Georgia’s National Guard members are true heroes

Published 3:00 pm Friday, October 5, 2018

You want to talk about heroes? They are not a bunch of irrelevant overpaid knee jerk professional athletes who don’t like their country and do little to improve it, just criticize it. Twenty years from now, they will likely be jelly-brained from banging into each other and drooling their oatmeal. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving group of faux-gladiators.

No, the real heroes are the men and women of Georgia’s National Guard, 11,000 strong. As you read this, some 2,200 members of the Guard’s 48th Brigade Combat Team are making preparations to leave for one of the most dangerous pieces of real estate on Earth — Afghanistan. I know it may be asking too much but I wish they would take a couple of the knee jerks with them and leave them on the side of the road. Let’s see how long they would kneel.

It was exactly at this time 11 years ago that I was embedded with a previous iteration of the 48th BCT in another garden spot — Iraq. More specifically, an area southwest of Baghdad, appropriately dubbed “The Triangle of Death.” That group was under the command of a Great American, Gen. Stewart Rodeheaver, now living in Putnam County.

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Bill Stewart, another Great American from Brunswick, had mentioned to the general that it might be a good idea to invite me over to see first-hand what was going on there. Rodeheaver had once worked for Stewart who had been Georgia Sen. Mack Mattingly’s chief of staff.

I was told by some veteran news people that it would not be worth my while to go. Handlers would be sure to keep me in the safe zones and away from the real action and feed me press releases. Being the naïf I am, I emailed the general and told him that if that was the case, I wasn’t coming. He wrote me back immediately to say I was free to go wherever I wanted and talk to whomever I wanted.

I took him up on his offer and because I insisted on riding with the troops one day in a caravan of Humvees on a search for IEDs (improvised explosive devices), I almost got myself blown up. No one to blame but me. When I showed up to request a ride, it was suggested I get in one of the back vehicles because the first one was the most likely to be a target of the bad guys. Uh-uh. I was going to ride in the first one because the general had said I could go wherever I wanted, blah, blah, blah.

They really didn’t have time to listen to this puffed-up media maven, so they said get in and let’s go. Of course, we hit an IED 15 minutes into our trip. It was very close to being my first and last one. For the troops, it was just another day at the office. For me, it was a frightening experience. I have a photo of the bomb hole (about the size of a kitchen table) hanging in my home as proof that I should listen to those in the know and save the blah, blah, blah for politicians and bureaucrats.

One of my prized possessions is the official flag of the 48th Brigade Combat Team, presented to me when I returned. Those flags are not lightly given and I take it as a great honor that they considered me one of them, if only for a short while.

I made one serious journalistic faux pas in a column describing members of the 48th Brigade as not being “professional soldiers.” Whoa. That was poorly written and poorly received, as it should have been. They are professional soldiers in every sense of the word.

What I meant to say was that these brave souls are more than soldiers. When not putting their lives on the line for us in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and when not dealing with life-threatening natural disasters back home, these Georgians are schoolteachers, truck drivers, nurses and doctors, prison guards, mechanics, attorneys, police officers and the like.

They are also selfless. They leave their homes and jobs and families throughout Georgia and go off to one of the most dangerous parts of the world, trying to help bring a little stability to a region in bad need of it.

Most of all, they are what the publicity seeking knee jerks are not. They are heroes. True American heroes. God bless them, one and all.