Home and ready to reflect.
I was on a Blackhawk flying from Kirkuk to Sulaymaniya and then down to Tikrit and I remember the feeling of freedom that comes with flying in a vehicle with no doors 100 feet off the ground at 150 miles per hour. You are so completely vulnerable at that time and have no control over your life until you regain the ground. But I realized that you have no control of your life under normal circumstances. Sure you can decide what to wear to work, or what to eat at lunch or even if you read this blog or not, you can even decide to take a sick day for no reason and go to the beach instead, but in the end we aren't in control. God is in control of our lives, he knows the hour of our birth and the time of our death, it is his will as to how long we live in this earthly realm. In that moment I realized that no amount of fear, no amount of bargaining, and even no amount of prayer would save me if an insurgent took that helicopter out. Some people would be given to thoughts of despair or despondency, but I was happy. In fact, I was giddy like a kid in grade school, I had accepted a universal truth of life in a place where death stalked you every day. I remember the freedom I had in the rest of my tour in Iraq, that feeling that I was free to do all that I could to make things in Iraq better and that come what may I knew that I had no control of it. That giving up of control to something greater than yourself can also be found in members of the military. To my colleagues on the left they see spirit crushing militarism when they look at the Armed Forces, I see redemptive freedom, the freedom to exist in the moment to be part of a noble endeavor where everyone struggles together to make something better than it was, or to preserve it for what it is. Many people say the military is the repository of a nation's moral values. I agree to a point with that statement, but I also believe that the military of the U.S. is the spirit of our country reaching for a better world or as Ronald Reagan put it, that shining city upon the hill. In that moment on that Blackhawk, I realized that I wasn't a contractor trying to survive a helicopter flight, I was an American and moreso a Christian experiencing the freedom that comes with acceptance of God's will over my life.
The second thing I learned I already knew it, but I forgot it. You see, Iraq is clarity, clarity in a way that someone that has never been there can never ever experience. Everything about Iraq comes through to a person so much more forcefully than in the world of home. Iraq is like a whole different world, things seem more real than they do now that I'm back. I have seen other bloggers talk about it before and they are correct, Iraq heightens your senses and expands your consciousness. Look at me, I sound like Timothy O'Leary talking about a good LSD trip, but it's true. Only in Iraq have I experienced sheer terror while laughing my ass off in rapturous delight. Only in Iraq have I felt like I wanted to cry out of loneliness, but felt so overwhelmed with pride at serving my country. Only in Iraq have I actually had to confront my own mortality head on, to live in that moment knowing that the next moment I could be dead. Some people might think that living in that moment is impossible with the Sword of Damocles we call death hanging over us at all times. But those of you that haven't been to Iraq can't understand, again I'm going to use that word freedom, the freedom you have when you accept that your fate is not yours to decide is intoxicating. I went on several more missions outside the wire than my wife us aware of, not because I had a death wish or that I was some "gung-ho" fool. No I did it because it was the right thing to do, doing the right thing matters more when it might be the last thing you ever do. But more importantly, I might never be back in this place at this hour doing these things, so if I don't experience it now, I never will. The experiences one goes through in a war zone are unable to be duplicated back in the "real world", and as a result when you leave you crave it a little bit. Iraq is almost like a drug in that regard, I have been home now a little while and I would be lying if I said I didn't have small pangs of wanting to be there right now. Even with the heat, the crappy food, the dangers of indirect fire, IED's and the death of friends, part of me wants to be there right now. I suspect part of me will always want to be there. Some might call me insane, I know my wife thinks I'm a little bonkers for wanting that, but there are reasons. That clarity I talked about earlier when you feel so free and you feel so "GOOD" is absent in this world. By good, I mean that feeling that you are on the side of right, that you are righteous and that your cause is the cause of justice for humanity. In the U.S. sure I can volunteer for charity groups, and sure I can donate to worthwhile causes, but most of those deeds pale in comparison to the conviction that your work has led to a people becoming free. To know that you destroyed a tyrant and his regime is a feeling that is impossible to recreate in this world. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do good things here, but it does mean that they might not be as satisfying as bringing freedom to the lost who have lived their entire lives without it.
I learned a few other things in Iraq, but I haven't formulated my thoughts yet on those issues. I need time to reflect and digest what I went through to make it coherent to people. That having been said I must conclude with this; I am a student of history, (I'm no genius, but I know a thing or two) I have never seen nor read, nor heard of any nation's military at any time in the world's history whose members believed they were fighting for a better world. American armies have always fought for geopolitics, or resources, or even idealism, but this is relatively new. The military of today believes it is not only righteous, but just to bring freedom to oppressed people. The torch of liberty has been passed to a new "Great Generation" that believes it is their destiny to accept the mission of bringing freedom and light to the darkest corners of oppression. I pray our media and certain members of our nation let them finish the mission they have been inspired to begin.
As always linked over at Mudville Gazette.