It is a non-negotiable contract. Soldiers, sailors, airmen or marines can't pick and choose the war they want to fight in. If given the order to fight, they must do so or face the consequences.
At the same time, those soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are putting their faith and trust in this nation's leaders. They must trust that they will not be sent into harm's way unless it absolutely necessary for the safety and security of the nation.
Did the U.S. invasion of Iraq meet this test? The argument continues to rage, but we know now that virtually every rationale for the invasion put forth by the Bush administration was a lie.
Today, our troops are caught in the middle of a civil war in Iraq . More than 100 soldiers have died in October in Iraq, the bloodiest month this year for U.S. forces. There are no immediate plans for American forces to leave, and no discernible exit strategy.
Is it any wonder that the people who are being asked to fight this war are starting to have second thoughts?
Several antiwar groups - including Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans For Peace and Military Families Speak Out - have started a campaign to ask active duty, reserve and National Guard service members to petition Congress to urge an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The "appeal for redress" is the legal means for those on duty to communicate to their representatives in Congress. The goal is to collect thousands of signatures to present to Congress on Martin Luther King Day in January.
This is not a new idea. During the Vietnam War, more than 250,000 active duty service members appealed to Congress to end that war and bring the troops home. Their example inspired this generation's dissenters to speak out.
The wording of the appeal for redress is simple and respectful: "As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home."
Hundreds of U.S. troops have signed this appeal, and some of them went public with their protest last week.
Naturally, the right-wing screech monkeys who still support the war are attacking their patriotism. Fox News Channel has claimed that MoveOn.org organized the campaign and duped the troops into an election-eve publicity stunt.
This is completely untrue. MoveOn has nothing to do with this campaign. The only thing they have in common with one of the groups involved in the campaign - Military Families Speak Out - is the same Washington-based public relations firm, Fenton Communications.
Other right-wingers call the appeal for redress movement a classic example of "astroturfing," using a PR firm to create a "grassroots" campaign.
As a newspaper editor, I can tell you that a large percentage of what gets into the paper or on the air is generated by PR people. That's their job - promoting stories. The dirty little secret of journalism is how many stories each day originate through press releases from PR firms.
It would be difficult for any individual to get substantial press coverage on any issue without a little help. And even then, it doesn't always work. In the case of this story, my newspaper found out about it because one of the people who went public with his protest happened to be the brother of one of our reporters.
That is how Marine Corps Sgt. Liam Madden went from obscurity to receiving worldwide media attention.
Madden, from Bellows Falls, Vt., joined the Marines right out of high school in 2002. He did a combat tour in Iraq. He is not a pacifist or a conscientious objector. He is not advocating any illegal action by his fellow service members. He, like many he has served with, are simply questioning whether the occupation is worth the sacrifices that our nation's leaders have asked our service members to make.
"The more informed I got, the more I opposed the war. The more people who died there, the longer we stayed there, the more I opposed the war," Madden told the San Jose Mercury News last week. "The more I know, the easier it is to support withdrawal."
How many service members agree with Madden's logic remains to be seen. But he is bravely making a point that seems lost on too many Americans. Our leaders have asked our soldiers to fight in Iraq. What, exactly, are they fighting and dying for? What is the mission, when will it be accomplished and when can they come?
They trusted their leaders to tell them the truth, and they never heard it. They trusted their leaders to give them the resources they needed to effectively complete the mission, and they never got them. They trusted their leaders to have a strategy, and they never got one.
Look back at the history of this war, and you can see that our nation has let down these men and women. It failed to hold up its end of the bargain. That is why Madden and many others are starting to question why this war should continue and why their dissent should be supported.