April 20, 2008 – Spc. Justin Rollins
On January 3, 2008, military blogger Major Andrew Olmsted was killed in Iraq. Andrew wrote a blog to be published in the event of his death. While Americans were losing interest in Iraq, Andrew was trying to find the right words to express the peace he had made with the possibility of his death there. Like many who have written about Andrew Olmsted’s remarkable final words, I did not have the honor of knowing Andrew personally but wish now that I had.
Andrew’s blog is replete with self-deprecating humor, which I immediately found endearing. Andrew is also very clear about his reason for being in Iraq–which transcends the politics of war:
“Soldiers cannot have the option of opting out of missions because they don’t agree with them: that violates the social contract. The duly-elected American government decided to go to war in Iraq. (Even if you maintain President Bush was not properly elected, Congress voted for war as well.) . . . Whether or not this mission was a good one, my participation in it was an affirmation of something I consider quite necessary to society. So if nothing else, I gave my life for a pretty important principle; I can (if you’ll pardon the pun) live with that.”
At the same time, he writes that he hopes his death can be a reminder to others about the true costs of war-the costs that Americans, academics, and politicians tend to overlook when calculating the pros and cons of military engagements. The trouble, of course, is that there are no figures for these costs, no meaningful measurements. I believe that numbers alone are insufficient. The value of a human life, and the value of Andrew’s life, cannot be properly expressed by a number, any number.
At the end of his blog, Andrew worries about the suffering his wife will endure and wishes he had been a better husband. It is official. I adore Major Andrew Olmsted. A man I never met and never will. Which brings me to another soldier I posthumously adore: Specialist Justin Rollins.
Justin was part of the 82nd Airborne Division when his team found a litter of motherless puppies. They rescued the puppies and brought them back to their camp. Justin had his picture taken that night holding one of the puppies–a glimpse of the human heart beating beneath all that army-issued gear.
The following day, Justin was killed by a roadside bomb.
My husband asks me why I do things like this: cut Justin’s photo out of the paper and put it on our refrigerator, print out Andrew’s final blog. I do it because I have to. I do it because I don’t want to reduce a human life to a single digit. I do it because it isn’t about what we are losing when a soldier dies, it is about who we have lost.
I just wish every other American was doing it too. If they were, maybe Iraq would still be the number one issue on voters’ minds in November and I would have less people to adore after they have died.
“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” – John Stuart Mill
I believe this is why I am here and why we are here and why Milspouse Press is here: to remind the American public that “the military” is not some faceless entity. It is an institution comprised of human beings, many of whom are exceptional in ways that go unnoticed… rescuing motherless puppies; worrying about their wives coping with their deaths; sometimes dissenting but serving anyway.