Ask Navy corpsman Adam Shepherd what he wants Americans to know about his service in Iraq and he says it boils down to one thing. "Just don't forget that we sacrificed a lot to be out here," says the medic, stationed at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq.
It's a sentiment that many servicemen and women express. Five years after President Bush declared war on Islamic extremism, the military has lost 3,599 troops and spent $503 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet unlike past wars, even unpopular ones, most Americans have contributed little directly. Tire and paper drives of World War II are a dim memory. An increasingly narrow slice of the population serves in the military.
Now, a growing number of observers question whether Americans should make some kind of sacrifice for what Bush himself calls the "decisive ideological struggle of our time." Despite the billions spent on defense, which represents 4 percent of the gross domestic product, many inside the administration and conservatives outside it believe it's time to spend more. But raising defense spending at a time when Americans are frustrated with the Iraq war is problematic. It also raises questions for the growing number of Americans who don't support the president's war strategy. So what should citizens do – if anything – to support US troops?
Aside from sending care packages or volunteering to help those in uniform, Americans seem to have no ready answers.
All this comes at a time when lawmakers, analysts, and many current and former military officials blame Bush for failing to mobilize the nation by calling on Americans to join the military or creating national service programs or even raising additional resources to help pay for the war effort. Instead, he has doled out tax cuts and suggested Americans can be true patriots by keeping the economy going strong.
Says one retired general: "Marines are at war, America is at the mall."