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September/October Issue

red star bulletThe Veteran Departments : Featured Stories / Letters / President's Message / VVAF Report / Government Relations / Ask The Parliamentarian / Veterans Benefits Update / Membership Affairs Committee Report / Legislators View / ETABO Committee Report / PTSD Substance Abuse Comittee Report / TAPS / Region 7 Report / AVVA Report / SHAD/Project 112 Task Force Report / Veterans Against Drugs Task Force Report / VetsConnect Report / Homeless Veterans Task Force Report / Women Veterans Committee Report / Arts of War / Book Review / Membership Notes / Chapter of The Year / Locator / Reunions

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Keynote Speech

I’ve had the privilege to meet presidents, congressmen, and CEOs of corporations. I stand not humbled before any of them. But I stand before you humbled. I stand before that black flag humbled. I stand before that black wall in Washington humbled beyond anything I can think.

A Vietnam veteran said that in this wonderful world in which we operate those seriously wounded on the battlefield get on a helicopter and disappear into this mysterious military medical system. And he said, “What can we do for them?” and I suggested, “Why don’t we raise their compensation to $100,000?” All they had to do was think about it, and the politicians came to them and said, “Don’t make any stink. We’ll raise it to $100,000.”

Elected officials are my employees, your employees. We don’t work for them, they work for us. I was in China. I was supposed to teach a 25-hour seminar on real estate development to sixty Chinese. They turned out to be military officers, one third of them women. They were being sent out into the private sector to get rich so that when they came back to the military they’d never leave. I was supposed to teach about real estate development.

I arrived and the lady said, “Can you teach about leadership?” I said, “All right, 24 hours of real estate development.” She said, “How about 24 hours on leadership?” I said, “What the hell, I’ll try that.”

I started talking about the elements of leadership that I learned not from officers, but from the men I had the privilege of serving with. I talked about integrity, and I looked around the room and it was blank. Little did I know that the Chinese don’t have a word for integrity. It took four hours to convey that thought.

Then I taught them about confidence: that you have to know what you are doing in order to lead. I said, “You have to have the confidence to stand up and say, ‘Follow me,’ not ‘Let me follow.’ You have to have compassion, because you’re not leading machines, you’re leading human beings.”

I told them a story of a reserve Special Forces medic who went to Afghanistan. The first time he saw the savagery of combat, the blood, he fainted, and he broke down. The military said “Court martial.” So they got him back to the States. The old sergeant came up to him and hugged him. Said, “Son, war is hell.” And the kid said, “I just want to go back. I want to go back and help.” The sergeant hugged him again and intervened. The kid went back, and he performed beyond anything. He learned from our war: He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

The last aspect of leadership is humility. You quietly hope that you can comfort the families of those who pay the ultimate price. You quietly hope that you have the wherewithal to honor the contract you promised those who raised their right hands. To have the humility to understand that you have been given the privilege of employment by the people of this country.

A person in the audience asked, “Mr. Bucha, now that we understand integrity, I’ve read in the newspapers that people are accusing your president of having not told the truth. What do you say?” I probably don’t think he told the truth. And he said, “How can an American come to China and criticize your leadership?”

I said, “That is an interesting question. If you were to come to my country and criticize your leadership, I think you would be afraid. The beauty of my nation is that, as an American, I am the employer of my leader. He, as my employee, is entitled to my truthful evaluation of his performance. That is the greatness of America. That is the difference between my country and yours.” The professor next to me said, “I hope that was recorded as all things in this university are.” My wife said, “Well done.” All I could think was, “I hope somebody in the United States doesn’t hear that recording.”

How did we come home? I remember getting on a plane. None of my men were with me but I was gathered with 220 others. Everybody looked dirty and scruffy because that’s what we were. No one wearing medals, everybody’s hair too long. Boots not shined. When they said, “You’re about to land at Travis Air Force Base,” all of a sudden the medals came out, the boots were wiped, the hair was tucked back: They were proud soldiers.

We were processed and put on busses and sent to an airfield. If we went to the airport, we stood in line only to be pushed out of the way by some businessman. We came back, and we built a wall and had a parade, and we said we would not let that happen again. And it happened.

