An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Display
Commentary | Nov. 8, 2007

Why We Serve

By Brig. Gen. Mike McClendon Commander, AF Global Cyberspace Integration Center

I would like to give you something - two things in fact. Everyone likes to get something, and I suspect you are no different. I want to give you information and a perspective. Hopefully, the information will lead you to the perspective yourself. Both are important and relevant because the stakes are the American way of life as we have known it.

From all branches of our military, American servicemembers are increasingly involved in the Global War on Terrorism. In the military, we have coined a phrase for it - GWOT. More than 1,500 men and women have recently given their lives in this war. Yet, the American public remains misinformed and truly unaware of the war we're fighting. Some think it is a war against Iraqi insurgents, a war for oil or even a manufactured conflict to achieve personal political goals. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There's also confusion about when this war began. Popular answers are the invasion of Iraq, in February of 2003, or with the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan shortly after 9-11. I guess most say it began with the second bombing of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon Sept. 11, 2001.

In fact, this war began almost 30 years ago, with the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1979 and the capture of 70 hostages, of which 52 were subsequently held for 444 days. The attack was fomented by radical Islamic terrorists' intent on destroying the influence of the West, characterized by the United States of America. They coined the phrase "the Great Satan" epitomizing all they saw wrong with America and our way of life.

They took exception to short skirts, public displays of affection, films and music that offended; women in the workplace and differing styles of worship, or not worshiping at all. Granted that some expressions of our freedom were excessive, but that's exactly the point: Freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom of thought and freedom to do and be who your heart calls you to be is what you get when you have a whole country that is truly free.

Radical Islamic terrorists reached out to strike their first blow in 1979. It was followed by a second blow in 1983, four years later, when more Islamic terrorists blew up the Marine barracks in Lebanon, killing or injuring 24 U.S. servicemembers; a direct, deliberate attack against the United States of America. Five years later, in 1988, Islamic terrorists sponsored by Libya blew up PanAm's flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. PanAm was an American flag carrier, meaning it literally had the American flag on the tail of the aircraft. A symbolic strike against the United States, this act indiscriminately killed 270 innocent men, women and children from 21 different countries.

One of the defining characteristics of a terrorist versus a combatant, is who they target. Combatants wear uniforms and target soldiers of opposing military forces. Terrorists wear civilian clothes and target civilians. Their goal is not just to kill, but to create terror by the indiscriminant, vicious, violent, destructive deaths of random, innocent victims.

The war of terror continued in 1993, again five years later, with the first attack against the World Trade Center. New York's World Trade Center was an especially appealing target as it symbolized, in the eyes of radical Islamic terrorists, all that was wrong with the United States; materialism, commercialism, world status and leadership - located in the highest concentration of Jewish population in America.

The pace quickened for the next attack, in 1996, only three years later. Nineteen more U.S. servicemembers died in the bombing of the Khobar Towers in a Saudi Arabian military community. Accelerating the pace, only two years elapsed before U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dares Salaam, Tanzania were simultaneously bombed in 1998. Simultaneous bombings in separate countries evidenced a step up in complexity and boldness on the part of radical Islamic terrorists.

Another short two years elapsed when, in 2000, the USS Cole was bombed in port in Aden, Yemen. Although nearly sinking the U.S. warship, only 17 sailors lost their lives, and the ship was saved. One year later, in 2001, radical Islamic terrorists kicked it up several notches with simultaneous hijackings of four U.S. flag-carrying airliners and the total destruction of both World Trade Center towers in New York, an attack on the Pentagon and a thwarted attack against the U.S. capitol. More than 3,000 innocent, random victims lost their lives.

Do you notice the pattern of escalating terrorist attacks and decreasing intervals between attacks? Five years, five years, three years, two years, two years then one year.

Since 9-11, how many terrorist attacks has America suffered? Since the United States declared war on terrorists, how many attacks have we endured? Who says we aren't winning the war on terrorism? Our servicemembers have taken the war on terror to the terrorists. Instead of conducting the next attack on U.S. soil, radical Islamic terrorists are hiding in holes in the ground in the mountains of Afghanistan or hiding from American military forces in Iraq cities. And, because of the leadership of our commander in chief, military forces from many partner nations have joined the United States to truly make it a Global War on Terror.

But this interim victory has come at a price, as does all freedom. America's armed forces are stretched thin. Our equipment has aged prematurely and our troops have been in continuous combat engagements for more than 17 years - longer than any war in the history of our country. More than 5,000 lives have been lost.

We are at war. Our enemy is radical Islamic terrorism. That is my first point. My second point will be more brief - but more important.

Our enemy's goal is the complete and total destruction of America, of our way of life and of freedom. Make no mistake about it - this enemy, unlike any we have faced in the history of our nation, is committed to murder and destruction on the largest possible scale it can achieve, including nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical war. Even when facing the USSR during the cold war, rationalism prevailed. They had the capability, but reason prevented either side from initiating the horror and worldwide destruction that can only be imagined.

Not so with radical Islamic terrorists. Although they currently do not have weapon of mass destruction capability, they are aggressively trying to obtain limited offensive capability with WMD. Though the odds are against them, it only takes one suitcase-sized tactical nuclear device smuggled into New York's Wall Street to wreck havoc on a global scale. Can you imagine Manhattan Island being radioactive for 200 years?

Radical Islamic terrorists have the motivation and commitment to destroy our way of life. Fortunately, they currently lack the ability. However, all that stands in their way are the dedicated volunteers of the U.S. military. But those volunteers need the support of the American public. Everyone needs to fully understand the depth and magnitude of the dangers we face as a nation. Radical Islamic terrorism is not content for the US just to leave the mid-east. Their oft stated goal is the destruction of the "infidel" - people groups who don't share their rigid, dogmatic belief system.

We are at war with radical Islamic terrorists who are committed to the destruction of Western civilization. It is a real war with higher stakes than any of us have faced in our lifetimes. And this Global War on Terror requires the outspoken support of the American people.

I ask each of you to be a faithful advocate in your community. Carry the message. Encourage the American public not to underestimate the challenges ahead, nor the dangers of ignoring global radical Islamic terrorism.