Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

I do not carry many scars from my time in the Army.  Physically, I have worn out some parts that probably should have lasted at least another 10 years or so and have more than my share of aches and pains relative to the average 40-something.  I have done pretty well psychologically given some of the horrific things the last 13 years have brought about.  I, like many of my brothers and sisters have seen the horrors war can bring unto the world, in general, I have been able to move beyond them and always continued on.

My exposure has made me fairly sensitive in two areas.  I have a very hard time with memorials for my fallen comrades and it truly pains me to see the suffering of little children.  There have been times when the two of those have been intertwined and I can honestly say that it has taken all I have to get through them and affected me beyond the ceremonies.

I was not always this way, it may well be that this is my trauma that I have to bear for volunteering.  Every one of us who has served has their own demons, even if they show no outward signs.  The violence affects everyone in some way.  I know why I have such a hard time with memorials; I simply have been a participant in honoring the fallen so many times that I just cannot help it.  There was a stretch for two years in Iraq that I worked as the task force Commanders communications Sergeant and not a week went by when we were deployed that we did not attend a memorial service, in some week in ’07 and ’08 there were multiples that we attended or the Commander and CSM were part of the official party and spoke to the gathered.  I am in no way a religious person but Amazing Grace has a physical impact on me to this day, whether I knew those being memorialized or not.  I love the military traditions in honoring the fallen and I will never turn away from it, they, their comrades and especially their families deserve every ounce of respect and to feel the emotion of all those who attend.

I have never taken kindly to violence towards children.  I do not mean seeing a child getting a crack or two across the ass, I mean the outright physical and emotional trauma delivered against a child that can only be construed as abuse, as well as their suffering from going without when the capacity for them to be provided the most basic of sustainment is readily available to them, should they be allowed to receive it.  I was never truly affected by children until I went to war.  I grew up seeing the bearded dude in the Feed the Children commercials, read about the drought and the starving children in Ethiopia, saw news footage of the warlords stealing the UN supplies right out of the hungry hands of children in Somolia, but none of that ever affected me until I saw it first hand.

On my first trip to Afghanistan I was privileged to support an ODA that had a medic who set up a clinic for the locals in the Asadabad area.  Each day he had the sick, lame and maimed come to the clinic and seek what aid he could give them.  I was standing on the wall in Bagram when I witnessed children crossing a field and one of them disappeared because that field was littered with mines left behind by the Russians and the child had strayed off to pick up their toy that had fallen out of their hands.  I saw countless children maimed and missing limbs because of the left behind detritus of war, but it was not until I went to Iraq in 2004 that I would see something happen to a child that took a very, very long time to get over.

I was driving in a convoy from Mosul to Kirkuk and we had just left Mosul.  We were no more than a mile down the road heading towards town when on the other side of the road a group of children were gathered, waving and cheering at us.  One child, more exuberant than the rest ran towards the road and entered without looking when he was hit by a taxi at a high rate of speed.  We were not able to stop, I am certain there was nothing we could do if we had, but there were many nights on that trip, and many more since then that I have seen that little boy’s body flying through the air and what I assumed was his father crying out and falling over him in tears as we drove by.  At that point, in that location we were the saviors of those people and as I was driving my vehicle by those excited kids one of them died.

Between Iraq and Afghanistan I have seen all manner of evil inflicted on children.  Much of it done by the Taliban and AQ, but I have also seen children turn, right before my very eyes into what their relatives were as they lay crying over their bodies.  No matter how righteous the cause, or how evil the target is, when you waste someone in front of their children, the children will become what you have been fighting.  We have killed some truly evil people, people that have perpetrated the most heinous of crimes against my comrades as well as the people they claim they are “saving”.  I often wonder how many times I have witnessed the birth of a horror that will come into being during my children’s lifetime.  I have not one ounce of regret for any of the bad guys (or even gals) that have fallen by our hands, I have witnessed too much to ever believe that they would not do the same to me if given the chance.

