I woke up this morning, 31 August 2010, knowing that the USA was moving out combat troops from Iraq and ceasing combat operations there. It is a surreal experience. After some many years of being in Iraq, deployed, out of the war zone, in hospitals, serving others veterans and contractors trying to make sense out of extreme commitments in dangerous places…it is all coming to a close.
A recent AP article that appeared August 30, 2010 written by Kim Gamel (“All for Not”) begins the anti-war acrimony with the oft-used argument that everything we did there was a waste of time and money…not to mention lives. Gamel is the news editor for the Associated Press in Baghdad since 2006. She has seen a lot. My worry, though, is that in her zeal to get the first post-Iraq shot over the bow, she is being led to concentrate her fire on picking up any bad news perpetrated by America’s decision to invade Iraq. It is an argument that cannot be defeated as anything accomplished is fruit from a poisoned tree. In the case of veterans and contractors who served Iraq, is it fair to say that everything we did there was wrong? Gamel will no doubt over the months to come, make that very argument.
It was, though, he off-hand reference to the murder of 24 Iraqi contractors – returning in one bus from a company social – that provides deeper meaning. Ms. Gamel gives you the impression that too was poison fruit, though the international team of contractors who suffered through the horror of that day would see it quite differently. Communities aligned for progress, transformed by need and ideology, committed to finding peace through development all swept aside as fruits of the poisoned ‘decision. For Ms. Gamel and others, the verbiage will run to volumes. To those of us who fought and worked there, at some personal sacrifice, we have our own thoughts and beliefs to console us.
And what would that consolation be? That events outside of our control prompted us to do what was necessary per the mandate of the US Government and the American people. And to make, as sometimes was the case, sacrifices that meant death and disability regardless of whether we wore uniforms or coveralls. Much of that resolve was not so evident to those living in the Green Zone and hearing the sounds of warfare.
I know of hundreds of now veterans and contractors who are getting up every day and living large – more than likely with great resiliency – in spite of physical and emotional (not to mention spiritual) disabilities. Most will only encounter these fully over the next three to five years. But they continue to serve.
For the friends lost in the war…I grieve because their ghosts remain a poignant reminder to service.
This last day of combat operations in Iraq is not a sad day. I want to feel proud of having served and of remaining at the wheel of assisting others even when things were dark and ominous inside my own head.
At many of the speaking engagements invited to I have often said that if you never stood in formation, deployed with 101 problems on your mind, or wished you were anywhere but where you were – in uniform or not – it is very hard and maybe impossible to understand what we are thinking. At this the last day of combat operations in Iraq, I think I’ll leave it at that…something to think and live through as one who was there then and now.