinarily hard-working, generous, and intellectually curious person. When he was in school, he introduced an "open house" policy among his peers, so our family played host to literally thousands of young men and women from all fifty states, and several foreign countries. Vin always made sure that everyone was invited- nobody ever had pariah status in his eyes.
This generous spirit, a keen interest in other cultures, and a natural knack for languages has served him well in his career- he's engaged in scorpion eating contests with Thai counterparts, trained guardsmen in American Samoa, and run role-playing exercises involving Arabic-speaking peoples from Iraq and Michigan in government-run Potemkin villages. In all of these situations, he has made an effort to understand and develop an appreciation for those of different backgrounds (he still loves freaking out Samoans by dropping a bit of their language into a conversation).
He, of course, had to serve in Iraq, because he took an oath to serve a government run by people who fall far short of his high ethical and intellectual standards. As a voter, I feel I have to apologize for the decisions that we, as a society, have made. Hopefully, military personnel like my brothers will be able to repair some of the damage done by the stupid, the greedy, and the xenophobic. Maybe our country can try to shift our foreign policy duties to the State Department, rather than the Department of Defense.
It goes without saying that my brother has lost soldiers under his command, mostly young Americans from small, rural towns. He has always had a keen understanding of the socioeconomic realities which have caused young men and women to enlist (the same socioeconomic realities that inspired him to join the service). He's also aware that a lot of these folks will face challenges integrating into civilian life, and has made everyone he's been in contact with read Eric Maria Remarque's The Road Back. It should come as no surprise that one of Vincenzo's all-time favorite songs is about the harsh realities that face an enlisted soldier (written by someone who lived in an occupied city in the time of an insurgency):
Happy birthday, Vin, and all my love to the wife and kids.