All the suffering children in the news lately has pained me.  First we had the children from Central American countries and Mexico on our southern border who were just trying to get away from the violence of their home countries.  Children whose parents are not even trying to get in our borders but want the opportunity for a better life for their children, because without it they will either die by the time they are teenagers or become part of the cycle of violence that some of our own country’s policies have helped perpetuate for decades.  Even in this land of plenty we have a loud and vocal group who would deny CHILDREN the safety and sanctity that we espouse as a hallmark of our own immigrant populace to the rest of the world.  Today, it is little children in Northern Iraq, a country I had hoped we could leave behind when we declared hostilities over in 2011, who are the targets of the next breed of evil, ISIL.  The Yazidi minority are being attacked and run out of their homes along with Kurds and Shia by a terrorist organization who has spanned the borders of Syria and Iraq in attempt to bring forth their Sunni caliphate.  They are so bad that even other Sunni tribes within Iraq want nothing to do with them are at least defending their territory in replace of a strong response by the Iraqi military, a military we trained and equipped well.  I guess that goes to show that no matter how well you train and equip an army, they are no good without a cohesive government, even within their own borders.

All this negative effect has brought about some positive personal growth.  I truly appreciate my children, even the teenager.  I am not ashamed to say that watching my daughter in her most recent dance recital made my eyes a little more than cloudy.  Watching her perform was one of the most joyous things I have been able to witness and I look forward to her growth within her art or following her on whatever path she takes as she grows.  I look forward to seeing my son graduate next year and I hope one day he understands that it is not disappointment that I feel with his under-achievement in academics, it is simply a desire to see him succeed at whatever life throws at him.  I love when I am out and see an infant or toddler laughing and raising hell, it is a moment I can truly appreciate even from a distance.  That is what all children should experience and I have seen too many of them who have pain in their lives.

We wage war so that the world can be a better place.  It is the children who inherit our successes and unfortunately, our mistakes as well.  We would do well to teach them to learn from our mistakes rather than repeat them.  This post started because I was watching a video earlier of the humanitarian flights taking place in Iraq right now and of the many little children who are being loaded into too few helicopters to get them to safety from the top of Mount Sinjar.  It made me think of that little Iraqi boy all those years ago in Mosul.  We all have our demons and scars.

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I don’t blame the President, like so many others do, for pulling us out of Iraq completely in 2011.  We had no legal protections like we do in many of the other countries we have bases, and quite frankly the Iraqis were trained about as good as they were going to get at the time.  The President was not the architect of the pull-out, merely the catalyst.  I spent just under half of the eight years we were in that country on the ground there, and by my last trip there were some clearly definitive improvements over my first trip.  There was still a long way to go for the country to lift itself up and become self-sufficient in its own sovereignty, but without a good, clear Status of Forces Agreement to protect our service people it would not have been good to stay there any longer.

Now, after things in neighboring countries are spilling over, and the Iraqi army turned tail and ran, we are sending a small number of advisers back over there to see if we can help the country pull its head out of its ass and reclaim the land that roughly 1000 members of an Al Qaeda offshoot known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, not ISIS like many of the sensationalist, mis-informed media would have you believe) a violent, vagabond organization, bent on creating a Sunni Islamic caliphate from Iraq westward to Syria and south through the rest of the Levant (look that one up yourself), whose methods are considered so out there, so violent, that AQ, the parent company has disavowed them as members of their cause.  Spilling forth from northern Syria, this violent band of misfits cut a swath through the heart of Sunni Muslim countryside, slaying en masse, Iraqi troops who either surrendered or were captured during their disorganized retreat from some of the largest cities and most important economic industries in the country.

Hard fought battles were waged through the eight years of war for highly contested areas such as Mosul, Kirkuk, Bayji, Baqouba, Tal Afar, Ramadi, Fallujah and countless other places where I lost friends, not all of which died, many of them are alive and kicking but are regularly haunted by the experiences they had in these places.  Now, we are going back and try to help a country which has only marginally demonstrated the ability to govern itself without an atrocity generating dictator at the helm.  Despite this, unlike many of my peers and fellow countrymen I am not angry about it.

