Andrew Best of Evanston enlisted in the military on his 18th birthday, two months after his graduation in 2002 from Evanston Township High School. He returned to Iraq in November 2005 for his third deployment.
By the end of his four-year enlistment this year, he will have spent 27 out of his 48 months in the Army with his “boots on the ground” in Iraq.
Following are excerpts from an essay submitted to the Review by Andrew’s father, attorney Robert Best:
For many Americans, one of the most grim and horrifying moments of the war in Iraq occurred one year after the invasion, on March 31, 2004, when four American contractors drove their trucks into an ambush in Fallujah. After they were murdered, an angry mob set the bodies on fire and hung two of them from a bridge. The images were shocking and unforgettable.
This “moment” brought about the most grim moment (out of many) of the war to date for our family, too. It occurred as our son, Andrew, was nearing the end of his first one-year deployment in Iraq.
While we shared the world’s horror at the gruesome events on March 31, trouble was brewing south of Baghdad, where loyalists of the anti-American shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr had laid siege to holy cities like Najaf and Karbala. The whole country seemed to be dissolving into chaos.
On April 7, we received from Andrew the following e-mail that allowed us to experience in the space of about 30 seconds the widest imaginable range of emotions — first elation that he was out of Iraq, then despair that he may have to go back, then anger at individuals and events we had no control over, and finally, pride at the depth of his character.
April 7, 2004. Hello from Kuwait. Well, I made it here safe and sound at Camp Arifjan. It took about five days just to get here, and the whole brigade has worked its ass off out here. We all had to pull 12 hour wash rack shifts to get all 200 vehicles into the sterile lock, but we got it done in about a week…..
“I hope everyone has heard what is going on in Fallujah. Soldiers dying right and left. Well, because of that some units are getting a 90 day extension. Sadly, I may also get extended. If that does happen, I’ll tell you, but we have no definite word on anything yet.
“I’ll definitely make it home sometime, just now it may not be until my birthday in August.” – Andrew
Easter Sunday, April 11, 2004. As I have said in my previous e-mail, things look very grim for the next three to six months. Right now we don’t know when or where we will be going, but I can say that we are probably going to be facing some rough opposition. People will be in harm’s way and may get injured or killed. I will do my best to stay alive and well. – Andrew
I’ve wondered from time to time what led Andrew to join the Army. He never got into a single fight growing up. He never held a gun in his hand, real or otherwise, until he enlisted. In fact, his nickname at ETHS was Jesus, due to the long straight hair that flowed over his shoulders.
I’ve drawn some insight from his days as a Little Leaguer. He never got overly excited about a big win or upset with a tough loss. He usually played better hurt than when he was healthy. If we were getting clobbered or it was freezing out, I knew I could hand him the ball and ask him to pitch the last couple of innings. Mostly, he just wanted the lousiest job, because he knew someone had to do it.
Ultimately, I’ve concluded, he decided to enlist because he recognized that someone must be willing to die for something larger than himself.
The fact that this is a war that neither he nor I would have started does not diminish the nobility of that calling.