Best way to thank a veteran? Think about the way you vote

Veterans Day is upon us, which means it’s the time of the year that many people rack their brain for ideas about how to show their appreciation to those who served in the armed forces.

As a veteran, I often get asked about the proper way to show appreciation on Veterans Day. Is a simple “thank you for your service” enough? Yes, it absolutely is. Even then, it probably isn’t completely necessary.

Overall the United States already does a good job of expressing gratitude to veterans every day of the year. We get great benefits like the GI Bill and free healthcare at the VA. American citizens provide veterans with a lot of services to show their appreciation.

Still, if you feel the need to do more, I would encourage you to think about the way you vote. The willingness many Americans have to support military action overseas is something that has bothered me for years.

One of the most disturbing moments of my life came about a week after I got home from my second deployment to Afghanistan. The newly appointed Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos, visited the base where I was stationed and wanted to talk to the Marines and sailors who just returned from Afghanistan.

During his talk, Amos outlined what he envisioned the Marine Corps would be doing in the near future. He told us he thought the Marines would be conducting combat operations all over Africa, and that would be the next region of conflict in the world.

I thought to myself, “This war isn’t even over, and they’re already planning the next.” It’s like some sort of foregone conclusion that American troops must always be involved in some conflict.

The human cost of the war was very fresh in my mind, and I was horrified that our leaders seemed to be looking for more conflict, whether it was necessary or not.

Necessity is what I want to emphasize here. Everyone in the military raised their hand and swore to protect their country, and they will. They will go and sacrifice their lives to protect their nation, if that is required.

What they deserve in return, however, is to not be sent into a needless conflict. The troops deserve for the leaders at home to act responsibly and only send U.S forces to battle as a last resort and for the public to not only elect leaders who will do that, but also express their dissatisfaction if that fails to happen.

A friend of mine, Gunnery Sgt. Robert Lee Gilbert, was killed in Afghanistan in 2009. We were deployed together to Afghanistan in 2007, and he told me if he died he knew he wasn’t dying for his country, but for Afghanistan. At that point in the war, he no longer believed he was fighting to protect the U.S. but instead to help Afghanistan become a stable democracy.

Improving the quality of life for Afghans is a noble cause, too. I grew very fond of Afghans and their culture, and I wanted to help them — I believe Gilbert did, too. I’m not convinced, however, that U.S. troops should be asked to sacrifice their lives for noble causes that have nothing to do with their nation anymore.

That is what bothers me: Do we really need to be involved in these conflicts? Or are they other nation’s problems that don’t actually present a threat to our national security? U.S. troops should know they’re risking their lives for their own country.

The U.S. has essentially been at war for a century. There will always be conflict and someone we, as a nation, don’t agree with. That doesn’t mean we have to go fight them.

The U.S. did, at one point, support guys like Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, the Taliban and Bashar al-Assad. Let’s not forget that the Islamic State started as a response to Assad’s rule in Syria.

Amos didn’t foresee the creation of the Islamic State, but that is the new evil force in the world that many Americans support going to battle with. I completely understand why, too. They are doing terrible things to people overseas that are hard to stomach.

What I would like people to consider, however, is if they’re truly a threat to the United States. I know there are a lot of “death to America” statements being made, but there’s a chance that is all grandstanding just to gain support in the region. After all, our continued intervention in that region’s affairs are the reason that is such a popular slogan.

As horrific as the Islamic State is, say we go and have success fighting them, then what? Does anyone honestly believe that will be the last evil group of people in the world? Will all injustice cease to exist after they’re gone, or will someone else just pick up the mantle somewhere else? Where does it stop and how many American lives is it worth?

I want people to consider the human cost of war before being so ready to commit to another conflict because I do not believe sending American men and women to die for a fight we could have avoided is a good way to honor the troops.

This isn’t an issue about what political party you support, and the U.S. armed forces are not a football team to root for. Just because we can go win a fight doesn’t mean we should do it.

Sometimes a nation needs to solve their own problems without foreign intervention. I would like to propose that we make sure our troops go to war knowing that they’re fighting for their own nation’s security and not just a pipe dream that America can solve all the world’s problems.

Trey Gregory is a senior journalism from Albuquerque, N.M. He is the city editor for the Lariat.