I am not angry that the work of 4500 souls has gone unfinished.  I am not angry that my teenage son who comes of age in the next year could be caught up in the same conflict I spent so many years of my life fighting in.  I am not angry that there does not seem to be an end to the 1500 years of conflict that has waged in the region.  I am not angry about any of that, saddened and disheartened maybe, but not angry.

What does make me angry is my own country.  It is not that we are sending folks back there, that is the job we signed up to do, but don’t be deceived by the wording of no combat troops are going to the region, who do you think we will send PAC clerks, cooks or maybe even finance folks?  The type of advisers we will be sending are combat troops, they are the ones who know how to lead, train and inspire the uninspired to defend what is theirs from those who would take it from them.  I am angry at my fellow country, citizens, fellow veterans and politicians who have somehow turned this into a Democrat v. Republican, liberal v. conservative, media fueled agenda.  Some of the hate fueled vitriol that has been dispensed on a daily basis in the press and in social media has moved me beyond anger at times to mere disgust.  On top of everything gas prices have begun to rise, yet again, as speculators have done what they have done for the last decade, falsely inflate prices now for gas that has already been paid for at a lower rate when oil required for the future has not gone up yet in price in order to be refined for gas I have no need to buy yet.

One of the reasons I am retiring is because I am tired of war.  I spent the first decade of my career training for an enemy that did not exist anymore, just to go fight one we were only marginally prepared for.  If not for those 19 assholes on 9/11 I probably would never have gone to war.  I probably would never have learned of loss or hope, pushed myself to the limits I have at times, trained and gotten selected for the most professional organization I could ever have gotten in to, or, felt fear turn to something completely different as I went in to situations that had potentially life threatening consequences.  There is nothing like the feeling as you wait for the ramp to drop on a CH-47 as you land on a LZ in Al Anbar province during the year 2005.  There is nothing like walking down the streets of northwest Fallujah in the middle of the night 7 or 8 months after it being retaken.  There is also nothing in the world like watching a child’s eyes as their father or relative lay dead near them; no matter how old they are or how cruel that person may have been, you will witness the birth of an enemy right before your very eyes.

War is hell and man is good at war.  It does not matter how high the moral ground we walk on, we can rarely hold it without violence.  We can limit the damage as much as possible for those who do not have a dog in the fight, but sooner or later, inadvertent or intentional, you will feed the cycle of creating an enemy.  Our current battleground has existed for thousands of years before we came into being as a nation and the nations there have been fighting the majority of that time, either with each other, internally or with nations with the intent of expanding their empires.  Today’s current crises are not born from the last decades actions, that is merely the current fertilizer used to grow out the seeds of discontent.  The crises today are the results of hundreds of years of tribalism and infighting coupled with short-sighted boundary defining by the Imperial masters who knew they could not hold on any longer.  Any action we take should be an example for the right people to rise up and take the reins.  The circle will be broken at some point, I just hope that my friends who will carry on the warrior traditions after I am gone do not suffer for it and return to their families whole.

A good friend of mine posed a great question to day on Facebook: Would this Generation storm the beach at Normandy?  This is a great question because most of what this generation has to base military success on is the last 12 years that we have been at war in Afghanistan and the five years we spent in Iraq.  A significant portion of today’s military has only been in uniform in the days after 9/11.

Those of us who are approaching the old age in our careers are beginning to dwindle in number.  We started our careers in a much different military.  Our enemy was different and as such our training was different.  We were also much slower to adapt to the environment as an institution.  As the 90’s moved on after the collapse of the Soviet Union it became more apparent that war was less about the “force on force” battles we had prepared for and more about the asymmetric nature of terrorism and with the rapid increase in technologies and to a certain extent, excesses, our exploitable threat surfaces have grown at a rate that simple military action is not enough in war.

