I'm back in Ramadi for a few days. This place still feels like home, even though I've spent far more time in Falluja lately. When I left Falluja early this morning, the light drizzle of the previous night had all but ceased, even though the sky was still grey and overcast. Here, the rain has been going pretty steady for two days now, and the pervading dust has turned to thick mud underfoot. Frankly, I preferred the dust, even though it was everywhere and got in everything- weapons, sleeping bags and eyes- the mud is just as omnipresent and much more reticent. The mud coats everything- my boots feel like a pair of stilts, my rug looks like a terrarium despite our best efforts, and mud still coats my coffee cup from a stumble on the dark walk back from chow. Except for brief forays to chow and the gym, I've spent as much time as possible in my room, doing what all people normally do on rainy days: curl up and read a good book, or chat with friends on the internet. This state of semi-seclusion has turned me into even more of a rambler than normal, which brings me, in a typical roundabout way, to the point of this post: telling a little about myself.
I am a typical American soldier.
I was in my third years of study in mechanical engineering at a respected private university when I decided to take a break from school and work for a little while to shrug off the pressures of upper-division math and physics. Shortly afterwards, I found myself walking into a recruiting office, determined to make something of my lifelong respect for the military. I am not uncommon in my level of education- despite the reputation of combat engineers as capable of little more than grunting, well over half of my platoon has either completed or is in the process of obtaining a college degree. These aren't your average party-boy degrees, either: we range in field of study from sociology to pre-law to English literature to engineering. That just puts the lie once more to certain Congressmen, doesn't it?
There were a lot of reasons I joined the Army. Some part of me considered that going to war would prove me a man- a childish notion that I long ago shed. Oh, I knew I was going to war before I joined. I didn't do it for the college money, or a quick route out of a deadbeat life. Part of it was a sense of tradition; many members of my family have served in the military in wars from the American Civil War onward. My great-uncle was decorated for heroism during the WWII landing in Sicily. My mother's side of the family also brought General Claire Chennault, the commander of the audacious Flying Tigers in Nationalist China. My family has always been as proud of its heroes as they have been closemouthed about their service. Part of me wanted to change that- to serve, and tell about it so others could know the terrors and triumphs of service. All of that said, there was one reason that far outstripped the others.
I believe above all in the basic rights of men and women, and that the most basic human right is the right to self-determination. I can't prove to you that a free society is the best way for a person to live. I can only say that I believe it wholly. I knew that I had a chance to try to provide that right to a nation. I knew that there was no way I could live with myself when someone looked me in the eyes and asked me why I didn't go and fight for what I believed so strongly. For me, this isn't about politics, or administrations, or whether Iraq had WMD. It's not about oil, spreading democracy, and only a little about nation building. It is about taking the opportunity to give 26000000 people the ability, for once, to find their own destiny among their brothers.
It's about karaameh.