Except one thing different now is that we take two steps and stand up and applaud.
We had a war in which we said, if you cannot see the injury, don’t discount the valor. We knew that one year in combat—one year out and one year in—did not work. It first manifested itself by violence within the combat zone. “They’d cracked,” or “They were draftees,” they said. “Lower standards—it’s not our fault.” Then all of a sudden, there was inexplicable violence at home, out of the combat field. And they said, “They’re just those Vietnam vets.” And then the last phase is the inexplicable suicide. And then they said, “Well, maybe there is PTSD.” But one year in and one year out was not right. We knew it; we proved it.

The official Army policy is three to one—one year in, three years out. When the inexplicable act of violence occurs, the civilian who never wore a uniform said “Murderer.” Why is it my unit, the Hundred and First; why is it the Marine Corps; why is it the National Guard, as well as the active duty?

You are the leaders of our group. You are my leaders, and I am here to do what you ask of me. When we leave here, I beg of you: Rekindle that flame we had when we got angry. Rekindle that flame that got a million people marching down the streets of New York, that built what some call the gash of shame in Washington that is the most popular monument and the most moving place in this country.

That black wall is our conscience. We built it for ourselves and for those on it. We cannot just come together, clap hands, and say, “Aren’t we great?” We are in war, and it’s a war that is repeating exactly what happened to us. We may not allow—and we can’t allow—some politician some day to say, “I changed my mind. Come home.” If they can’t figure what it is they are there to do, bring them home—not because you changed your mind. If you can’t give them everything they deserve while they are there, bring them home. We are the ones who must challenge them. We must. Because this group of Americans in New York, they expanded throughout the country inspired by you. They raised the widows’ compensation, they raised the disability compensation, and then they said, “This war, like your war, is bringing home tens of thousands of amputees.”

They listen to a Congress that is so cynical that it voted for a $20 million rehab center to be built at Walter Reed. Congress appropriated $10 million. Not $20 million. And they didn’t tell us the base they had picked was being closed, so they can save that $10 million. This center must not be only for the active duty and returned. This center also must be for the veterans.

We can change this world. We are in a position of leadership. We have to have the confidence to say, “Follow me,” not “Let me follow you.” When you go to that wall in Washington, do as I do. I look for the names of my ten men. I touch their names, and I realize how insignificant I am and how totally irrelevant the challenges I face each day truly are. I ask those ten guys, “What would you do to take my place? What would you give to change places with me? Would you be too busy to attend a Memorial Day parade? Would you be too busy on the Fourth of July to take a moment to remember those who died? Would it be too expensive to join VVA and sit with your brothers and sisters? Would it be too difficult to go out and vote in the primary? Would it be too difficult to stand in front of an audience and say to the person speaking, ‘Just one minute. Explain yourself.’”

Think about it: What would they give to have what we have? Would they bitch about traffic? Would they worry about their mortgage payment being late? They would reach up from the very ground they’re buried in and say, “Thank God, I’m alive.”

Demand that others understand the sacrifices those men on The Wall have made. It is from them that we receive our inspiration. It is from them we received our obligation, and it’s for them the statement “Never again” originated. If you are too busy and do not care, take off your pins and step aside.

When I left the service, my father came to visit me at West Point. I was teaching. After a week he said, “Can I ask you what you are?” I said, “Dad, I’m a Captain of Infantry.” He said, “Like hell. I’ve been in this Army almost 30 years, and I’ve seen a lot of people like you. Nine-to-five soldiers. If you are a Captain of Infantry 24 hours a day you are worried about your troops. I’ve been here one week. And you haven’t mentioned soldiers once.”

He said, “You go upstairs, look at that uniform, and take it off. You let a better man take your place. My Army can’t afford someone who doesn’t care.”

I went upstairs, cried my heart out, and resigned the next day. I will try to earn—not my father’s respect—but the respect of the men around me. It is on behalf of them that I come here and beg you: Stand up for them. Stand up for the contract you made, for this nation. Stand up for the young kids fighting this war and their families who are being treated just as we were treated. Stand up against the politicians who think a yellow sticker on the ass of their car and a flag pin on their lapel makes them a patriot.

Stand up for the kids who wear the uniform of this country. Don’t be like me, a lesser man than my father wanted as a son.

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