December 15th 2005, was one of the greatest days of my life, I was witness to the birth of democracy in Iraq. It is a rarity to be a part of such an historic event. Despite any and all arguments about the why we are here; by some accounts 75% of Iraqis registered to vote did so (Imagine who or groups of who, would not be in office if 75% of American voters turned out!). Despite threats (very real threats) of violence Iraqi men and women lined up and waited; some for hours, to vote. They waited patiently in lines that would have driven me mad! They have never before had such an opportunity to vote and have a say in their own nation. While none of these candidates (nearly 8000 of them), will share the overwhelming 99.9% landslide victory Saddam Hussein (Former dictator, tyrant, and poet) once enjoyed. The day passed without incident, save for the aforementioned self-determination of the nation by its citizens. All was quiet on virtually all fronts of the war in Iraq. In fact, I can honestly say I was bored. Being bored in war is a good thing, and as of late, I have been blissfully bored to no end. Which is why I have not posted for some time, I simply had nothing to say.
Our battalion awards ceremony was on the 17th and I am now, at long last a 1st Lieutenant. Odd, I never imagined I’d ever be a 1LT, and now like some magic wand was waived the often comical look of confusion that plagues most Second Lieutenants is gone from my face. In its place is a grimace of a combat veteran, a sort of permanent scowl with my cover pulled down over my eyes and a frown etched on my face I move about the base walking briskly and as of late avoiding most unnecessary conversation. I have not been in a particularly bad mood, but save for time left here in Iraq, the mind has distanced itself from much around me. Funny, I don’t feel any different. It was a great moment in my life. I stood with 2 other officers and we were promoted together. Our battalion commander asked us to address the battalion and I was caught so off guard by it I couldn’t think of a thing to say; oh, and the microphone wouldn’t bend down so I had to stand on my toes to speak clearly into it. It reminded me of my speech for Student Council back in 1985. All I could think to say was that we’d seen our last full moon in Iraq. I hope that is true. At the ceremony promotions and medals were awarded for our time here and for some very courageous young men, the medals were well deserved. For others…well perhaps another time.
Looking back at the last year, I remember so much and so many people I have met, and had the honor of serving with. I have seen some wonderful things here and I have seen some of the worst violence, and the darkness of the human soul. I have seen vicious acts of hatred, and I have seen selflessness I never thought possible. This war is different from other wars…This war is exactly the same as every other war. War devours everything in its path; there is no mercy to it. There is no reason in it, it exists to destroy, and as long as there are governments run by mortals there will always be war. Yet, even in war the brighter side of humanity can shine through, I have seen it. Average Iraqis handing me a bottle of cold water in the blistering heat, a little girl holding the hand of a grieving soldier whose friend had been mortally wounded in an IED attack. Defiant Iraqi civilians standing in line to vote, so that their voice is heard.
How do I explain this place to those who will not listen, we are winning here. Of that, there is no doubt. The cost is high, but as Heinlein asserts; “Something given has no value.” A free Iraq has cost us more than I ever wanted to spend, in time, lives, friends and blood. For the soldier there is no politics (at least there shouldn’t be) for the soldier if there is to be war, then we destroy the enemies of our nation. War, as horrific as it is, is simple. Everything else is hard.
I have been afforded the honor of being an Army officer in time of war, and I have served with the very best that our nation has to offer. When this is over and I move on to other things, it will be from this perspective that I move forward. Simplicity, Occam’s razor suggests we not add anything unnecessary to a problem to solve it. In short keep it simple, when you find a problem fix it. I will miss the men I have served with here, when you spend nearly 16 hours a day with the same people every day for 18 months, like them or not they become family. I see that now, again perspective, and a healthy amount of time spent apologizing to myself for being such a miserable SOB at times in my life. A healthy amount of time spent reaching out to old friends I’d slighted years and years ago, and saying I’m sorry. A healthy amount of time spent not talking but listening, and I mean really listening to what people had to say. I have met some great people through emails and in meeting them; I have been presented with some great opportunities for life after “this war”. Like I said 11 months ago, there are only two days here, the day you arrive and the day you leave (yes like prison). Soon it will be tomorrow and I will leave. Not that this hasn’t just been a blast (often quite literally), but I’ll be glad to kick the dust of Southern Baghdad from my boots and focus on tomorrow, walk my dog, and hug my wife, and move past the only life I have known for nearly a year. Soon I’ll be whole again.
I am not certain if I’ll post again, not being dramatic but this blog (in its current form) has nearly run its course. I would like to thank everyone who has written me, even those who attacked me and lashed out with anger and at times apparent insanity. Interesting at times, and often down right hilarious. Those of you who sent me comfort items thank you so very much, your kindness and consideration truly lifted my spirits (AFSister!!) Those of you who shared pictures of your families, and children I appreciate your sharing what “normal” is with me. Those of you who think of me as a friend, I am always an email away. Those of you who thanked me for doing my job, well again all I can say is that sometimes the extent of my patriotism was putting my boots on, especially when I didn’t want to. So, I humbly thank you for reaching out to me and expressing your gratitude, thank you, thank you, thank you! Those of you who engaged in healthy and heated debate with me over our different political views, I thank you as well, soon we’ll see one way or the other won’t we. Those of you who continue to question this war, and why we are here, good for you, without different opinions, there is no debate. Without debate and open discussion, our perspective is skewed and we can ill afford to lose anymore of who we are because of a lack of perspective. Seek reason, find common ground, and never be afraid to stand up for what is right.
Finally, to my wife. My angel, my best friend and my compass. It has been so long since I watched you drive away from the Airport on April 21st 2005. It has been so long since my cheeks were stained with tears as I watched you pull away and felt as if I’d just died. At times, I thought it was the last time I’d ever see you, and at that thought my heart grew cold. We have been apart for 9 months now, and soon we will be together again, the one and only wish I have had since I saw you last was that I could see you again. To see you smile at me is the best present I could ever hope for, it is in fact the only thing I have let myself hope for, for months now. When this is over and I hang this faded uniform I hope to spend the rest of my life with you and when we grow old together, and reflect on this war and our time apart as with soldiers in all wars I’ll be able to smile and say; “I was there…”
What will I miss about Iraq? Nothing…everything.