State Rep. Doug Collins, who in January returned from a tour in Iraq, told Kiwanis International members on Tuesday that governments will have to start preparing now to support veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We can’t fight war on the cheap," Collins said.
At the civic club’s meeting Tuesday, Collins shared with Gainesville Kiwanis members some of the experiences he had during a four-month tour of duty as a chaplain with a U.S. Air Force Reserves unit in Balad, Iraq.
Collins said he was concerned that with such a small percentage of Americans serving in the U.S. armed forces, soldiers were deploying to the war zone multiple times.
He said soldiers who return from Iraq and Afghanistan stay home about one year before preparing to return to the war zone again. Communities will have to start planning for the long-term effects that multiple tours of duty will undoubtedly have on their returned soldiers, Collins said. He spoke of the humanity of soldiers, mentioning a fellow soldier who left her 9-month-old baby behind to go to the war zone and another who watched the birth of his first child over the Internet.
Collins told Kiwanis members that the soldiers he served with were having to ration their ammunition and the U.S. Army was experiencing its highest suicide rates in history. He said the government has a role in taking care of soldiers during and after their terms of service with the nation’s armed forces.
"When the commander in chief decides to go to war, it’s the responsibility of this country from there on out to take care of these people," Collins said. "It shouldn’t be that they have to beg."
Collins said when he left Iraq in January, a fellow soldier told him to remind people at home about the job Americans were doing in Iraq.
"‘Go back and tell them, No. 1, you may not read about us, but we’re over here doing the job,’" Collins recalled.
Collins returned to the state General Assembly just days after he returned from his four months in Iraq, but he said memories of his time in Iraq have not left him. Collins warned that the war in Afghanistan was about to "explode even bigger."
"Now, five months into it, I am beginning to deal, not in a bad way but in an honest way with what I went through," Collins said.
Collins, who as a chaplain did not carry a gun in Iraq, compared his time in the war zone to his two terms of service in the state legislature.
"In Atlanta, I can shoot back," Collins said.