Letter Home From Iraq

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    Letter Home From Iraq

    Active Duty Warrior (actual name withheld) | 11 Sep 04 | Active Duty Attack
    Helicopter Pilot

    From (name deleted) USNA \'01....................

    Dad, you asked me what I would say to America from Iraq on 9/11 if I had a
    podium and a microphone. I have thought about it, and here is my response.
    Your Son, (deleted) September 11, 2004 Dear America,

    \"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand
    ready to do violence on their behalf.\" -George Orwell

    The Marine Corps is tired. I guess I should not say that, as I have no
    authority or responsibility to speak for the Marine Corps as a whole, and
    my opinions are mine alone. I will rephrase: this Marine is tired. I write
    this piece from the sands of Iraq, west of Baghdad, at three a.m., but I am
    not tired of the sand. I am neither tired of long days, nor of flying and
    fighting. I am not tired of the food, though it does not taste quite right.
    I am not tired of the heat; I am not tried of the mortars that occasionally
    fall on my base. I am not tired of Marines dying, though all Marines, past
    and present, mourn the loss of every brother and sister that is killed;
    death is a part of combat and every warrior knows that going into battle.
    One dead Marine is too many, but we give more than we take, and unlike our
    enemies, we fight with honor. I am not tired of the missions or the people;
    I have only been here a month, after all. I am, however, tired of the
    hypocrisy and short-sightedness that seems to have gripped so many of my
    countrymen and the media. I am tired of political rhetoric that misses the
    point, and mostly I am tired of people \"not getting it.\"

    Three years ago I was sitting in a classroom at Quantico, Virginia, while
    attending the Marine Corps Basic Officer Course, learning about the finer
    points of land navigation. Our Commanding Officer interrupted the class to
    inform us that some planes had crashed in New York and Washington D.C., and
    that he would return when he knew more. Tears welled in the eyes of the
    Lieutenant on my right while class continued, albeit with an audience that
    was not very focused; his sister lived in New York and worked at the World
    Trade Center. We broke for lunch, though instead of going to the chow hall
    proceeded to a small pizza and sub joint which had a television. Slices of
    pizza sat cold in front of us as we watched the same vivid images that you
    watched on September 11, 2001. I look back on that moment now and realize
    even then I grasped, at some level, that the events of that day would alter
    both my military career and my country forever. Though I did not know that
    three years later, to the day, I would be flying combat missions in Iraq as
    an AH-1W Super Cobra pilot, I did understand that a war had just begun, on
    television for the world to see, and that my classmates and I would fight
    that war. After lunch we were told to go to our rooms, clean our weapons
    and pack our gear for possible deployment to the Pentagon to augment
    perimeter security. The parting words of the order were to make sure we
    packed gloves, in case we had to handle bodies.

    The first Marine killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom was in my company at The
    Basic School, and was sitting in that land navigation class on September
    11. He fought bravely, led from the front, and was killed seizing an oil
    refinery on the opening day of the war. His heroism made my emergency
    procedure memorization for the T-34 primary flight school trainer seem
    quite insignificant. This feeling of frustration was shared by all of the
    student pilots, but we continued to press on. As one instructor pointed out
    to us, \"You will fight this war, not me. Make sure that you are prepared
    when you get there.\" He was right; my classmates from Pensacola are here
    beside me, flying every day in support of the Marines on the ground. That
    instructor has since retired, but I believe he has retired knowing that he
    made a contribution to the greatest country in the history of the world,
    the United States of America.

    Many of you will read that statement and balk at its apparently
    presumptuous and arrogant nature, and perhaps be tempted to stop reading
    right here. I would ask that you keep going, for I did not say that
    Americans are better than anyone else, for I do not believe that to be the
    case. I did not say that our country, its leaders, military or intelligence
    services are perfect or have never made mistakes, because throughout
    history they have, and will continue to do so, despite their best efforts.
    The Nation is more than the sum of its citizens and leaders, more than its
    history, present, or future; a nation has contemporary values which change
    as its leaders change, but it also has timeless character, ideals forged
    with the blood and courage of patriots. To quote the Pledge of Allegiance,
    our nation was founded \"under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice
    for all.\" As Americans, we have more freedom than we can handle sometimes.

