Commentary by Army Col. Michael J. Forsyth
3/11/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- I
hear it often stated that today's generation is nothing but slackers
only concerned about gratifying themselves. I remember as a younger man
that my parent's generation said the same thing about my generation and I
suspect that my grandparents made similar statements about my parents.
My grandparents sprang from the so-called 'Greatest Generation' whose
moniker was popularized by Tom Brokaw's book chronicling the sacrifices
made during World War II. While I hold the 'Greatest Generation' in high
esteem - which includes multiple relatives who served overseas in World
War II - the latest generation is proving that it deserves respect and
recognition for enormous sacrifices in current conflicts. Today's
service members I believe represent America's New Greatest Generation.
Since 9/11, more than thirteen years ago, well over one million young
Americans have volunteered to serve their country in a time of war. When
the war began in October 2001 resulting in the toppling of the Taliban,
there were over two million personnel serving in all components of the
armed forces. A large number of these subsequently served and sacrificed
in harm's way at some point over the last thirteen years, which is very
commendable. However, all of those who have volunteered to serve since
9/11 have done so with the knowledge that they will most likely deploy
into combat to Iraq, Afghanistan, or both. With this level of
volunteerism in a volatile world, is it justifiable to say that this
generation of Americans is any less deserving of esteem than previous
The plight of today's service member is better than that of one from the
1940s. In World War II there were no Gortex jackets for warmth, air
conditioned barracks, or text messaging to stay in contact with family.
Further, once inducted into service a young person from that generation
would probably not see their family for years in many cases. But,
today's generation has its own unique set of challenges to overcome.
These include: a cycle of multiple one-year deployments; hard training
between each deployment; and combat in extreme environments in Asia. The
young people who volunteer to do this are certainly special because
they do so with the knowledge that such hardships are part of their
Most of today's volunteers are under the age of 29 and they come from
every demographic of American society. They come from all 50 states and
our territories and at home were either former high school athletes or
couch potatoes playing video games. But, regardless of where they came
from or what they did at home, they volunteered to serve in a time of
war. The motivation behind volunteering might have been to have an
adventure, earn college money, see the world, or to do something above
satisfying self. Whatever the case, they came forward when the nation
needed them and have offered themselves as a potential sacrifice to meet
those needs. Volunteering in today's armed services is an act
deserving the highest order of respect.
One of these fine young people served in my battalion in Afghanistan in
2009. Sergeant Elijah J. Rao volunteered to serve in the Army in 2004.
His mother told me that he did this to ensure that the events of 9/11
would never again occur on American soil. Sergeant Rao became a field
artillery meteorological crew member in a field artillery battalion and
served a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq after enlisting. In 2008 our
battalion began preparations for a deployment to Afghanistan only weeks
after the unit returned from Iraq. This training took Sergeant Rao away
from his wife and child for weeks at a time as we readied for the Afghan
battlefield. The training included turning communicators, cooks,
artillerymen, and meteorological crewmen into infantrymen. The battalion
deployed in June 2009 and within the first several weeks was engaged in
firefights on multiple occasions with the Taliban. On the 5th of
December 2009 Sergeant Rao made the ultimate sacrifice in keeping our
nation safe when he was killed by an improvised explosive device while
patrolling with his platoon in western Nuristan Province, Afghanistan.
This sacrifice is worthy of the greatest honor and it has been replayed
over 6,000 times during the course of this conflict. Thus, Sergeant Rao
is representative of the New Greatest Generation.
Today's generation is a reflection of our society and services from
generations past. I remember in the 1980s having many Vietnam veterans
who trained and mentored me as I began my service to the nation. These
men were in turn trained by the heroes of World War II and Korea and
they inculcated a sense of duty in the next generation who wanted to
emulate the liberators of Europe and the Pacific. But, the 'Greatest
Generation' also had mentors who sprang from a generation of doughboys
that burst on the scene in Europe to end the tragedy of the Great War.
Before them was a generation of Civil War veterans who saved the Union
in the mid-19th century. This thread of tradition, service, and
sacrifice traces all the way back to the roots of our nation during the
American Revolution. Here a ragtag band of young people with a desire
for freedom came together to inaugurate a new nation. With their
sacrifices began a long line of future generations that answered the
call in war and performed with dignity and honor. Today's generation is
their legacy and that legacy has passed through each succeeding
generation to maintain service traditions and preserve our great nation.
Thus, today's service member is a reflection from a distant mirror of
This generation of American service members will pass on the precious
legacy they received to yet another new generation. That generation, I
am quite sure, will have ill words spoken of it denigrating their
values, work ethic, and dedication just as each previous generation.
Nevertheless, from today's service members and that future generation
will come tomorrow's teachers, civic leaders, youth coaches,
entrepreneurs, and statesmen. Inculcated with the values passed on from
previous generations they will ensure that America remains the greatest
nation on earth because it is a place of freedom with responsibility.
Our charter as the 'older' generation is to pass on the values and
traditions - i.e. the legacy - of our forebears so that they can carry
Today's young people are probably about the same as all previous
generations; they are immature and full of energy channeled in various
directions as we would expect all young people to be. Volunteering for
service to the nation is a crucible by which this and every other
generation proves its mettle. Today's service members have proven that
they are worthy of praise as much as any from the past. They will take
the mantle of leadership and become the standard bearers of tomorrow. We
must mentor them to reach their full potential for a bright future
rather than berating them for any shortcomings. If we do, then based on
the example of service today's young men and women have demonstrated,
they will earn the sobriquet of America's New Greatest Generation.