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Show what 'support our troops' really means

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We all support the troops, or so claim the forest of bumper stickers, yard signs, and even placards at demonstrations in defense of or against the war in Iraq. But in conducting interviews with veterans for a book on war leadership, I've noted a degree of wariness and cynicism about the chorus of praise for our soldiers, marines, flyers, and sailors.

One Vietnam vet said, "You watch: Another year, and people will be spitting on marines at the airport." A World War II vet noted, "Putting up a yellow ribbon [yard] sign is easy; but what are we really doing to support the troops?"

As a student of the way society views the military, I'm uncertain, too. Politicians, generals, and bureaucrats debate over compensation packages and death benefits for servicemen and women, and we should encourage our leaders to be as generous as possible. But something more is needed: personal gratitude expressed in small, everyday acts of support.

Call it "treat the troops." And it should not become a big institutionalized social movement, just something all of us do once in while.

I started my campaign two months ago when I was in a local toy store. A young man in an Army uniform was shopping for some toy cars, presumably for his kids. As he stepped up to the counter, I tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Let me take care of that."

He blinked. I asked the clerk to put his purchases on my bill. I shook the young man's hand and told him, "Thanks for serving your country."

We exchanged a few pleasantries and he left, Hot Wheels in hand. That was it. No big deal - or big cost. Just a token of thanks.

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