Memorial Day With Tod Theise
We first ran into Tod Theise, the progressive New Jersey Democrat running against corporate shill Scott Garrett, when he did a guest post here a few weeks ago about the personal odyssey that brought him to the Democratic Party. When I first met Tod he talked a lot and with great enthusiasm about his service in the New York Guard and what it meant to him. I invited him back today for another guest post and I asked him to talk about how his service will make him a more valuable congressman for people living in Bergen, Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties. Here's his guest post. If you like what you read, please consider helping him get his message out in one of the nation's most expensive media markets.
Republicans May Not Like Empathy But There Are Times When It Is Essential-- A Guest Post By Tod Theise
My military service best falls under the heading better late than never. I had hoped to enter the Army or Marine Corps after college but acquiesced to my parents’ wishes to attend law school. It meant a great deal to them as I would be the first “professional” in our family. Upon graduating law school in 1987, I once again flirted with entering the military. Unfortunately, my father suffered a massive heart attack that summer and I opted to take care of my family. Two decades later, I would be given another chance to give something back to my country as a soldier.
In January 2007, I was commissioned into the New York Guard (the “Guard”) as a 1st Lieutenant. The Guard was created during WWI in response to homeland security concerns. The prospect of German U-boats surfacing off the shores of Long Island and Brooklyn were enough to have the State of New York charter what amounted to a State Militia. The Guard allowed men and women such as me who were too old to serve in the “regular” armed forces an opportunity to participate in domestic defense initiatives.
I had initially attempted to enter the Guard in 2004, but the particular unit I was applying through made errors with my paperwork. I was frustrated, yet never gave up the dream I harbored since childhood. In 2006, I reconnected with the Guard through a fellow attorney who served as recruitment coordinator for the 7th Civil Affairs Regiment. I told my wife that I wanted to join and explained the nature of and duties inherent in the Guard. I also told her how much this meant to me. With her blessing, I entered the Guard.
My unit is a remarkable collection of men and women. Our personnel include Judges, partners at major New York law firms, attorneys from various backgrounds and non-professionals who bring myriad experiences to bear in performing their duties. We receive no compensation for our service and provide anywhere from $300,000 to $400,000 in legal services to soldiers and their families every year. We also receive training in numerous areas of homeland defense. I have received certifications in suicide bombing prevention and response along with completing nearly a dozen learning modules in emergency preparedness. I have also been trained at a very basic level in dealing with weapons of mass destruction.
This training is critical given that I and my comrades are first and foremost soldiers. The fact that I work just a few blocks from Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan brings a sense of immediacy to my service. My BDUs (battle dress uniform) often hang in my office and I have made my peace that in the event we are attacked again, I will put them on and do whatever is necessary to protect our nation and save as many lives as possible.
My tenure in the Guard has had an indelible impact on how I view not only war, but peace. When my unit travels to Fort Hamilton, Floyd Bennett Field or some other military facility to perform what we affectionately refer to as “will drills,” we are confronted with a reality most Americans never witness. It is a sobering experience to sit down with a young man or woman to discuss things like the disposition of their remains or draft a health care proxy in the event they return from Iraq or Afghanistan incapable of making decisions regarding medical care. It is heart rending to make small talk with a twenty-year-old about how he wants his kid brother to get his prized hot rod if he doesn’t make it back. Even more difficult is addressing issues involving children and what happens to them when mommy or daddy comes home in a flag-draped casket.
Our soldiers are not action movie characters or cartoonish fodder for our entertainment. They are flesh and blood. They are our brothers and sisters. They are our sons and daughters. They have precious dreams that they sacrificially defer in order to preserve our liberties. I often find myself looking for a quiet place amidst the frenzy of our legal services operation to bow my head, say a prayer and shed some tears at the prospect that some of these soldiers will not be coming home or that their lives will be forever changed by the hell that is war. That their families will sit down for Christmas dinners to come with an empty place setting that will never be filled. That their children will grow up never knowing their mothers or fathers. That they will leave a piece of their soul in an Iraqi desert or Afghani mountain range.
Sending servicemen and women into the line of fire is the most solemn decision any elected official will ever make. Before such a decision is made, it is incumbent upon those in power to consider exactly what they are placing at risk. I subscribe to a very simple standard for whether to commit troops to the field-- would I send my own son or daughter to fight. Most politicians could not answer this question in the affirmative. Yet they wrap themselves in the flag and reflexively send other people’s children across the globe to fight for causes not worthy of their own progeny’s blood. I hope there is a special corner of hell carved out for these hypocrites.
My service in the Guard has, more than anything, taught me to value our troops at a very human level. I pray on this Memorial Day that I never discount who they are for the sake of political expedience.