In today’s science of war, overwhelming force only gets you so far.  Service members of today are not simply Infantrymen (soon to be women, maybe).  The core philosophies and battle drills will allow you gain ground, but as we have found out over and over again, the war does not stop there.  You must also be politician, diplomat, peacemaker and occasionally, life taker.

Before going back to D-Day, let me clarify my stance a little.  WWII veterans are called the Greatest Generation.  They deserve that title, they earned it on battlefields throughout the world.  There has been a comparison made today given the nature of war that we veterans today have earned that right as well.  This measure of respect has been granted by many of the aforementioned veterans of our last world war.  As an individual, while I am honored and can understand many of the reasons that have been put forth, and would never dare to argue with my forebrothers in arms, I as an individual do not agree with that assessment.

There is no doubt that our military, especially my Army, is better equipped, better trained and have years more experience than our WWII veterans had.  We are able to achieve larger victories with less personnel.  We have greater resources at our disposal and we can be updated in near-real time as the battle rages around us.  Our tactics, techniques and procedures are proven and adaptable and our leadership philosophies allow us to act in the absence of senior leadership.

So given how impressed I am with our military resources do I think our generation could storm the beaches at Normandy?  If we were talking from a strictly military perspective it would be a resounding, Hell Yes!  Given the fact that the question was in regards to the current generation however, I would have to say no.

There are many reasons for my reluctance to give this generation this type of credit.  First, it is a somewhat unfair comparison to make.  A significant portion of the forces that stormed the beaches on D-Day were not volunteers like today’s forces are.  They were draftees, they were away from home for the duration of the war; while we may be an overall better force today for being all volunteer, I am not so sure that it has not come with a cost.  Despite the vast majority being levied into service and taken away from home, the greater portion of them did so with full support of the country behind them.  Not only did they leave everything they had on those bloody beaches, the folks back home were making sacrifices as well.  As a growing number of men were deploying overseas women for the first time were holding down the jobs that the men left behind.  Rosie the Riveter was as big a cultural icon as Uncle Sam.  The empowerment women gained by building our airplanes and battleships, working in the forges and filling all the other employment gaps left in the wake is still being felt today as the glass ceiling grows even more brittle.

Those left behind were subject to rationing.  Fuel, sugar, coffee, metals and other items were on limited distribution.  It became a way of life for people and it was a measure of their support for the war effort and was considered a duty and a responsibility.  Could you imagine this generation making those same types of sacrifice?  I cannot.

D-Day was planned and approved by the Army.  While there was political pressure to do something on mainland Europe, in the end it was Marshall and Eisenhower who gave the order to launch, not the politicians back home.  Today, we do not have the political will nor the fortitude to do something that would have the casualty count of D-Day.  This despite the fact that our personal protective equipment is much better than those who left the landing craft on that day.  In fact, they had none.  Many were so overburdened that they did not even have the chance to die in battle, they drowned in a panic as they went over the sides as countless machine gun rounds and artillery rained down upon them.

The term “the Greatest Generation” was built on the backs of the veterans who lived and died.  It also reflected the sacrifices made of those at home.  Those who rationed, waited fearfully, broke down gender boundaries and understood their efforts were to help topple the Axis of Evil who were bent on domination of the world.  Today, it is only the families of our service members who face those same issues at home.  The “Me” generation has more in hand than the Greatest one did and with that less of an appreciation.  Pound for pound, round for round, we may have a greater military, capable of taking those beaches but the support and understanding of a nation is not even in the same league.

Patriotism is as misunderstood of a word as heroism is.  Our rights are represented in memes on social media, politicians and media sensationalists dictate in 90 second sound bites their version of the truth in a manner that is divisive and meant to dictate the reach of their power rather than provide direction, motivation and purpose to the country they are sworn to represent. So, could this generation storm the beaches of Normandy? Fuck no.  Could our military, given the freedom to do what they do best?  Fuck yes!