    If you are an atheist you might have a problem with that whole \"under God\"
    part; if you are against liberating the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Asia,
    all of Europe (twice), and the former Soviet bloc, then perhaps the
    \"liberty and justice for all\" section might leave you fuming. Our Nation,
    throughout its history, has watered the seeds of democracy on many
    continents, with blood, even when the country was in disagreement about
    those decisions. Disagreement is a wonderful thing. To disagree with your
    neighbors and your government is at the very heart of freedom. Citizens
    have disagreed about every important and controversial decision made by
    their leaders throughout history. Truman had the courage to drop two
    nuclear weapons in order to end the largest war in history, and then, by
    his actions, prevented the Soviets from extinguishing the light of
    democracy in Eastern Europe, Berlin. Lincoln preserved our country through
    civil war; Reagan knew in his heart that freedom is a more powerful weapon
    than oppression. Leaders are paid to make difficult, sometimes
    controversial decisions. History will judge the success of their actions
    and the purity of their intent in a way that is impossible at the present
    moment. In your disagreement and debate about the current conflict,
    however, be very careful that you do not jeopardize your nation or those
    who serve. The best time to use your freedom of speech to debate difficult
    decisions is before they are made, not when the lives of your countrymen
    are on the line.

    Cherish your civil rights; I know that after having been in Iraq for only
    one month I have a new appreciation for mine. You have the right to say
    that you \"support the troops\" but oppose the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    You have the right to vote for Senator John Kerry because you believe that
    he has an exit strategy for Iraq, or because you just cannot stand
    President Bush. You have the right to vote for President George W. Bush if
    you believe that he has done a good job over the last four years. You might
    even decide that you do not want to vote at all and would rather avoid the
    issues as much as possible. That is certainly your option, and doing
    nothing is the only option for many people in this world.

    It is not my place, nor am I allowed by the Uniformed Code of Military
    Justice, to tell you how to vote. But I can explain to you the truth about
    what is going on around you. We know, and have known from the beginning,
    that the ultimate success or failure of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, as
    well as the future of those countries, rests solely on the shoulders of the
    Iraqi and Afghani people. If someone complains that we should not have gone
    to war with Saddam Hussein, that our intelligence was bad, that President
    Bush\'s motives were impure, then take the appropriate action. Exercise your
    right to vote for Senator Kerry, but please stop complaining about
    something that happened over a year ago. The decision to deploy our
    military in Iraq and Afghanistan is in the past, and while I believe that
    it is important to the democratic process for our nation to analyze the
    decisions of our leadership in order to avoid repeating mistakes, it is far
    more important to focus on the future. The question of which candidate will
    \"get us out of Iraq sooner\" should not be a consideration in your mind. YOU
    SHOULD NOT WANT US OUT OF IRAQ OR AFGHANISTAN SOONER. There is only one
    coherent exit strategy that will make our time here worthwhile and validate
    the sacrifice of so many of our countrymen. There is only one strategy that
    has a chance of promoting peace and stabilizing the Middle East. It is the
    exit strategy of both candidates, though voiced with varying volumes and
    differing degrees of clarity. I will speak of Iraq because that is where I
    am, though I feel the underlying principle applies to both Iraq and
    Afghanistan.

    The American military must continue to help train and support the Iraqi
    Police, National Guard, and Armed Forces. We must continue to give them
    both responsibility and the authority with which to carry out those
    responsibilities, so that they eventually can kill or capture the former
    regime elements and foreign terrorists that are trying to create a radical,
    oppressive state. We must continue to repair the infrastructure that we
    damaged during the conflict, and improve the infrastructure that was
    insufficient when Saddam was in power. We should welcome and encourage
    partners in the coalition but recognize that many will choose the path of
    least resistance and opt out; many of our traditional allies have been
    doing this for years and it should not surprise us. We must respect the
    citizens of Iraq and help them to understand the meaning of basic human
    rights, for those are something the average Iraqi has never experienced. We
    must be respectful of our cultural and religious differences. We must help
    the Iraqis develop national pride, and most importantly, we must leave this
    country better than we found it, at the right time, with a chance of
    success so that its people will have an opportunity to forge their own
    destiny. We must do all of these things as quickly and efficiently as
    possible so that we are not seen as occupiers, but rather liberators and
    helpers. We must communicate this to the world as clearly and frequently as
    possible, both with words and actions.

