Another Memorial Day has come and gone and, along with it, comes another report from the family of a service member who was killed in action about encountering a man in civilian clothes at Arlington National Cemetery. Calling himself Dave, the man talked to a Gold Star spouse for a bit, then moved on.
The wife of the fallen service member had no idea she was talking to Gen. David Goldfein, the 21st Chief of Staff of the Air Force.
She only found out because her friend noticed the coin that "Dave" left on the headstone of her husband — the coin of his office. She posted the story on social media some time later, which was confirmed by the popular Air Force Facebook page Air Force amn/nco/snco.
That's the kind of person General Goldfein is. This isn't an isolated incident. On Memorial Day 2017, an airman at Arlington spotted a man in his dress blues walking among the graves at Section 60 — the resting place for those who fell in Iraq or Afghanistan — putting his hand on each for a moment of reflection.
When he reached a sobbing widow, he embraced her and talked to her for a while. It was General Goldfein. The post also appeared on Air Force amn/nco/snco.
I guess he tried to go more incognito in 2018 by wearing civvies, but was still recognized.(Facebook photo by Cody Stollings)
Cody Stollings, the airman who recognized Gen. Goldfein, introduced himself and talked to the general for a bit. It turns out General Goldfein keeps the names of every airman who is killed under his command in a book. Each year, he visits them at Arlington to pay his respects.
For many Americans, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Niger, and Somalia have become a fact of life. When news about OIF, OEF, OAE, or OIR hits, no one really listens anymore. The acronyms change, but everything else stays the same. This is the cost of endless war. Andrew Bacevich, a historian and retired colonel whose son died in Iraq, said it best,
"A collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America."
Bacevich has also noted that those who aren't serving in the U.S. military are encouraged to support the troops, but no one ever "stipulates how this civic function is to be performed."
Those in charge of prosecuting the wars, however, should find it relatively easy to support the troops — by reaching their objective and bringing those troops home. But the Chiefs of Staff don't hold that kind of command authority. They're in an advisory position for the National Security Council.
In case we forgot who is on that council.
In a time where the War in Afghanistan seems like it will never end and new hot spots seem to pop up all the time, it's good to know the Air Force has someone at the top who's seen and fought in war and knows that the people who die fighting them are more than numbers on a PowerPoint slide.
It's nice to know that someone at the top really gives a shit.