I am beginning to wonder if the American public thinks former President Bush went ahead and brought home all 140,000 troops from Iraq as an inaugural gift for President Obama (you know, so Obama wouldn’t have to trouble himself with it) or if they simply forgot we were still there.  Then again, considering the precipitous drop in media coverage of the war in Iraq (the war in Afghanistan was always under-covered in my opinion), who knows what most Americans think is going on in Iraq now.

For example, according to a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Iraq composed 23 percent of network news stories in the first 10 weeks of 2007 but only three percent during that same period in 2008.  For cable networks, it dropped from 24 percent to one percent. Conventional wisdom is that the American public has “lost interest” in the war.  I find this troubling.  If media coverage is the measure of American interest, we were never particularly interested in the war in Afghanistan and that was the source of the terrorist attacks that led to where we are today.

This lack of coverage—excuse me, “interest”–to date has reached a new low.  On 26 January, there was a mid-air collision between two Kiowa helicopters outside of Kirkuk, Iraq, at approximately 2:15 AM.  The collision resulted in the death of all four pilots—one of whom was the husband of a friend of mine.   My friend and her husband were happily married for many years and had several children together.   At 7 AM the following day, my friend was informed that the man she had spent nearly half of her life loving had died.  At 7 AM, she went from being an Army wife to an Army widow; as did, potentially, three other spouses when those helicopters hit one another.

Meanwhile, aviation spouses around the country came together to support her, clicking closing ranks around her.   Many are making plans to go visit her, coming from all parts of the country to where she is.    Collectively, our hearts are breaking—not only for her loss, but for the losses sustained by all four families.  The day after we learned of the collision, most of us remained somber, unable to shake the sadness of losing so many of our own in one night.  This collision, like all crashes, was an unasked for and costly reminder of the dangers our loved ones face, and of the emotional Russian roulette we unwittingly play every time we know our soldier is going to fly:  it was her husband today, it could be mine tomorrow.

Although this was the deadliest “incident” in Iraq for U.S. soldiers in four months and resulted in the loss of multi-million dollar airframes and soldiers whom the military had invested millions of dollars to recruit, promote, train, retain, and deploy, it did not grace the front page of any major news site after two PM CST Monday.   This life changing event for these four families was relegated to the Iraq war page on CNN’s, MSNBC’s, and yes, even FOX News’ websites.  After looking for coverage of this collision, I went back and looked to see if any of these three sites had a single story on their main pages about the war in Iraq OR Afghanistan at all.  None did.

Words get used like “war fatigue” to describe the American public and its waning interest.  Americans are tired of hearing about war so if the media covers it (or so the logic goes), viewers or readers will tune out and/or go elsewhere for their news.  Evidently, men and women dying overseas while carrying out our government’s foreign policy just got old.

War fatigue is a luxury not afforded the military community.  Those four pilots volunteered to serve this country and their families supported this service.  When we choose to love and support our servicemembers, we forego the ability to experience “war fatigue.”  Quite the opposite, we unwittingly facilitate this luxury for others by keeping the specter of a draft at bay as these wars grind on.  In fact, I find it more than a little ironic that voluntary service, which protects Americans from having to face being sent to war involuntarily, seems to be appreciated less by our nation, as opposed to more.  Instead, it leads to apathy and “war fatigue.”  I wonder if those who don’t feel like thinking about these wars realize why they are able to do so?

On behalf of every deployed servicemember as I write this—and on behalf of the families who love and support them—I would like to say to the American public, “your welcome.”

Carissa Picard is a freelance writer whose husband is a medevac pilot currently serving in Iraq.  

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