Friday, August 22, 2003

I'm not sure how widespread this is, but even isolated incidents should tell us something.

A Marine who had told authorities he had been shot while trying to help a stranded motorist has now admitted that he shot himself to avoid being shipped overseas.

The Anoka County sheriff's department said Wednesday that Adam Welter, 20, acknowledged the gunshot wound was self-inflicted. He was treated and released from a hospital Monday.

Welter was reportedly scheduled to ship out for Hawaii that day. He called an investigator Tuesday to take responsibility, said Capt. Robert Aldrich, a sheriff's department spokesman.

"He was extremely remorseful for this and the commotion he caused," Aldrich said. "I don't think he anticipated it would become as large a story as it did."

This story doesn't make a direct connection to Iraq or Afghanistan, and it doesn't have to. People will probably make that leap on their own. But to me that's not the main point. Three things stand out to me:

--The age of the man, 20.

--The fact that he wasn't being shipped to the Middle East but to Hawaii.

--The calculated risk of trying to injure yourself without killing yourself.

My biggest complaint about the military is that for so many young men and women it's the only place to go if you don't have money or opportunity but are looking for a way out. And when you're 18 it's always easier to see the benefits before the consequences. I keep thinking of people who collapsed under the pressure of college that first or second year because they weren't mentally prepared to simply make their own decisions. How do you mentally prepare for service and possible combat?

I remember toying with idea of joining Peace Corps and rejecting it because it was too daunting to face two years away from friends and family in extreme conditions. I don't consider myself any weaker for it. It's a lot to ask of a person.

We have a right to expect a lot of the Marines and other members of the armed forces. But how much do we understand what they face, even during times of peace? How ready were we to be on our own at 20?

UPDATE: I feel like I make this point alot, and this post was written hastily and not very well. But it bothers me, especially having family members nearly the same age as Walter serving in various parts of the military. And when the pro-war crowd gets all dewy eyed over our men and women overseas, I want to kick'em in the teeth for being such short-sighted hypocrites.

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