In split decision, Strong reflects national divide

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Talk about mixed messages.

In one recent breath, selectmen in Strong signed a petition declaring the small town’s airspace off-limits to the controversial low-level flights requested by Air National Guard squadrons in Massachusetts and Vermont.

In a following breath, the same panel elected to donate $25 to a memorial fund established for Sgt. Richard Parker, a Maine Army National Guard soldier from Phillips who was killed on June 13 by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

It’s likely the Strong selectmen failed to recognize the contradiction of these actions, in the belief that they were standing up for their constituents on one hand, while honoring the sacrifice of Parker, on the other. But the glaring message sent by the actions is that honoring fallen troops is preferable to supporting live ones.

This strikes the heart of national dialogue on war, and the local discussion on low-level flights. How do we support our fighting forces, while also expressing dissatisfaction with military policy? It’s a difficult question for the volunteer boards in America’s tiniest towns, and for professional political leaders in their padded chairs in Washington.

Take Western Maine, for example. Those who criticize dropping the jet aircraft training ceiling to 500 feet are practicing home rule, after all, and wish to exercise their rights as residents over what occurs in the skies above.

Others, who support the flights, take a macro view. “It’s the sound of freedom,” many say about the jet noise, which the military claims is no more intrusive than a noisy lawnmower, but lasting for only a few seconds.

Training is a necessity of National Guard service, and the flight ceiling changes proposed by the bases in Cape Cod and Burlington, Vt., are necessitated by the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Western Maine is a great proving sky for American fighter pilots, has been for years, and war only makes the need for specialized training more dire. The same applies for soldiers like Sgt. Parker; we cannot imagine his necessary training, if it impacted a property owner, would be protested as vigorously as the low-level flights.

This is not saying opponents of the low-level flights are unpatriotic, far from it. That’s interjecting politics into a practical argument. Rather, it illustrates how our nation is struggling to resolve its discomfort with the conflicts, while remaining resolute in supporting its fighting men and women.

We can’t support them and halt their training. We can’t mourn their loss and deny them tools to protect us.

Strong selectmen have illustrated the trouble we, as a nation, have in resolving with one with the other.

In splitting this difference, we send the wrong message.

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