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For lesson in shared sacrifice, send Congress to boot camp

By Russel L. Honoré, Special to CNN
  • The debt-ceiling debate was infuriating and disappointing, says Russel L. Honoré
  • It's not just our image as a world leader that has been harmed. It's our nation itself, he says
  • Our national elected leaders don't share a common purpose, Honoré says
  • Honoré: Let's load them on troop planes and send them to Camp Shelby, Mississippi

Editor's note: Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré commanded the military response to Hurricane Katrina. He retired from the U.S. Army in 2008 after 37 years, sits on the board of the Stevenson Disaster Management Institute and is an adjunct professor at Emory and Vanderbilt universities. He is the author of "Survival: How a Culture of Preparedness Can Save America and You from Disasters."

(CNN) -- Like most veterans, the men and women who have worn our nation's uniform to defend this country, I am furious with and disappointed in the state of indecision that plagued Washington these past few weeks. Whether or not to raise the debt ceiling so our country can continue to pay our bills and maintain our global credit rating didn't seem like such a difficult decision.

As a retired, disabled soldier who spent 37 years in the Army, I can only see this debacle -- the weeks of haggling to get to an eleventh-hour deal -- as the definition of "mission failure." At this point, even the last-minute deal that is on its way to President Obama's desk will not repair the damage our elected leadership's amateur-hour, worthless grandstanding has caused.

And it's not just our image as a world leader that has been harmed. It's our nation itself.

Our nation won the Revolutionary War because we shared a common purpose: freedom. General Washington's ragtag army, 20% of whom were slaves, were poorly armed and trained, freezing and hungry, yet they defeated the most powerful military in the world. Those men and their families were willing to sacrifice, to risk their lives and everything they had, to achieve our nation's freedom. Now the country that generations of Americans have worked and fought for, that 1.3 million soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors died fighting for, is at risk.

Why? Because our national elected leaders don't share a common purpose. They have failed to live up to their oaths of office, to protect and defend the Constitution and the United States of America. Instead they strike partisan poses they hope will be remembered during their next campaigns.

This isn't leadership, it's playacting. And we should all be disgusted.

The very notion that our federal government may not be able to pay its global debt is embarrassing, but it is shameful that our government has been willing to play games with the livelihoods of our active-duty soldiers, our veterans, and our most vulnerable citizens.

Our nation's government must remember its purpose: to keep this nation free. Many disabled veterans, the ones who are praying the check comes in the mail after all, can't work as result of injuries sustained on duty. They were willing to die to keep America free, and they sacrifice to this day. How many of the grandstanding clowns in Washington took a bullet in the name of freedom? Are they willing to sacrifice as much as the average National Guardsman does?

It's time to get draconian. But not with the helpless elderly who need their Social Security payments, not with the powerless Army private supporting a family. I mean it's time to load our elected officials on troop planes and send them to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Put them in tents with no air conditioning, have Army drill sergeants teach them teamwork and physical sacrifice. When they recognize their responsibility to the people of America, they can return to D.C., their upscale restaurants, and military plane trips, as though they were royalty.

And if they can't? Better that they should fail to learn what an 18-year-old Army private understands than continue to fail America.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Russel L. Honore.