On October 17, 2006 an email arrived announcing the death of another of my classmates by another road-side bomb in Iraq. I read the name of my fallen brother-at-arms, and I pictured clearly the handsome face and warm smile of a young man who was now lost forever to our country’s War on Terror.
To say that I knew my deceased classmate is to say that I knew his face, shared classes with him, spoke with him about common interests, but for reasons I still do not understand, his untimely death incapacitated me. I knew others lost to the Iraq war, yet my heart remained heavy with grief for a man whom I recognized but just barely knew. Even now, almost two years later, I am haunted by his image and his story, which revisit me with every newscast announcing more victims of this war.
I am a West Point graduate and an Army veteran. My husband is a West Point graduate and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. My father was a Vietnam era veteran who was profoundly affected by that war – a devastation he did not live to see fought again in the ravaged cities of Iraq.
Although I and my husband are civilians now, many of our classmates still wear the military uniform. I often feel nostalgic for my time in the Army because the camaraderie and friendship within the military community cannot be replicated in civilian life. There is no equal to the quality of the sacrifice to which every uniformed person subscribed the day he or she signed on the dotted line and became subject to the authority of those with the power to make war. With a shared understanding of the cost of service and the shared exclusive burden for paying that cost, service men and women accept the inevitability that they will forfeit something of themselves – whether that be their innocence, their flesh, their sanity, or their lives – while serving their country.
How many Americans truly understand and fully appreciate this sacrifice? I believe the answer to this question is sadly, not many. I say this simply because the war in Iraq persists, and we as a nation continue to bury the fallen and amass the forlorn and battle-weary. I understand John Kerry to have once asked: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”. A better question would have been: “How can you justify not asking a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”. Our service members selflessly serve our nation as an idea and an ideal of what is good and right in our world, and we as our nation’s citizens must serve our uniformed men and women by immediately ending our military involvement in Iraq. This war and its shifting policies are not worth the cost of one more service member’s sacrifice – least of all the life of my classmate with the warm smile. This, I do believe.
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