This war has seen its share of suffering, misery, death, destruction, and senseless brutality. Although I cannot comprehend why these “arhabi” (terrorists) are so angry, nor can I comprehend what drives them to set IEDs, VBIEDs, and suicide attacks. Life here in Baghdad is not without its pleasantries and little reminders of home, and the things that we as Americans hold dear. We have ice cream, soda, newspapers, even Starbucks (in some areas of the region). We have Steak and Lobster on Friday nights (usually the only way I know what day it is). There are volleyball courts, and a basketball court. The gym is fully equipped and staffed and even has a personal trainer. For all of these things we are still 10, 000 miles form home, 10,000 miles from safety, 10,000 miles from the only world that makes sense to a great many of us here.
We are a mere few hundred meters from the outside world, a mere few hundred meters from uncertainty, from those that would see us dead, from those who cannot be reasoned with. We are a mere few hundred meters from the loathsome VBIED, the feared IED, and the despised Insurgency. There are by some estimates over 20,000 insurgents in Iraq, these so called warriors called to Jihad against us, infiltrate the porous borders of Iraq as easily as water finds its way out of a colander filled with pasta. The Iraqi Army is still very much in its infancy and they have a long way to go. Now politics is rearing its head and slowing the process of the most compelling issue in Iraq, its own security.
We are constantly hamstrung by our own senior leaders, the political process within Iraq, the various factions all vying for their own piece of the political landscape, the media who portrays us as villains equally as vile as the insurgents themselves. People have tried to say that I have used pictures of children here to my advantage for my own fiendish propaganda. Our own citizens have accused the military of targeting civilians, of negligence, of criminal acts against humanity. I cannot even begin to fathom how blinded, how ill-conceived, how cynically malicious, and seditious this attitude is. As heinous as the Abu Graib prison scandal was, we never ever, EVER, cut off anyone’s head whilst professing to do so in the name of God. We have never set a bomb beside the road waiting for people (Americans) to drive by and not caring if civilians are on the road. We don’t target the innocent. Let me say it again, we do not target the innocent.
You can counter that by mentioning WWII, Vietnam, and others, OK but I didn’t fight in WWII, Vietnam, or the others just like I have no relatives that can remember slavery so I don’t think that the government owes me any money for slavery (nor did I ever). This is my war; I take it seriously, as do I take my job seriously and by and large American service men and women are honorable. Ten fold more honorable than the arm chair slags who sit back here steal oxygen and criticize everything and every one who would dare disagree. In my life I have done awful things in the course of my evolution as a man, but I have always taken my job seriously, no my profession. There are few jobs where fighting to the death if need be is in the description. There are few jobs that ask you to, and fewer still where you can reasonably expect to face death with any frequency. I haven’t had to stare death in the face here but I have heard him screaming in my immediate vicinity on a few occasions.
I remember walking in the Capitol a few years back, it was a fairly unremarkable DC evening, the humidity hung in the air with the sort of heavy trespass of a smoke filled jazz bar. I walked passed 1600, and down 17th to Constitution to the Lincoln Memorial, and sat for a long time at the Reflecting Pond. I remember thinking to myself that so much of what I’d seen in my time in the military was a lie. I must have been sitting there for some time, a Capitol Police Officer came walking by and asked me what I was doing. He informed me I had been sitting there for over 2 hours. As I was in uniform my reply was curt, shrugging he left me to my thoughts. I walked up to the reflecting pool stopping just shy of being able to see its calm waters. I looked into the night sky the moon was gibbous but illuminated the surrounding area, as I looked over my shoulder I could see President Lincoln staring blankly for eternity across the landscape at the Washington Memorial, at that moment I wondered how the image of a lie would present itself, I thought of looking into the waters of the pool, but fear gave me pause to do so. If I looked into those waters would the reflection be my own? Or would it be what I had become? Some questions linger in the mind and heart.
It took me years to look into that pool, I did it here in Iraq, the waters are not the same, nor do they need to be to answer this burning question, I only need to be willing to do so. So I look into any body of standing water I find, and the reflection that I find is my own. I am Rusten D Currie, I have looked into my own eyes and am assured of the purpose to which I serve not just here, but upon this world. It however is not the answer that propels me forward each and every day, but it is the question. Why?
Why this sudden bit of introspection? Answer, MAJ K. While I was home on leave, and well before that he had been taking it on the chin. “Intel is always wrong, and we can never do enough.” Truth be told, that is about 50% accurate. This war, this war in particular is driven and maneuvers and stops on a dime on military intelligence. And chances are the second we get it; it no longer has the value it did moments before. That simply is the nature of our job here. Yet my boss, and my friend of over a decade continues to get up each and every day and do his duty, with honor, with poise, and all the while knowing that people within our very ranks speak ill of him. This is the mark of a professional. This is my friend. I had the pleasure of knowing both of his parents, and know the kind family he came from. I was always welcomed into their home, and he always extended his hand in friendship to me, as did his father and mother.
To see the way he has been treated, and affected by this war, is disheartening to me, as it is not the military I came up in. I have tried to cease all comparisons of the Army to the Marine Corps, ah my beloved Marine Corps. Yet some of the things I have been witness to since our mobilization have left that all too familiar bitter taste in my mouth. The Command Sergeant Major told me the other day as we were talking about which combat patches we could wear, as we were now authorized to wear the 3rd Infantry Division patch. I thanked him for the information but I have opted to keep my 1st Marine Division patch on. The reason is two fold for me, I cut my teeth in the Corps as an amphibious soldier, and it reminds me of that hallowed moment in February of 1945 where the image of the Marine Corps was forever emblazoned into the psyche of the American military when the (the American flag) was raised over Mount Suribachi. It further reminds me that I am an officer, and a gentleman (allegedly) there is a standard of conduct that I am accustomed to a standard of behavior militarily that no matter what, I must not compromise; I learned this standard not in the Army, but in the Corps.
I am not, belittling the Army, nay I love the Army and I love being an officer herein. I do miss the Marine Corps, and after spending more than a decade in the Corps it is that culture I am accustomed to. Re-learning the Army is a difficult thing, even more so in “this war”, and seeing my friend struggle to find his footing in a job he has never been officially trained to do, has been painful, and as frustrating for me as it has been for him. In the military attitudes like mine (terse and caustic) are tolerated in moderation and only if it can be backed up with competence. Thus far I have not been cut off at the knees for it, well at least not in the last 7 years. As I am only a 2nd Lieutenant, and MAJ K has considerable rank on me it is not my place to “stick-up” for him as it were, but for the most part the way he has been slighted by men who should know better has caused me many hours of reflection. Still I look into the waters for affirmation of the truth in the reflection I see. And each day I come into work and see MAJ K sitting at his desk, it is validation and one more reason (of which there are many) why I do my job…