Monday, January 08, 2007

One Year Anniversary of My Activation

One year ago today I officially activated for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I tried to think of something profound to say to mark the occasion, but its difficult to avoid cliche. I have neither had a completely uneventful tour, nor an especially exciting one thus far. But I've learned that it only takes a few seconds of excitement here to ruin everything.

The opportunity to be a hero that motivates every soldier at some level has never materialized. But as I've said before, that's not a bad thing. There are thousands of heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan who unfortunately will never get the recognition they deserve. There are thousands more who will never see home or their loved ones again.

I would like to think that just having served is enough, especially during a time when so many didn't bother to report for duty, and others went to legal extremes to avoid being called up.

(This is perhaps what bothered me the most about the whole Kerry-photo-flap. I don't care about the he-said/he said argument that erupted . . . everybody who is actually in Iraq knows what happened. Rather, the whole incident sadly confirmed my fear that are some people predisposed to assume I'm a liar solely because we disagree on politics. They sit comfortably in their homes and deride military service while we endure regular mortar attacks and other dangers defending their freedom . . . and I have it very good in Baghdad relative to soldiers/airmen/Marines in other parts of the country).

This year has also been frustrating on a professional level, as Iraq has not progressed much from a strategic standpoint since January 8, 2006. We have sewn the seeds for a stable, free and prosperous country here, but it is now up to the Iraqis to step forward and reap these fruits. In 2006 they seemed unable to seize this historic opportunity, and instead succumbed to the demons of their past.

There is still cause for hope. I have met too many Iraqis who genuinely want a better future for their country to believe that this effort is fruitless. And numerous opinion polls and anecdotal evidence confirm that those perpetrating the violence in Iraq are the outliers here.

But I am less confident than I was a year ago that America has what it takes to see this struggle through to a successful conclusion. I do not doubt my fellow servicemen's commitment or dedication. The world may never know how much they have given of themselves to help an oppressed and impoverished people. But none of their sacrifices or accomplishments seems to break through the constant siren screaming quagmire! or fiasco! that follows each suicide VBIED. The Western media relentlesly scrutinizes every statement or gesture by American officers and officials, but then unquestioningly echoes the latest piece of insurgent propaganda.

(This is not to say that the media shouldn't question anything the military or Administration says, that there is only good news to report from Iraq, or that the military and Administration has been perfect in explaining the war to the American people. The ability to question our leaders and hold them accountable is obviously a key strength of our democratic society. But in a time of war, the statements by the enemy -- especially an enemy that is this barbaric and inherently anti-democratic, to put it mildly -- must be held to equal or greater scrutiny).

Some people want us to leave Iraq for strategic reasons. Others just want a loved one to come home safely as quickly as possible. I respect both viewpoints, although I disagree with the former. But I feel like there is also a significant portion of the country that does not know anybody in the military yet wants us to lose so that President Bush will be embarrassed, or so in order to vanquish "American imperialism," as if that were what threatens Iraqis, rather than the murderous tyranny of religious extremists.

Given this state of American public opinion, I do not know if we can consolidate a tactical/operational victory into a strategic victory in a protracted conflict ever again.

(And yes, I recognize I may be a little overdramatic in this regards, but this is honestly how a lot of soldiers over here interpret much of the debate back home).

Finally, on top of the professional frustation accompanying the war is the visceral pain I fell for missing David's first year. As I noted after coming back from leave, no pictures or DVDs can ever do justice to what a miracle he is. I can only imagine how much this sense of awe will be magnified by seeing him walking around the house with my own eyes. I do not understand how anybody who has children can doubt the presence of the divine in this world.

But again, I consider myself lucky. I will get to see him again soon enough. There are other fathers and mothers that served here who were not as fortunate.

And then there is my wife, who I've only recently come to realize was activated a year ago as well. She doesn't wear a uniform, carry a weapon, or serve in a war zone. But she is making enormous sacrifices on behalf of her country just the same by making my deployment possible. I will never be able to fully understand what she has gone through raising David by herself this year. She has been an angel, pure and simple. I sometimes fear that I will never be able to fully make it up to her. But sometime in the next eighty days I hope to begin to try.