I am a soldier, and I served in Iraq.
I spent the last year riding in an unarmored humvee with no doors, open to the whims of the enemy and the splashes of sewage from the wheels. I have cursed the generals in their plush palaces and air conditioned SUV’s. I have shivered with Dengue Fever, sweated in the 130 degree heat, and gotten violently ill an average of twice a week courtesy of the mess hall. I have cursed when an RPG was fired at me, only to laugh when it failed to explode because Hadji forgot to pull the pin. I am all too familiar with the buzz a bullet makes as it passes.
If you are an Iraqi, I will shake your hand, kiss the side of your face, drink your tea, share a meal together, and play with your children. I will count you as a friend. I do not care if you are Sunni, Shia, or Christian. I will fix your sewer. I will make sure you have food and clean water. I will give you the freedom to speak your mind without the threat of summary execution. I will shake my head in frustration when you ask, “What have you done for me lately?” I will not hesitate to put you down for good when I see you planting an improvised bomb on the sidewalk.
I will never be the same, and I want to scrub my mind with steel wool to remove the memories. I have watched the light fade from the eyes of another human being and known that I could not save him. I have seen animals carrying body parts. I have been told the words that cut directly to the center of an officer’s heart: “Sergeant G’s been hit, and it’s bad.” I have had to choose whether to kill a teenager for pointing a weapon at me. I have pulled the trigger when he turned his weapon toward one of my soldiers. I have drifted off to a fitful sleep with the smell of dead humans on my uniform.
The media will try to jolt you with narratives and images of increasing violence. In reply, pundits and talking heads will trumpet our successes, progress, and the enemy corpse count. Does it matter which side is right? Not really. The only thing that matters is that, right now, over one hundred and thirty thousand men and women in our armed forces are sweating, bleeding, and dying in the desert. They deserve the attention and respect that they have earned with their courage and purchased with their lives.
Jason N. Thelen
Jason Thelen served as a Captain in the US Army Reserve during Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is the first in a series of columns he will be writing for Veterans for Common Sense. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org