As I have observed the recent events in Iraq my emotions have gone from sadness, anger and indifference to everything in between. I have struggled to grasp how a country that was given every opportunity to succeed could fall so swiftly and with so little fight. I have grieved for the families of the men and women who died there and have felt betrayed by an administration that would let their sacrifice mean so little. I have read the articles and heard the interviews from combat veterans expressing their own feelings about loss, brokenness and the dread of facing a future with daily reminders that their best years and best friends were offered as the price for a freedom rejected by those who were set free.
Trying to get my mind around all of this has become impossible. Admittedly, I cannot even formulate a solution to this in my mind that would make me feel better. Any solution will eventually fall short if the leadership and citizens of Iraq lack the resolve to defend themselves. While I am confident that there are many in Iraq who do have the fortitude to fight for their families and for their country, the one thing that this recent series of events has solidified in my mind is the stark contrast between the American warrior and the soldiers in so many countries around the world. Considering this contrast has made me more thankful than ever to be an American and to have served with the very best that this country has to offer. While we all have our own reasons to be proud, a few of mine are listed here. This list is not comprehensive and is not intended to be a commentary on what is happening in Iraq. This is just the perspective of one vet who will always be proud to have fought there regardless of the eventual outcome.
I am thankful to be a U.S. Combat Veteran because:
1. I have never seen a Marine or soldier run away or back down from a fight. Even in an ambush with the odds against us there was never even a thought of retreat. Where is the enemy, how will we defeat them and what is our follow-on mission? These are the only questions that matter and the only questions that need to be answered. I have seen a platoon of Marines engage an anti-air gun in a direct-fire fight. They should have lost. They didn’t. Winning was the only option.
2. I was able to serve with those that understand that liberty has a price and were willing to pay that price if necessary. The political discussion of U.S. involvement in Iraq aside, our military consists of men and women who have sworn to defend the constitution and it’s ideals with their lives. Many did die in Iraq and many thousands more suffer daily because of the injuries sustained there. In my mind, this should have little influence in the current discussion about our future involvement. We mourn the great loss sustained to free a country that is quickly losing that freedom but we forget that the loss of life and limb and soundness of mind was a price not paid to liberate Iraq, but to defend the ideals of individual liberty and freedom. Freedom must have a defender. As long as there are men and women ready and willing to fight wherever that ideal is threatened than the flame of liberty will not be extinguished. Iraq may fall but the message is clear; Americans value freedom enough to fight for it even when the fight is for a people and in a place not their own. We should not mourn those who were lost as though their sacrifice was in vain. We should honor those willing to give everything for the values that make us the beacon of hope in a very dark and scary world.
3. We put a high value on standing up for those that cannot stand up for themselves. While I have very little regard for a man that will not defend his family and his own liberties, I will never forget the faces of the kids in every town and village where we spent time. With the little English that many of them could speak they would ask about the United States and what it was like to live in a country full of movie stars and sports heroes. I did not personally know any of the people they wanted to talk about, but it was clear that to these kids my home was an amazing place. Seeing these children would make me think of my own. I would remember that the freedom my kids enjoy was purchased by someone else. I was thankful I could stand up for these children when no one else would.
4. I am now a part of a generation of Americans that has the experience, perspective and resolve to move our country forward. I weary of hearing politicians and pundits explain that the erosion of our personal liberties is necessary and that the United States should take a back seat on the world’s stage. They explain that the world is ready to negotiate for peace and that military strength is becoming unnecessary. They would have us believe that evil is on the decline and that might no longer makes right. They are of course naïve and lack the perspective that comes from confronting this evil personally and watching those that you care about give their lives defeating it. As the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan begin to take the lead in American society, our country will once again be placed in the hands of those that that have experienced instead of those that have just heard. Things sometimes seem bleak, but I am confident that these men and women will stand up and take their rightful place of leadership.
There are other things that could be said here and many other reasons that I am thankful to be a United States combat veteran. While the current events in Iraq stir up painful memories and emotions for those that have been there, I do not believe they need to cause hopelessness or despair. It is time for the people of Iraq to decide what they will do and whether or not they will honor the sacrifices that have been made on their behalf. Regardless of how these events play out however, for those that have a personal connection to that place, we can always be thankful to have had the opportunity to be “The watchmen on the walls of world freedom.”
Jeremy Stalnecker Executive Director – Mighty Oaks Warrior Foundation