For several years now, my office has made a concerted effort to capture and preserve the memories of Arkansas’s war veterans for inclusion in the Library of Congress’s Veteran History Project (VHP). Not only is it a great way to honor their service and commitment to our country, but it is a valuable educational tool for future generations. We can learn a great deal about what life in a war zone is like through the stories collected by the VHP, and those stories can inform the decisions we make for the future.
Here’s a perfect example. My office had the honor of interviewing Lt. Col. (retired) Karen King-Johnson of Hot Springs about her service in Vietnam. As the Command Information Officer for the U.S. Army in Vietnam, her role included making sure that every unit received news material, including a copy of Stars & Stripes.
Stars and Stripes, the newspaper written for America’s servicemembers about the military community in which they serve, dates back to the Civil War. It is a main source of news for the men and women of our Armed Forces who are serving overseas. Throughout its storied history, the newspaper has relayed vital information, provided much-needed morale boosts and offered a connection to home for our deployed servicemembers.
During her VHP interview, Ms. King-Johnson noted just how important the newspaper was to troops serving in Vietnam.
“Stars and Stripes was a big deal over there,” she said. “Our mission was that you’re going to get one free copy of Stars and Stripes for every five soldiers. If there were five soldiers under a tree, it was our job to find where those soldiers were to make sure they had Stars and Stripes.”
Unfortunately, the future of Stars and Stripes is uncertain. While editorially independent from the Pentagon, the newspaper is reliant on Department of Defense (DoD) funding. This year’s budget request eliminated financial support for the paper.
The publisher of Stars and Stripes says the paper will not survive past the first quarter of the next fiscal year if funding is not renewed. This financial backing is essential even to a web-only product, but reducing Stars and Stripes to simply an online outlet is not an option. While it delivers news and information through a variety of means, the print product is still vital as internet access is unavailable, or connectivity is too poor, in many places where troops are stationed.
Stars and Stripes serves as a lifeline for troops to stay up-to-date about what is happening where they are deployed, back home and in Washington, D.C., where policies that affect them are crafted. There is no publication that replicates what its reporters have done for decades by living in the areas where troops are stationed, understanding the environment and reporting from a perspective of how the stories affect service members and their families. Morale and readiness are enhanced with a well-informed force that has access to reliable, independent reporting and the confidence that DoD leadership is held accountable for their actions through a free press.
We do need to make difficult decisions in order to rein in spending. Ensuring funding for Stars and Stripes is not one. Protecting this valuable service for our men and women in uniform is the right thing to do.