26 August 2005

In the company of heroes

I dream of rain, I dream of gardens in the desert sand-----Sting (Desert Rose)

That song is so much more poignant now that I have spent another summer here in Mesopotamia. The climate here is like nothing most Americans have ever seen, let alone imagined. The sun rises at 0600 or so and the first thing you notice in the light is the amount of dust in the air. You can tell whether it will be hell to breathe or if the heat is your only elemental enemy of the day. The sun rises into the sky like an orange disk, then yellow, then white hot as 0900 approaches. The tempature in the summer rarely dips below 80 degrees at night, and as the sun climbs, the mercury in the thermometer chases after as if the the sun and the tempature are in some macabre race. By 1030 the tempature is already hitting 105 degrees, by noon 115 is in sight and by 1400, we have hit our usual summit of 120-125 degrees. It remains that tempature until about 1900 when night blessedly falls over the FOB and the scorching sun is no longer there to torment us. There hasn't been a cloud in the sky in 3 months and we are still another month or two from an actual raindrop or two. Just another 45 days or so of the merciless yellow orb and the blast furnance it creates day after day.

People often ask what it feels like, of course I am happy to tell them what it's like. Imagine standing in front of your stove, turn it up to 130 degrees, now get inside of it, take your hair dryer and put it on full blast in your face. Don't forget to take a 500 watt light bulb and have it reflect off of sand colored surfaces into your eyes, no matter which diection you turn. For variety throw some talcum powder quality dust in your face. To complete the effect put on a 25 pound torso encompassing ceramic and syntehtic vest, add an 8 pound ceramic helmet, a T-shirt, long sleeve tunic, full length pants, wool socks and boots. Now imagine doing that everyday for 7 months, which is about the equivalent of the Iraqi summer. 130,000 men and women do it every single day, they don't do it for money, they don't do it for fame, they do it because they believe in something. They believe in an idea, an idea that America has a responsibility to do what we can to fight hatred, oppression and evil. We are a blessed nation to have so many give so much for so little in return. I am inspired everyday I am with them.

They come from everywhere and nowhere, little towns, our largest cities, and countries near and far. They joined for many reasons, money, adventure, education, and patriotism. But ponder this; On September 11th, 2005 it will have been four years since 9/11, most military enlistments are 4 years in length for the initial term. That means that the men and women in uniform today (a majority of them) are here because they want to be. They are here to fight and to win, the bear this out, while the Army is having a small problem with initial recruits, it is having no problems whatsoever in retaining its combat veterans. Ponder fact number 2: The U.S. military now has the largest pool of combat veterans in the world today. Since 9/11 we have cycled nearly one million total soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines through Iraq, Afghanistan, and the other fronts in the War on Terrorism. These combat veterans by and large are electing to stay and continue the fight. That speaks of the American character and the uniqueness of the American experience.

Throughout our history we have been a nation of rejects and castoffs. We as a people are the ones the rest of the world tried to persecute, or the ones that wanted more than the rigid social castes of much of the globe, or we were daydreamers and adventurers. We found all that we wanted and more in America, we found a land where birth did not equal status, where a poor man could become rich if he worked hard and was a little lucky, and we were a land where one's belief's didn't matter. The heart of a man or woman was judged by the actions of that person. You find that spirit in the Army today(the branch I am most familiar with), I have seen Russian boys and Nigerian girls transform from castoffs of the Old world into models of American character. I met a young man from Lebanon that joined the U.S. Army after 9/11 because he could not understand the level of evil it took to attack the beacon that is America. In my travels I have met men and women that believed so greatly in our country they were willing to risk their lives just to be one of us. I have never been prouder to be an American as when I am in their company, yet at the same time, I feel a small amount of despair. The despair is in the fact that so few of our own young people are willing to put their life on the line for liberty and freedom. We still have enough that are willing to do their duty for our nation, but it still troubles me.

I have spent nearly a year in Iraq in my three tours here, and my spirits are always buoyed by watching my countrymen and potential countrymen at work and at play. They go out everyday and face mortal peril, they go out and have to confront the evil of our time, they go out and see friends killed or maimed for life. They do that and still they smile much more than they scowl, they show love and compassion to the Iraqi people instead of fear and hatred. They still believe in the mission even after nearly 1900 of them have been cut down in the sands of Mesopotamia. Being here with them reinforces my beliefs in humanity and my idealism, with brave and selfless men and women such as these, anything is possible. The fires of human passions are often at their hottest in war, the fires of evil seek to scorch and destroy all that is good, in our men and women I see the fires of righteousness in action. Good done for the sake of good, selflessness for the sake of your brothers and sisters in arms, sacrifice in the name of love, and honor in a battle against those without honor. I truly have been blessed these last 2 and 1/2 years, I have lived in the company of heroes. Heroes of America, heroes to the downtrodden and dispossessed, heroes to the persecuted and brutalized, heroes descended from the peoples of every nation under heaven.



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