Before now poetry has taken notice
Of wars, and what are wars but politics
Transformed from chronic to acute and bloody?
from "Build Soil"
Robert Frost

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Profile of a Soldier:

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.



  1. This is well-said. It is a gift you are giving to people, and I am proud to know the young men and women who are giving that gift.
    Thank you.

  2. my brother told me when i flew in the other night that he wants to join the army because he thinks it will help him define himself. because he wants to be a hero.

    the thought of him where you are nearly brings me to tears. it's hard enough knowing you're out there, but he's not as strong as you are. he doesn't know who he is or what he wants or what he thinks.

    how do i tell him that it won't necessarily make him a hero? that it's not as glorified as he's imagining it is? you know me, i'm not trying to belittle what you do--i think it's wonderful and deserving of much respect. and i'm not saying i don't think you guys are heroes--i really do. but i don't think he'll find what he's looking for out in the deserts i've heard everyone who's ever been over there describe.

    help me out, friend. i don't know what to say to him...

  3. Bekah, If I may jump in here--
    You are right. It isn't nearly as glorified as he thinks and it will be whole lot harder than he thinks but these are the very things that will prove to be so priceless to him in later life. He will have the opportunity to test himself in circumstances tougher than he ever imagined. He is going to have to tough it out when he hates every second of it and everyone around him. He will push himself further physically than he ever thought he could go. He will find out what he is really made of and he will ifnd out he is made of more than he thought. And he will be doing it in service to others.

    The military is frustrating, boring, dangerous, exciting, silly. But when he comes out the other side, he will know he has tested himself and he can do it. He can do anything he sets his mind to.

    You are worried about his safety. I know how you feel. My son is a Marine. I'm afraid I will lose him. He doesn't see yet how much he has gained by being a Marine, but I do. And he will too when he is older.

    Your brother may never get near Iraq. Many don't. But what he learns in the prcess of becoming a military person will stand him in good stead no matter where he goes or later chooses to do, even if he hates ever minute of it.

    I think he, and you, will find he is a lot tougher than you think.
    Blessings to you both.

  4. I'm so glad you choose to share your story with us. The internet allows us to follow history in the making. Soldiers such as yourself who choose to explain why they fight help counteract the Jihadi websites that fuel the hatred of Islamic Fascists.

    Your writing skills are exceptional. Thanks again for serving and sharing your experiences with us. God Bless.

  5. It is men like you who, without even trying, make us all better people. Unfortunately way too many choose to ignore the lessons we can learn from you. Thank you for your "ramblings" and, more importantly, thank you for choosing to proudly wear the uniform of the US Military!

  6. OMG, what everyone else said: DOUBLE! God bless you. I am totally humbled. Thank you so much for what you do, and sharing why with us. May God keep you safe.

  7. Many do not have the courage to stand up for what they believe in. Every week with Soldiers' Angels I write to both deployed and wounded soldiers. I believe in all of you and support you in the way that I can, one letter at a time. A year ago I became an avid milblog reader. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with your readers.

  8. It has been asked before but it is worth asking again, "Where do we get such men?"

    I see so few here on the streets of Seattle.

  9. Anonymous14/1/07 21:49

    Dear Soldier: I checked in at Gerard's AMERICAN DIGEST tonight and found the link to your site. All I can say is you have my sincerest thanks for your service and for your posts.

  10. Anonymous14/1/07 22:23

    First off, thanks for serving. I struggle with one of the very things that made you join, the guilt of not standing up--truly sacrificing--for your strongly held beliefs. I am from a family with very few military ties, and I always wonder what their reaction would be should I enlist. I hope this moral dilemma can be resolved soon, but just know you are helping me sort it all out. Try to stay safe and many thanks.

  11. Thank you for your service, your incisive thinking, and your clear, concise writing. May God bless you and keep you and cause his face to shine upon you and your comrades in arms. Thank you for showing us that there are still men who know that freedom and America are worth living for and fighting for, and for reminding us to make sure every day that we at home live our lives so as to be worthy of your courage and sacrifices.