As I have listened over the last few years to the reports of the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, I have spent more time than usual thinking of my time there in 2003. I was privileged to have been a part of the First Battalion Fifth Marines, the first Marine infantry unit into the country. We were also the battalion that secured objectives in Baghdad on April 10th which was the largest battle of the war up to that time. I learned quite a bit during that brief period of life and can say with certainty that those few months changed the way that I look at the world.
While I am sure that I missed some of the lessons that I should have learned, here are a few that come to mind as I reflect on those days:
1. God is sovereign.
It occurred to me one day that the best that I could do was not enough to keep me out of trouble. Those on the other side do not care where I went to school, who my parents are or what town I grew up in. I need to be prepared and do the very best that I can, but at the end of the day I must rely upon the sovereignty of God. When I stopped believing that it was all up to me I was finally able to experience peace regardless of my situation.
2. There is no substitute for good leadership.
Much could be said here on the topic of good leadership, but I have always been thankful for the leadership of First Battalion Fifth Marines. From our Battalion Commander to the small unit leaders there was a focus and professionalism that was nothing short of amazing. I believe that it was largely due to this factor that we were so successful. I saw firsthand the tremendous impact that upfront leadership has on a team.
3. The team will win if they practice to win.
While I am thankful for the opportunity to have served with each of the men of First Battalion Fifth Marines, I was honored to have served as the Platoon Commander for the Counter-Mechanized Platoon. While these were without a doubt some of the craziest people that I have ever known, they knew how to win. I learned an awful lot during my time with this platoon (some of which I have worked hard to forget) but the greatest lesson that they taught me was this; If you work hard and train hard and maybe even break some stuff in the process, when the moment comes that you must win, you will. For two years we trained for a fight that we were not sure would come and when it did the Marines, as always, performed flawlessly.
4. The most difficult times in life may become your fondest ones.
While I have never had the desire to return to the time that I spent in Iraq, those days will always be some of the proudest of my life. I am thankful for those that I was able to serve with and for the many lessons that I learned. It is often the really difficult things that we are later grateful to have been a part of.
5. Your initial impression is often wrong.
I do not remember one situation during those early days of the war where something turned out to be exactly what we thought it was going to be. Situations were always changing and we learned to be ready for anything because you never knew what was just around the corner. This is one of those really important life lessons that this time illustrated so clearly. Gather all of the information that you can, whether it is about people, a circumstance, or a geographic location, and then hold off judgment until you are actually there. We often come to conclusions that just are not true and end up hurting us. If you can wait to draw a conclusion you will probably be better off.
6. The people “back home” are dealing with the war too.
At the time that I was in Iraq my two oldest children were three and four. My wife was taking care of them by herself while also dealing with the many administrative issues of life. I knew what I was involved in and how that was affecting me, but often forgot the impact that being away from my family was having on them. We tend to forget that when any member of the family is going through a difficult time that every member of the family is affected. We do not live in isolation and must consider the impact that what we are doing is having on the ones that we love.
I am sure that there are many other lessons that I should have learned and am even hopeful that other things will come to mind as I continue to reflect. These are just some of the things that I have been considering over the last few days.
While our involvement in Iraq may be coming to an end, I will always be proud to have been a part of 1/5.
Jeremy Stalnecker Executive Director – Mighty Oaks Warrior Foundation