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August 31, 2010

A Man in Full

Via pond, this story in the Washington Post:

I met Roy in early 2007. I was the leader of a reconnaissance platoon of scouts and snipers in Iraq and was just back from a two-week leave in the United States. Roy was our new interpreter.

That night, my platoon was sent out on a raid. Our target was an al-Qaeda suicide-attack coordinator. Scanning the intelligence report, I learned that previous attempts to capture him had ended with his bodyguards detonating suicide vests and killing 16 Iraqi police officers. An image of my lead scout team entering a house in southern Baghdad and vanishing in a ball of fire flashed through my mind.

I gave my platoon a 30-second rundown of the situation and the mission, and we scattered to our vehicles. As I pulled on my night-vision goggles and the pitch blackness turned a glowing green, it hit me that less than 24 hours before, I was eating lunch at a Panera in Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport. Life is full of surprises.

But that night, at least, the surprises went our way. We raided the target's home without incident, capturing him while he slept in his bed. Later, as I watched two of my snipers lead the shuffling insurgent toward a U.S. prison in Baghdad, I saw what looked like a little kid in camouflage get out of the armored vehicle two down from mine.

I glanced at one of my scout team leaders. "Who let the 12-year-old out with us?"

"That's Roy, the new terp, sir."

"Does his mom know it's past his bedtime?"

I don't think there's a day that goes by that I don't feel guilty about not writing about the war. For years and years Iraq and Afghanistan were the topics I wrote about most - often 2 or 3 times a day.

The thing is, I've gotten to the point where I can't write about it without spending the entire day in tears. I hate myself for being such a wuss when there are people fighting and dying half a world away.

On the other hand, I get paid to be on the phone with clients all day and I can't cry on the phone. By the time I got halfway through the WaPo piece I had tears running down my face. Of course, the phone rang just then.

It was one of my oldest clients - a wonderful man I've worked with since 1999 (hard to believe). I know that he would have understood, but I couldn't ask him to call back without breaking down completely. Still, I want to thank pond for reminding me of what is important in life.

Men like Mohammed are important (and yes, I realize he was just a boy but his actions were those of a man). And we ought not to be ashamed to shed a few tears for them, and for their families. May God bring his mother comfort.

Update: also worth reading.

Although a majority of Americans had long since turned against the war by 2007, they understood that how we left Iraq, and the Iraq we left behind, mattered greatly. Those of us who had lived through Vietnam—a withdrawal under fire, a broken military, a national crisis of confidence—did not want to go there again. Albeit reluctantly, the American people gave the new strategy, and our men and women in uniform, the time they needed to succeed.

To his credit, President Obama has built on this success. As promised, he is continuing to bring our troops home but without jeopardizing what has been achieved. His next task is to realize a long-term diplomatic, economic and security partnership between Iraq and the United States. As he does so, it will help Iraqis achieve a brighter future and make the U.S. effort in Iraq a hard-won success for all Americans.

Pray for Iraq, for the men and women who served there, and the ones still serving there.

Posted by Cassandra at August 31, 2010 01:56 PM

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I think this war has been up close and personal for those who have fought it, but also for those who have supported it. That young man did what was right, especially because he knew he would have no chance at a normal life unless he took a stand.

His mother raised a noble young man...what I would call a stripling warrior. Godspeed, Roy, wherever you are, and may you and your family be safe and sound all your days.

Posted by: Cricket at August 31, 2010 02:27 PM

His mother raised a noble young man...what I would call a stripling warrior.

Amen, Cricket.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 31, 2010 02:30 PM

Some boys are warriors beyond my understanding. God keep him, now, and bring comfort to his family.

Posted by: htom at August 31, 2010 02:30 PM

One of the requirements for entering the Iraqi Flight School is service with a ground combat unit before commissioning. The kids I've been teaching have all been in fights and lost classmates -- but most of them joined so they wouldn't lose any more *family*.

Posted by: BillT at August 31, 2010 03:12 PM

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Posted by: Hari at August 31, 2010 03:41 PM

The kids I've been teaching have all been in fights and lost classmates -- but most of them joined so they wouldn't lose any more *family*.

And then they turn on the TV or radio and hear Jumpin' Joe Biden agitating to partition Iraq. Or bitching and moaning about how the Iraqis need to "step up".

What a pretentious ass that man is.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 31, 2010 05:10 PM

Biden is a 'pretentious ass' and a dangerous fool.

Posted by: vet66 at August 31, 2010 07:05 PM

Cass, I found your comment regarding "guilt" over not writing about the war interesting. I think you may underestimate how "the war" and your stake in it informs your writing as a whole. This quiet season, in a sense, may be more of a sacred silence; those of us with military backgrounds understand.

A generation ago, while on an overseas tour in Germany, I was befriended by an Army Battalion Commander's wife (he was not in my chain of command). He was a highly decorated, multiple-combat tour, Viet Nam vet; she was just wonderful. Home, for me, is where I understand, and am understood. When I hear your voice, in your writing, I feel at home, much as I felt when I conversed with her.

I thank you for that; you do those who serve a wonderful affirmation of their value.

Posted by: Rick at September 1, 2010 05:02 AM

War is what it is. There is always tragedy in war. There is also hope.

Posted by: AM at September 6, 2010 10:39 PM