Written by Jeremy Stalnecker
Over the past several days, much has been said about the United States’ role in the world. With the elimination of a terrorist responsible for murder throughout the Middle East, many have even declared that we’re on the precipice of World War III.
And, clearly, if another World War is on the horizon, then so is the draft.
Further adding to the hysteria, network news channels have run stories detailing the high cost this global crisis will have on the men and women already serving. As is typical in the world of 24-hour news, the emphasis has been placed on the potential “victims” of this action by the White House, instead of on the probability that countless lives have been saved.
I have opinions on all of this, as I’m sure most people do, but it isn’t my intention here to discuss the rightness or wrongness of what has happened over the past few weeks in Iraq.
What I would like to address is something that happens every time there’s a military action anywhere in the world: The men and women of the U.S. military are painted as the unwilling victims of a government that failed to tell them that fighting bad guys may be part of the job.
The U.S. military is the greatest fighting force on Earth because it’s made up of men and women who spend their lives working to defeat the enemies of freedom.
While I’m fully aware that they’re affected by bad policy in a unique way, to believe that those in uniform struggle with why they’re serving and what that service means simply isn’t true. They’re not victims: They’re warriors who willingly live their lives for others.
So, why do they do it? Why do the best and brightest in this country decide to serve in the military? Perhaps my own story will help.
I was serving as a Marine infantry officer when the Twin Towers fell on Sept. 11, 2001. Although it seems like this would be a scary time for those who would respond to the attack on our country, the reality is that we couldn’t wait for the opportunity to deal with those responsible for killing our countrymen.
Eighteen months later, on March 19, 2003, I crossed the berm with about 30,000 of my best friends as we began securing strategic objectives in Iraq. We would move north for the next several weeks, eventually securing the Presidential Palace in northern Baghdad.
There are many things in my life for which I’m proud, but none more than the opportunity to serve in combat alongside the best Americans I’ve ever known. While I may hold personal feelings and opinions about the wars in which we have been engaged, it’s not the politics of the action that cause me to be thankful.
To serve in the military of the United States is to stand with fellow Americans who value the principles and ideals of freedom and hope more than they do their own lives—those with the character and integrity necessary to sacrifice one’s own hopes, dreams, and future for the people who either can’t or won’t serve.
This character is what ties those who do serve together with an invisible, yet unbreakable, bond. I understand firsthand what it means to fight alongside those who, far away from the country that they represent, are both ready and willing to lay their lives down for the people to the left and right of them.
I know what it’s like to await an order that will come at the darkest part of the night to engage in an action that will almost certainly result in death, and then to look, while waiting, into the faces of those who will carry out this order and see not fear or dread, but a courage and certainty that whatever awaits in the darkness will be defeated.
Pride in service isn’t about politics or conflict or some kind of sadistic love for war; it’s pride to have been ready, willing, and able to do what most of the world will never do. It’s the reason why the honor and pride of having served, and the loyalty to others who have, tear down age, racial, or gender barriers, and why, in a group of veterans, everyone stands on equal ground.
Fighting members of the U.S. military aren’t victims; they’re men and women who’ve decided that they want to give their life to a cause bigger than themselves. They want to live and serve, and, if necessary, die knowing that they’ve not done any of it in vain.
President Ronald Reagan once said: “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.” This could be said of all who are bold enough to wear the uniform of the U.S. military.
Our service members aren’t victims to be pitied; they’re warriors to be respected, leaders to be followed, and the hope for a strong tomorrow.