End Of Tour Part I
To sum my tour in Iraq I realized I need to write it in three parts. The first part covers most of the time up to my Leave when I was still a Team Chief. The second covers that time after I returned until present. Finally, to end it, a piece to put it all together.
I had several goals for myself coming to Iraq. I wanted to test myself in “combat” against all of the fear, gruesomeness, loneliness, and preconceived notions of what it would be like. I wanted to compare myself against the “other guy” and see if I measured up. I also wanted to make some money to tuck away for my future. Finally, I wanted to right a wrong in my life that happened several years ago and bring honor and dignity back to my family.
The first half of the tour was a mix of emotions, but I enjoyed it. Almost immediately I was aware of what living in a combat zone meant. Rockets and mortars began falling on the FOB within the first weeks of us taking over the Civil Affairs mission. Every evening firefights could be heard outside the walls and tracer rounds glowed through the night sky. There was more fear walking on the FOB than there was running missions.
Taking and leading a team on daily missions was a close as I will ever get to actual combat because the possibility was always there. The responsibility of the mission and the Soldiers on it was, and is, an awesome task. The Civil Affairs mission of interacting with locals and taking time to hear their concerns and hopes for a future gave me perspective into the Middle Eastern mind and made me appreciate my life back in the US even more. Managing projects that helped the quality of life for villagers and suburbanites alike gave the reward of being a small part of the solution to the country's many woes.
To be honest, I never expected my individual presence here to turn the tide of popular support. Nor did I expect it make a difference on local scale. I was right and wrong. Lisa reminded me of tossing starfish back into the sea. Although all of them cannot be saved, some can.
In the big picture there are wounds in Iraq that will take generations to heal. $18 billion does not buy a quick fix in a land where politics, tribalism, violence, and religion all blend together. However, I did make a difference to a few individuals; the contractor whose money was lost and then found, the family of the Sergeant who still visit a man in a hospital instead of a cemetery stone. Those are personal victories.
Compared to the next officer, I know that I am in the forward edge of the bell shaped curve. Not General material, but able to hold my own amongst my peers. I have made a career out of the Army Reserves (one weekend a month, my ass) but I would not complete that career on Active Duty. It is not that I couldn’t compete; it’s just that I enjoy my life and what I do now.
Financially, I did save a good deal of money for my future. Being on Active Duty earns me more money than at home, plus living in a Hostile Fire Zone allows my pay to be tax free. I sound selfish to know that a goal is to make money instead of wrapping myself in the administrations mantra of democracy in the Middle East. Military life is not always about truth, justice, and the American way. Yes, those are standards I still prescribe to; however, gone are the days of being an idealistic crusader. The military has always been a tool to get ahead in life for the individual looking to make a new life and get away from dead end dreams. The military is a stepping stone for many of my students who use ROTC to pay for school, serve four years, and go on to big, more lucrative aspirations. Everyone here has their own agenda and this was an item on mine.
However, it was not the item at the top of the list.
For those people who nobly serve the community, whether it is a town, city, or nation, there is an internal satisfaction of being the Centurion. It is part of the calling. Unless you “serve”, this characteristic is difficult to describe and difficult to understand. Disgrace in this role is unacceptable. Once in my life I dishonored those values I believe in. I made a mistake that cost more than I wanted to pay. At the time it was a tremendous blow to me and my family. It was a personal failure that ate at me for years. That mistake was in the back of my mind as I came over here.
I have atoned for my mistake on my own terms. Through my actions and through my character I served my nation, my Soldiers, and the people of Iraq honorably. I have mended this important piece of my life and I can move on.
I was able to do all of these things within the first half of my tour but the tour wasn’t about my “agenda” and therefore I Soldiered on.
The second half of the tour provided my greatest challenge as an officer.
To be continued…