Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Open Letter

Below is a letter written to stateside school children in 2007.

Habbaniyah, Iraq:

Imagine being born into a country and a culture that often requires that you quit school before you’ve completed the 5th grade. This isn’t because your parents can’t afford school, but rather because they need you to work – so the whole family can eat. And you spend the next ten years standing or sitting on a small hill of dirt and ensuring that your flock of cattle, goats, or sheep don’t wander off. Periodically, you move them from one brown patch of vegetation to a less brown one.

You have power for a few hours every day. You have one set of clothing. You draw water from a well or from the river, and it’s contaminated. You work from sunup to sunset.

Your future prospects are bleak. In you spare time, you’ve managed to learn to read, and you hope to go to college, but your parents are too afraid that you will be killed by bombs at the university and so they don’t let you go.

At least one of your friends has died like this – randomly gunned down or bombed while they went about their daily lives.

Iraq is not a country of great prospects. It is not a country of hope. At present, it is a country of mere survival. You worry about your next meal, being gunned down in the street or finding work. It is a country of fear. We are laboring tirelessly to change this.

We, as Americans, are more blessed that we can possibly know. We live in relative safety. We typically don’t worry about being shot while taking a walk outside our homes, while shopping or while worshipping. Americans have a future, and the luxury to dream, pursue, and realize those aspirations. And it is our dream that others be afforded similar hope. This is why we are here. To help ensure the safety and peace of a country that has known oppression and despotism for countless years.

But this is an investment, and not without cost. It separates husbands from wives, sons from fathers, and tragically, there are a few that will never return to the arms of those that loved them. Yet we cannot quit. We cannot give up and leave outright violence to seize the day. Why? Because the American dream is that others can dream, too.

So, far from home, we ask you for but one thing – your prayers. We ask that you pray for our wellbeing, for our success, that we find, capture, or eliminate the enemy wreaking havoc, and that in short order we may safely return to our homes and lives. For a love of country we left those we love, and it is to them that we wish to return. Pray for our efforts, and that we will have incomprehensible success.

Love your families. Love your lives. You may not like school, but be glad you know how to read. You may wish to spend your day doing other things, but be glad that at a tender age you aren’t spending it trying to feed your parents and siblings. It is our prayer as soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that our work will ensure that none of you are ever asked to serve here.

We pray that you all will be aware of your rich blessing. That you will recognize your near boundless freedom before its absence makes you aware of what you lost. Pray for us even as we pray for you.

So, greetings from the desert, where the summer sun, even now, begins to redden the backs of our necks and leaves us parched. We wish you well, and hope we will rejoin you stateside before we know it.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved


  1. Amen and thanks for posting that. Eloquently expressive, and resonantly truthful.

  2. I remember reading this letter from Ben to 8th grade Confirmation students and parents at a church in November. You could hear a pin drop in the room.

    I still read this letter to students.