Here in southern Afghanistan, I often ask the soldiers what they think about the things folks are saying about the war back home. The question is usually phrased as a simple, "Does the American public get it?"
How can they? The don’t feel the heat, the fear, the flies. Who can understand what it’s like to know the next step may be your last -- unless you’ve been there? Still, it’s a question often on soldiers’ minds.
First Lt. Christopher Babcock, of New Orleans, gave an answer that I’ve often heard from soldiers over the years.
Babcock is as smart and capable a platoon leader as I’ve ever met. He joined the Army as an enlisted soldier in 1997 and served as a combat medic in his first tour in Baghdad. He went to Officer Candidate School in 2008 and earned a commission.
He said, "I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘I support the troops, I want you out of there.’ Really? What have you done to support the troops? What have you done other than complain? Have you petitioned the halls of Congress? Have you written your representative? Have you asked the president to increase our pay, increase our benefits? That’s supporting the troops. Saying you want the troops out of Afghanistan by talking to no one of influence is wasting your time, and you’re a complainer. And you’re not supporting the troops.
"Do something for us. Call your senator, talk to your senator. Talk to your representative. If you want us to stay here and continue to fight this war on terror, tell your senator, tell your representative. If you don’t want us to fight this war on terror, and want us back home, call your representative, call your senator. Write them a letter. Say, 'I’m in your constituency, I want the soldiers gone.' Vote.
"I want engagement. I want them to do something realistic. I’m a soldier through and through. My opinion of this has waned from caring to disconcern. I care about the men on the left and right. That’s what really matters."
That’s a view echoed by many soldiers I meet. His personal opinions Babcock won’t share, and quite frankly they don’t matter. He’s a soldier, he carries out the orders given to him. His job is to complete his mission, and get his men home alive.
The faded yellow ribbons are nice, but constructive engagement by the citizens of the United States is what makes the men at Combat Outpost Nolen feel that people thousands of miles away haven’t forgotten them.
Editor's note: Associated Press photojournalists Evan Vucci and Rodrigo Abd are Photoblogging for msnbc.com while embedded with U.S. troops stationed at Combat Outpost Nolen, in the volatile Arghandab Valley in Kandahar, Afghanistan.