For perhaps the first time since coming out here, I directly asked two Soldiers what they felt the public most needed to know about them, about Iraq, and about the war. The following remarks, retold with permission, was the response from one of them.
“What I most want the public to know is that we’re out here acting under orders and executing a mission, and we’ll keep doing that until the mission is complete. Yeah, we think about things – we’re not stupid – but we’re here to carry out the mission with which we’ve been tasked. We’re unique in that we’re the ones the volunteered to trust the decisions of our leaders and take their orders. The options are to do that, or sit at home, bitch and complain about everything, but ultimately do nothing. I think it counts for something that we care enough to volunteer. It’s only maybe 1% of the population that does that.
“I think that if people came out here, they’d be a little more understanding. They’d see what we go through, and they’d also see what the Iraqis go through – and what we’re trying to prevent. They’re out here killing each other, and we’re attempting to intervene. Better that than nothing, I’d say. It’s better than just complaining about it.
“In general, I’d say people really support us. A number of folks back home understand us and understand what a combat zone is like – they always take care of us with tons of care packages and letters. They’re good people, and I think they should be recognized for it. Same with the people who don’t really understand, but really support us anyway. They have an idea that it’s difficult out here, they admit that they don’t really grasp everything in full, but they still stand behind us 100%. I admire that. And even the folks that don’t really support the effort, but definitely support the guys fighting it. I’m thankful they’re taking such good care of us.
“The ones I don’t particularly like are the ones that don’t get it, don’t support what we’re doing, and then somehow ‘punish’ us for the policies they oppose. But they forget that we’re not setting policy out here. We’re following the orders of our commanders, who are in turn following the guidance from THEIR commanders – all the way back to the elected leadership of the nation. In the end, it’s they who decide what’s going on here – even though most of them have never been to Iraq. If this is a chess game, we’re the pawns. You have to go a long way before you reach any bishops, castles or queens.
“I think that people back in the states are reluctant to blame one person for whatever they disagree with over here. They’re hesitant to put full responsibility on either an individual or a small body of leaders for their objections to things. It’s easier to blame all of us – the pawns – the 1% of the population that volunteered to do something for their country. We didn’t volunteer for the mission; we volunteered to serve. Sadly, we still get blamed a lot for the mission, which makes no sense.
“I think the hardest thing for us is that we didn’t expect to operate this way. We spend months training on machine gun and rifle ranges. We practice gunnery skills and clearing houses and detaining suspects. We practiced combat missions, because our job is to kill the enemy. Nowhere in our pre-deployment package did we get any classes on being ambassadors, statement or politicians. That job is best reserved for politicians; not men and women who were trained to shoot and destroy the enemy.
“How many people would have joined if they knew this was what they were going to be doing? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I think it depends on the person and their specific reasons for joining."
He seemed finished with this monologue, and the vehicle went silent for a few minutes before he returned to chatting with his partner up front.
“Hey, so how long do you think we could survive in this town by ourselves? Think we’d make it through the night?”
“I dunno man. If I barricaded myself in a fortified building and I was heavily armed, maybe.”
“Yeah, I was thinking either that or run and hide all night. No way in hell we’d survive the daylight hours. They’d kill us…”
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved