Long live ‘The Grunt’

By ED FELSHER,

America recently celebrated Veterans Day. We do this every year on November 11.  It’s the day we remember and honor the Veterans of all our wars. 

In some communities, Veterans Day is expanded to Veterans Week. In either case a day or week is woefully little time to spend recognizing the contributions of those who have sacrificed, and are presently sacrificing, so much in time, blood, sweat and tears to assure the survival and freedom of our country and our citizens.

The term Veteran applies to all of the men and women who serve or have served in the uniform of America’s armed forces.

They’re combat infantry, artillery, armor, engineer and those who serve in the fields of logistics, administration, medical, aviation, naval, maintenance and intelligence.

They all serve for the same purpose, to defend America’s homeland and to fight our wars when that becomes necessary.

They are, all of them, truly a Band of Brothers (and Sisters.)

When I think of veterans, specific events in history come to my mind when soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines put their lives on the line and fought America’s enemies to the death, often at close quarters.  

These battles have names that speak of where the fighting occurred; Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Midway, Corregidor, Bataan, Normandy, Omaha Beach, Bastogne, The Bulge.  Each of these battles was a slug fest, a fist fight with lethal weapons at close quarters, a Grunt war.  No quarter asked and no quarter given.  Each is etched into the nation’s military history and the memories of the survivors and those close to them. 

In each of these cases, fierce fighting to the death was common among all of the combatants.  In the end, it was the courageous actions of army and Marine Grunts, and Navy fighter pilots at Midway, that made the difference and produced victory over a fanatical and brutal enemy, willing to die for his cause.

Just as our veterans defend us every day, so should we remember and honor them every day.  This should be done by our governing officials at the highest level with legislation that provides adequate pay, recruitment incentives, family housing and family enrichment, soldier training and equipping, competent leadership, health and medical care, during and after service. 

Further, Congress should legislate resources for educational and training programs that prepare departing service members, who have served honorably, with career work skills that prepare them for life and work outside the military. 

The mindset must be established and maintained among all Americans that, if we desire ready and capable Armed Forces, we must be willing and committed to “foot” the bill. 

Bottom line:  It comes down to this: “Do we want to be defended, or not? If the answer is yes, then we must provide the men and women who man our forces with the kind of military that offers them the best chance of fighting successfully and surviving to become living veterans and preserving this America that we all love.  

Our sons and daughters, husbands and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors who wear the uniforms of America’s military services deserve nothing less. T

his is the way we honor our veterans, every day.  It should be remembered that the only thing worse than having no military at all is having a military built and operated on the “cheap.”

While my admiration, affection and respect extend  to all of those who have served, and are serving now, I have to confess there is, and always has been and always will be, a special place of respect and admiration in my heart for the “Grunt,” the soldier and marine who carries the weapon, pulls the trigger, grapples with his enemy, fights from his foxhole and endures the sacrifices, pains and hardships of war.

The Grunt is a true all-American hero, a unique and noble figure in America’s history of warfare, from our Revolutionary War, through two World Wars, numerous “conflicts” and America’s current engagement in Afghanistan.

Life for the Grunt during times of actual combat is stressful and often fearful.  He must daily depend on his fighting skills and survival instincts to make it through the day.  He sleeps when he can, wrapped in his poncho, often on a spot of cold, wet ground.  

He’s on duty 24-7. He eats when he can, frequently a cold MRE (meal ready to eat). 

The food is not always hot and on time but he eats it anyway because it’s what there is. (The Beanie Weenies and Scrambled eggs with Ham are popular offerings.) 

If the weather is good, and the Mess Sergeant is in a good mood, he may even get a cup of warm coffee with breakfast. 

He lives for mail from home and takes life one day at a time.

He slogs through the days patrolling or conducting other combat operations, ever mindful that he’s facing dangers from enemies close by who are intent upon killing or maiming him.

He takes comfort and satisfaction from knowing he’s a member of a skilled combat effective Team that has his back and he can depend on. 

What motivates him to carry on and fight is knowing that he’s a member of a team and that the members of his team depend on him and he must not let them down, even if it means his life.

World War II General Omar Bradley said it well when he described life for the Grunt in that war: 

“Incentive is not ordinarily part of the infantryman’s life. For him there are no 25 or 50 missions to be completed for a ticket home.  Instead the rifleman trudges into battle knowing that statistics are stacked against his survival.  He fights without promise of either reward or relief.  Behind every river, there’s another hill—and behind that hill, another river.  After weeks or months in the line only a wound can offer him the comfort of safety, shelter and a bed.  Those who are left to fight, fight on, evading death but knowing that with each day of evasion they have exhausted one more chance for survival.  Sooner or later, unless victory comes, the chase must end on the litter or in the grave.”

America’s Grunt is such an interesting study because he is two persons in a single body. He is America’s Citizen Soldier, a point of genuine pride to America and Americans. 

Nations all over the earth like to boast of their “People’s Army.”

In fact, there is one true “People’s Army” and that force is the unique property of the United States of America.  

The men and women who populate the ranks of this “People’s Army” come from homes and families, shops and factories all over America.

He, or she, may be the kid next door, the captain of the football team or the Head Cheerleader.

When America calls him, he gives up his life of relative comfort, living in the warmth and love of family; in exchange for a life of marching, digging and shooting, and being the target of other, hostile shooters.

When he’s needed, he becomes America’s citizen warrior, forced to adapt to the Grunt life of constant hardship and hazard.

His sergeants make him into a superb fighting machine, well trained, equipped, led and motivated to meet America’s enemies on the battlefield and prevail in the clash of arms,

Warfare is always and constantly changing.  Even now, the experts are busily debating the future of warfare. How will it be fought, where and when? 

More effective and lethal ways of killing and destroying the other side are being developed.  America goes through this exercise periodically so we don’t get behind in the preparation for and practice of war.

This has been true since men fought with spears and rocks until the bow and arrow was introduced to the battlefield. 

What will never change regarding how wars are fought is the role of the Grunt.

When the combat gets down and dirty, it’s the Grunt who is expected to take matters in hand and settle the issue in the time-tested and proven Grunt way, using close combat and firepower.

He has never let America down. 

He is America’s premier Citizen and Warrior.

Long live the Grunt!!

Felsher, a longtime Hattiesburg resident, is a retired Army colonel.