    If we leave before these things are done, then Iraq will fall into anarchy
    and possibly plunge the Middle East into another war. The ability of the
    United States to conduct foreign policy will be severely, and perhaps
    permanently, degraded. Terrorism will increase, both in America and around
    the world, as America will have demonstrated that it is not interested in
    building and helping, only destroying. If we run or exit early, we prove to
    our enemies that terror is more powerful and potent than freedom. Many
    nations, like Spain, have already affirmed this in the minds of the
    terrorists. Our failure, and its consequences, will be squarely on our
    shoulders as a nation. It will be our fault. If we stay the course and Iraq
    or Afghanistan falls into civil war on its own, then our hands are clean.
    As a citizen of the United States and a U.S. Marine, I will be able to
    sleep at night with nothing on my conscience, for I know that I, and my
    country, have done as much as we could for these people. If we leave early,
    I will not be able to live with myself, and neither should you. The blood
    will be on our hands, the failure on our watch.

    The bottom line is this: Republican or Democrat, approve or disapprove of
    the decision to go to war, you need to support our efforts here. You cannot
    both support the troops and protest their mission. Every time the parent of
    a fallen Marine gets on CNN with a photo, accusing President Bush of
    murdering his son, the enemy wins a strategic victory. I cannot begin to
    comprehend the grief he feels at the death of his son, but he dishonors the
    memory of my brave brother who paid the ultimate price. That Marine
    volunteered to serve, just like the rest of us. No one here was drafted. I
    am proud of my service and that of my peers. I am ashamed of that parent\'s
    actions, and I pray to God that if I am killed my parents will stand with
    pride before the cameras and reaffirm their belief that my life and
    sacrifice mattered; they loved me dearly and they firmly support the
    military and its mission in Iraq and Afghanistan. With that statement, they
    communicate very clearly to our enemies around the world that America is
    united, that we cannot be intimidated by kidnappings, decapitations and
    torture, and that we care enough about the Afghani and Iraqi people to give
    them a chance at democracy and basic human rights. Do not support those
    that seek failure for us, or seek to trivialize the sacrifices made here.
    Do not make the deaths of your countrymen be in vain. Communicate to your
    media and elected officials that you are behind us and our mission. Send
    letters and encouragement to those who are deployed. When you meet a person
    that serves you, whether in the armed forces, police, or fire department,
    show them respect. Thank the spouses around you every day, raising children
    alone, whose loved ones are deployed. Remember not only those that have
    paid the ultimate price, but the veterans that bear the physical and
    emotional scars of defending your freedom. At the very least, follow your
    mother\'s advice. \"If you can\'t say something nice, don\'t say anything at
    all.\" Do not give the enemy a foothold in our Nation\'s public opinion. He
    rejoices at Fahrenheit 9/11 and applauds every time an American slams our
    efforts. The military can succeed here so long as American citizens support
    us wholeheartedly.

    Sleep well on this third anniversary of 9/11, America. Rough men are
    standing ready to do violence on your behalf. Many of your sons and
    daughters volunteered to stand watch for you. Not just rough men- the
    infantry, the Marine grunts, the Special Operations Forces- but lots of
    eighteen and nineteen year old kids, teenagers, who are far away from home,
    serving as drivers, supply clerks, analysts, and mechanics. They all have
    stories, families, and dreams. They miss you, love you, and are putting
    their lives on the line for you. Do not make their time here, their
    sacrifice, a waste. Support them, and their mission.

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