But when I finally emerged from a jet-lag induced coma and stopped by my office to check email, I received some truly tragic news. On Saturday, my friend Captain Brian Freeman was killed in Karbala. (I don't know if his family has been briefed on the details, so for now it suffices to say that Brian and four other members of his Civil Affairs team were killed by militia members, likely Jaish al Mahdi trained in Iran).
Brian was recalled to active duty at the same time as I was in January 2006, and was a fellow member of “The Dirty Dozen,” the twelve Individual Ready Reserve Captains who went through 2-3 months of inprocessing and Civil Affairs training while living in the same barracks together at Ft. Jackson and Ft. Bragg. Unlike most of the other officers in our group, Brian was opposed to the war, and had the courage to say so. But even though he questioned the wisdom of our being in Iraq, he said that he had made a commitment when he entered West Point in 1995, and that he was honor bound to fulfill that pledge regardless of his political beliefs.
I actually ran into Brian two weeks ago before I went on TDY, and unbeknownst to me at the time, just nine days before he was killed. He was in the IZ to interview for a commission in the U.S. Coast Guard, so that he could continue to serve his country without being deployed to Iraq again and missing another year of his children’s life. We talked about his kids (Gunner is 3, and his daughter Ingrid was born just a few weeks before David), about his business school applications, and about what we wanted to do once we were back from Iraq.
Even though we obviously disagreed on the politics of the war, I respected Brian a great deal for standing by his principles. I apologized to him for the less-than-diplomatic behavior I sometimes displayed in our political arguments back at Bragg. Of course, Brian said no apology was necessary -- he was never one to hold grudges or take stuff too personally -- and admitted that half the time he was just screwing with me anyways. (He was easily the funniest guy in the barracks and the class clown in our Civil Affairs course).
I still believe strongly in the strategic importance of this war, even if it has turned out to be much more difficult than anybody anticipated. But sometimes it is excruciatingly difficult to reconcile the necessity of winning in Iraq with the human cost it entails.
When I saw the email in my inbox with only his name as the subject line, I knew what it likely meant, and felt as if I'd been punched in the face. My heart breaks for his wife and his kids. I now know four small children who will never see their fathers again because of this war, because their dads were honorable men who deserved far better fates.
This absolutely kills me.