Foon Rhee

They enlisted, fought and died after 9/11. They should be honored.

Police and California Highway Patrol officers lead the funeral procession in Coronado in May 2016 for Navy SEAL Charles Humphrey Keating IV, killed in Iraq. A foundation led by former junior officers is seeking to build a memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to honor those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Police and California Highway Patrol officers lead the funeral procession in Coronado in May 2016 for Navy SEAL Charles Humphrey Keating IV, killed in Iraq. A foundation led by former junior officers is seeking to build a memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to honor those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP

Katharine Tripp doesn’t come from a military family, but after reading about West Point and visiting the Air Force Academy she wanted a different college experience.

Then terrorists struck America on Sept. 11, 2001. “It definitely resonated with me,” Tripp says. It solidified her goal to serve in the military before starting her career. She graduated from West Point in 2008 and spent five years as an Army intelligence officer, including a year in Iraq.

She’s part of that other 1 percent – Americans who volunteered for the military after 9/11. Now, she and other former junior officers are leading the charge for their generation’s own memorial on the National Mall. It’s an important symbol for them – and a big test for the rest of us of how much we value their service.

On Friday, the U.S. House subcommittee on federal lands held a hearing on a bill authorizing the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation to begin the process to establish the memorial. On Wednesday, Andrew Brennan, the nonprofit foundation’s founder and executive director, is to make his case to the Senate subcommittee on national parks.

“We’re making great progress so far,” says Tripp, who works for McKinsey & Co. in San Francisco and was asked to join the foundation board by Brennan, a friend since they were 18-year-old classmates at West Point.

In a Congress divided over health care and so much else, the memorial bill is getting bipartisan support.

Since H.R. 873 was introduced in April, it has drawn 139 co-sponsors of both parties. Among them are 13 from California, including Reps. Ami Bera, an Elk Grove Democrat, and Doug LaMalfa, a Richvale Republican. Whether they supported the Iraq war or not, other California representatives should back the bill to honor our state’s long, proud military history. The Senate version, S. 926, has 19 co-sponsors so far. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris of California plan to sign on, their offices told me Monday.

The legislation is also endorsed by major veterans’ groups, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Wounded Warrior Project. IAVA is calling on the leadership of both parties to make the bill a priority and send it to President Donald Trump’s desk.

Since politicians do love their photo ops, a bill signing around Nov. 11 – Veterans Day – would be timely and should be well within reach. That would be a huge first step, but the proposed memorial will have to overcome other potential hurdles.

Some may think the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is too crowded.

But these solemn memorials make sure America never forgets the heroism and sacrifice of our wars. So far, more than 4,500 Americans have died in Iraq, including 482 from California. Another 2,400 have died in Afghanistan, America’s longest war.

Or some might think it doesn’t make sense to build a memorial to a war that isn’t over. The bill waives a requirement that a war be officially ended for at least 10 years.

But the war on terror is different than conventional 20th century wars; it’s not against a government or about territory, and there’s no clear victory. Besides presidents and Pentagon generals – not soldiers – are the ones who decide to keep fighting.

Barack Obama vowed to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but ended up extending the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Last month, Trump gave the green light for 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan, on top of 8,400 Obama left, though the White House still doesn’t have a strategy. In March, Trump sent 300 troops to Iraq to help in the assault on Mosul and has given more flexibility to the Pentagon for troop levels, which had been limited to about 5,000.

If we wait until these missions are completely accomplished, it could be a very long time. Already, the memorial is going to be a long journey.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial took nearly three years from congressional authorization to its dedication in 1982. That process took nearly nine years for the Korean War Veterans Memorial, dedicated in 1995. The National Desert Storm War Memorial, for the 1990-91 Gulf War, was authorized in December 2014 and had its location approved in March.

Once the authorization bill is approved for the war on terror memorial, the foundation must get approval for the site and design. While design is just beginning, the foundation has outlined principles it wants reflected: endurance, sacrifice, all-volunteer, global, multicultural and unfinished. I’d suggest a couple of others: Because the Afghan war is the only time NATO’s mutual defense clause has been invoked, the memorial should honor the more than 1,000 NATO troops killed in Afghanistan. The design also must reflect the increasing role of women, who make up 15 percent of today’s military; more than 345,000 women have been deployed since 9/11.

Once design and location are set, then the Pittsburgh-based foundation must raise private money to build it, an estimated $25 million to $35 million. “Obviously, we would love to do fundraising in California,” Tripp says. Kathy Schlein, a prominent Silicon Valley investor, is among the business leaders who have joined the foundation’s advisory board.

IAVA is calling for a public-private partnership to pay for it. “America’s veterans should not be reduced to begging the general public for donations for a memorial that will serve not just the veteran community, but all Americans for generations to come,” its policy agenda says. Maybe a dollar-for-dollar match of federal money for private donations could kick-start the fundraising.

If all goes as planned, Tripp says the memorial’s dedication will be within five years, 10 at the most. She says it can be part of the healing process for those who returned home, and for the families of those who were lost. And the sooner it happens, the more veterans can be involved and visit.

“We don’t want to let the decades go past,” she says.

Most of us didn’t have to think about risking our lives; we just had to keep shopping and traveling so the terrorists wouldn’t win. To honor the service of those who fought and died, a memorial is the least we can do.

Foon Rhee: 916-321-1913, @foonrhee