Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Soldier Responds

This is really something. A commenter responding to Andrew Arkin's insulting little diatribe at the Washington Post brings it home with this post. It's long, but defintely worth it.

Mr. Arkin-

I am an officer in the United States Army. I have deployed to Iraq twice, and been wounded once. I have had my soldiers killed and wounded, I have killed and wounded other human beings. I have carried wounded soldiers and civilians in my arms; crying in pain. I myself am permanently physically damaged by my experience.

Through all those events, I never shed a tear. Yet I sit here today crying; reading your original article and your rebuttal to the overwhelming response.

I am proud of what I do, what my soldiers do, the freedoms we defend, and everything we stand for. I proudly defend your right to publish your article, and it actually warms my soul to see free debate and discourse about any topic, because this is the only nation in the world where such completely unbridled discussion and opinion rage on in an organized fashion. That is the United States I am proud of, the one that has given me so much.

I decry and am ashamed of my fellow warriors who have lost their thin veneer of civilization and chosen to engage in the atrocities committed in Iraq. May God have mercy on their souls.
I have chosen to shelve my right to have an opinion on the war in Iraq. I support our effort to help the Iraqi people, depose Saddam, and promote a free(er) Iraq. Are we (or can we) still doing that? I don't know anymore. I have an opinion, but it is too visceral to be truly rational anymore, so I keep it to myself.

Overall, it does not matter. My country, almost unanimously, asked me to refresh the tree with my blood in Iraq/Afghanistan 6 years ago. That was this country, by referendum. As my country comes to terms with what she has done, and possibly chooses a different path, I will soldier on. I will guide and inspire my Soldiers to do the same. But, it saddens me to see so many of my brothers and sisters killed and maimed, only to find out my country either didn't mean it or had no stomach for it.

None of these are the reasons I cry. I cry for the lack of purpose, the apparent lack of caring, the lack of compassion you displayed in your original article and in this subsequent failure to apologize to me, my fellow warriors, and all those who came before me. Here's why.

1. I am not a mercenary. You could make me work two jobs and this would still be one of them, because I am that passionate about defending you and your rights. Many in the National Guard and Reserves do just that. My country needs professional warriors to do her bidding, and he is me, and thousands like me.

2. I have the right to express my opinion within the bounds of the UCMJ, as do my Soldiers. How dare you imply that I do not, or that I should reprimand them? We already accept an abbreviated set of rights willingly. Do not attempt limit my liberties that I have already willingly limited while I defend without complaint the unabridged version you are so rightly entitled to.

3. As an officer, my needs are met. However, in the three months leading up to my first deployment and the entire 13 month adventure, my pay amounted to 173 cents an hour. My friends and I logged our hours as a joke, but $1.73 is the reality. That equates to 19-20 hour days, 7 days a week, for 16 months. That's with the relatively lavish bonuses and benefits we receive while deployed. And I am an officer. Think of our junior enlisted, and find someone else in our great country that is willing to work so hard, day and night, no weekends, under fire, threat of death over their head, for so little? Find me one and I will retract this comment graciously. Of course, even when not deployed, it takes my wife and me quite some time to get through the line at the grocery store. That's because we get in line behind one of my fellow warriors, who with shame in their eyes and faces flush with embarrassment fill out their WIC paperwork because they don't make enough to support their wife and two kids (an average sized family).

4. This response is taking an inordinate amount of time to type, because I have only one functioning hand after being wounded in Iraq. I am trying as quickly as possible to use the medical system your (and my) taxes paid for to recover, so I can go back to Iraq and continue to fight for what you don't believe in, because I believe in you and my Soldiers. Still, I count myself lucky, as I received my Purple Heart next to a 19-year old warrior with both his legs amputated above the knee. No matter how wrong the majority feels the decision was at this juncture, that Soldier gave (I use the word gave deliberately) his legs at his nation's calling. Not for money. Not because he was too stupid to get into college. Not for the great benefits. Just because you asked him to. Please don't imply that this fallen hero is not entitled to the basic medical care he receives.

5. Given the opportunity, I would fight the Germans in 1944. Oh, to have that definition of purpose, that sense of righteousness! But, that is not to be. This is the war that this country has chosen for me, my peers, and my Soldiers. With its vagueness, dirtiness, ambiguity, undefined enemy, amorphous center of gravity, and undefined purpose. The actions of our administration, the decisions higher-echelons of our military, the blunders of the CPA, (I could go on) etc. aside; it comes back to one thing. America chose this fight for me, and I will fight it with all my skill and might until she tells me to stop. The woes and throes of the majority, hawks, doves, liberals, neocons, etc. mean nothing to me or those Soldiers you quoted. What matters to us is that you told us to be there, 3000+ of our brothers and sisters have died there, and we are still there. Change that - in reality, not in the abstract - and we will gladly leave and prepare ourselves for the next challenge and opportunity to defend your freedoms.

I am a Warrior, a Soldier, a Scholar, and a Patriot. This country has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to train and educate me. I am well-versed in our government, our demographics, our history, and our Constitution. Perhaps I am an idealist. To the end of my life or capability I will defend your rights and this country. I am proud that I live in a country where a free-thinker such as you can write an article so critical of current policy. But I am deeply hurt by the insinuations and accusations listed above. I request an apology, on the behalf of all the Armed Forces, for your insensitive and boorish comments. I only wish I could communicate with your entire readership the bitter taste of betrayal that is in my mouth as easily as you communicate your speech and thoughts.

With Respect,

A United States Army Officer
"Army Strong"


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