Veterans Day

The picture shows those famous big Saddam crossed swords.   The hands are replicas of Saddam’s even down to the thumbprint.  Around them and in the road are Iranian helmets.  Saddam liked to “walk on the heads” of his enemies.  There used to be more helmets, but people pry them out and steal them as souvenirs.  It is not worth the trouble, but some people take what they can.  If you stand in a particular spot, it looks in a photo like you are holding those swords   Somebody has marked the sweet spots on the street.  The guy holding the swords is Major Murray, who handles most of the logistics on our PRT. 

It is interesting that Saddam would set up a memorial to his victory when he didn’t win anything and the war nearly destroyed his country, but setting up monuments to dubious victories is an old tradition in the region.  Pharaoh Ramesses did it at Kadesh.  It is actually a parallel.  Ramesses managed to get ambushed by the Hittites, but called getting away and scurrying back to Egypt a major victory.  I guess in his case it worked.  Most people remember Ramesses, but nobody can recall the name of the Hittite king.  Of course, I do not think anybody will recall Saddam in the same way, and I am wandering way off subject.

I am not a warrior and I do not have to be.  I am 52 years old, still alive, free and have never been seriously oppressed or had to face a situation where my courage was severely tested.  For most of human history, being all those things at the same time would have been an impossible or at least an unusual achievement.   Americans take such freedom, security and prosperity for granted thanks to the men and women who keep us safe.  We honor them, too often perfunctorily, on Veterans Day each year.  This year it means more to me, because I am living among heroes.

Our military today is all-volunteer but that does not mean that everybody is a professional soldier.  Here in Iraq I have enjoyed meeting the history teacher from Georgia, who was trying to make a living farming, but was currently doing his duty for his country in Iraq and  guy commanding the Marines at one of the power plants who is an investment banker back home.   We have cops and firemen, pharmacists and small business owners.  They represent the best of America.  The skills they bring from their civilian lives are helping build peace in Iraq and the experiences in Iraq will surely make them better citizens back home.  When you see how fragile freedom can be and how it must be defended, you understand how precious it is in America.

Of course, there are many here who have chosen to make the military their careers.  The striking thing about them is how seriously they take the development of leadership and their responsibility to their jobs and their fellow Marines and anybody else around.  Even very young Marines take charge, full responsibly, “ownership” of their duties.   My particular hero is the Regimental Commander.  I have been observing his leadership style with great interest and will try to adapt some of his techniques.  

Almost everybody in my father’s WWII generation served in the military.    In the later baby boom, my generation, such experience is much less common.  Most in my generation and those that followed don’t know the military first hand and we often get our impressions from what we see on TV or the movies.  Those images are almost always either out of date or wrong.  Some of the images portrayed in the media are downright pernicious, created by people who really do not know what they are talking about.  Most of the soldiers and Marines I meet in Iraq are smart, polite and patriotic.  They do not like to be here, and who can blame them, but they are fully committed to doing their jobs.

The thing that may surprise those who know the military only from old M*A*S*H reruns or movies like “A Few Good Men,” is the intellectual power of many of the officers.   These guys think very clearly about their duties and goals, as well as the ethics of what they are doing.  They see the big picture and apply various historical analogies, cultural sensitivity and sophisticated management methods to their analysis.  Then they make decisions that test their theories in practice.  More things COULD happen than can happen and many elegant suppositions do not survive a real world test.  America is very well served by its professional military and I sure am glad having the Marines looking after me in Iraq.  They get the job done.

So on this Veterans’ Day, I just want to say thanks.  All Americans should be proud.