Damn Meach! It’s still a ghost town here – and I still feel like a ghost after last weekend. Time to do it all over again! But the season has me thinking about old friends, comrades, experiences… I wrote this a while back, and thought I would share… I hope all you good Infantrymen can excuse the musings of a POG like me…
Something has been on my mind for several days now, and I was not able to place it until this morning. What nagged me was a sense of sadness, ennui, bittersweet fondness, and longing. Almost 30 years ago, I devoted a large part of my life to the ideals of liberty that have made this country great. I promised to uphold and defend a document against all enemies, foreign and domestic. However, I have grown to understand that this is not just a document, nor is it just applicable to us as Americans.
We have, nearly from our inception as a nation, had a role to play in the global community. From Jefferson’s first war against Islamic extremists, we have been the watchdog against oppression and aggression the world over. Our fathers have left boot prints, blood, and tears in Cuba, Mexico, China, Haiti, Somalia, Panama, Europe, North Africa, the Philippines, Russia, India, and nearly countless other places in an effort to enable others to secure the blessings of liberty.
In August of 1990, while I was still in MP school, a small emirate on the Arabian Gulf was invaded by her neighbor to the north. Regardless of Machiavellian machinations that led to the situation, the little emirate was an ally and had been for some time. We determined to liberate Kuwait from her aggressors and did so with such daring, crushing power and panache that the world reeled at the victory and hailed it as an end to conventional war. Unfortunately, the world has been wrong about that before and in this case was as wrong as it could be again. The Iraqi government agreed to cease fire terms that were strict, but not overly oppressive, but nonetheless continued to violate those agreements and the UN resolutions that followed.
I was there in 1990 and 1991. I remember being too young to be afraid and too immature to realize the gravity of the situation. Much later, in 2002 the clouds of war began to gather over Baghdad again. Twelve years of violations of the cease-fire agreement and UN requirements, coupled by the brutal repression of the Iraqi people and the pursuit of decadent palaces and a nearly unmatched WMD program led us to say: Enough. We took the whole nation in 21 days. A spectacular military victory, no doubt. Of course, there were mistakes made, and much of the WMD program was destroyed, lost, hidden, or exported to Syria before it could be secured.
Nonetheless, we were met as liberating heroes through most of the nation. Iraqis showered us with flowers and fed us like kings. They were free of Saddam and his sons and knew that life would eventually get better. Of course, one of the big mistakes made was a lack of planning for what would come after liberation. Our leadership had failed miserably, even when advised that the failure would happen, by not providing enough “boots on the ground” to lock down Iraq until civilian rule could be re-established.
We invested more years, more blood, and more tears in the sand trying to fix our mistake. I became bound in blood with brothers and sisters – Americans, Iraqis, British, Australians, Kurds, Dutch, and Poles over the course of three deployments to Iraq. I lost some of my brothers there, and other brothers lost some of themselves. Some lost flesh, some lost a piece of their heart, and others a piece of their sanity – we all lost a piece of our souls.
Not a day goes by that I do not think of my brothers and sisters, living and dead. I think of Achmed who was killed by Al Qaeda for “collaboration” with us as an interpreter. I think of Ali, his son who was wounded by the Fedayeen for the crimes of his father. I think of Achmed’s unborn child who died in the womb when his wife miscarried during the attack in which Ali was shot. I can still feel the rotor wash of Chinooks pass overhead and the feeling of weightlessness as a Blackhawk takes off. I think of Shawn who took a 7.62 slug in the leg on the one day that I did not ride with the convoy. I think of Omar the detainee that was murdered by Wahhabis because of his “collaboration.” I think of Bobby, who disappeared in the blinding flash of an IED. I remember the good times in bad situations with men that I would give my life for – and I knew that they would do the same for me.
I think of Robert, being missed by inches by dozens of Katyusha fragments. I remember the feeling of strange elation as we stood on a dike looking for escaped prisoners, while an Apache hovered above us. I think of all of the MPs at Abu who lived in cells with hooks in the ceiling and bloodstained walls. I think of the 147 rounds of IDF in one day in the green zone and how my boys were stoic through it all. I remember the amazing amount of work that was done to stay mission ready and combat effective by the Rough Riders. I think of the moment of relief when I realized that the Katyusha that landed in the middle of one of my platoons that had just come back from a mission and no one was killed. But, a few Purple Hearts were earned that day, and I ended up in Baghdad ER, and eventually medically retired.
I remember administering first aid to dozens of different Iraqis that had been shot, blown up, or crushed throughout my time. I remember the down time filled with hours of movie watching – Hajji-Vision pirated copies that were iffy at best. I remember the hours of convoy escorts through the most beautiful, horrific, wonderful, treacherous landscape I have ever known.
I have picked up ancient pottery sherds from the ground on the Iranian border and climbed to the top of buildings with the purpose of killing bad guys when I got there. I have traded American greenbacks for ice cold “Bepsi” on the side of the road and haggled over the price of a silk rug at the Al Rasheed. I have had chai with police chiefs and ministers – but the best chai was always with the sheik that fed us so well outside Najaf.
I have cleared buildings, sure that I would die doing it and I have kept my thoughts and feelings in check as we dealt we American and Iraqi dead. All of these memories flow like water – all of them and many more will be written down eventually – but they are on my mind every day as we live under the umbrella of liberty. I can only hope that we have, as a nation and a military force, enabled those good Iraqi people the ability to fight back against the forces of darkness to secure those same blessing of liberty for themselves.
We had, as a nation, withdrawn from active participation in the battle for Iraq, but now we are back, and in Syria as well. I cannot help but think that it has all been worth it – if they eventually succeed. I only hope that we have the staying power to finish the fight. It would break my heart to think that my brothers and sisters have paid such a price only to see it pissed away for the sake of political expediency.
I think in the end this has been what has been on my mind. I did four tours in Iraq (including the first Gulf War). I was there in the beginning – for both beginnings. I grew up there. Part of me is there. Part of my soul will always be there. I hope that one day, I can go back there as an old, fat tourist and show my son and daughters some of the beauty of the place that has shaped me so. I suppose it is all a bit of trepidation, mixed with nostalgia – but nonetheless, it is my war gone by – I miss it so.
Anyway – this is New Year’s Weekend, and I know everyone is going to party it up.
Keep your head on a swivel.
Roll in fireteams.
DO NOT DRIVE IMPAIRED. Uber it.
Don’t drink so much that you end up in the hospital.
YOU CAN’T FLY – no matter how much Don Patron tells you that you can.
Don’t make any resolutions that you don’t plan to keep.
In the words of Papa – “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
See you all soon – be safe!