Military


This weekend I had National Guard. I’ve been in the military for almost 17 years now. I spent three years on active duty with the Army at Fort Hood, seven years with the Army National Guard in Pittsburgh and the past seven years in the Air National Guard at Pittsburgh International Airport. I have worked with a great many people over the years and done lots of things most folks would not normally get to do, including playing with landmines and various explosives as a Combat Engineer; maintaining and firing numerous small arms as a Unit Armorer; shuffling supplies all over bases and the California desert as a Supply Clerk; and most recently helping airmen and officers navigate their careers and all the paperwork that goes with it as a Personnelist. All-in-all it has been a great experience. Of course there are times that I look back on and am thankful that they are in the past, but the military has been the longest constant in my life. Almost half of my days on this earth have been as a service member.

Thankfully I have never been deployed. I came close numerous times, but different things happened that kept me from going overseas. The most important of these was my switch from the Army Guard to the Air Guard. Technically I was able to ETS (end of enlistment move) from the Army Guard, but I believe that was only because I had already signed paperwork with the Air Guard. Within weeks of making the move my old Army Guard unit was notified that they would be deploying to Iraq. They have been back twice in the intervening years. So instead of going off to Tech School for the Air Force, coming home and meeting my wife and raising our three beautiful and wonderful children I would have spent roughly three of the last seven years in Iraq. I often think about this decision point in my life. I had little control over it other than to express my intent to make the move. Had the timing been any different the move would not have happened. I got lucky, but I truly believe that the Good Lord was looking out for me and producing that luck. It is difficult to fathom that other life that was waiting there for me, that life without my wife and children, a life that would have seen far more violence than anyone should and I am so thankful that life never came to be.

I’ve come to a better understanding of the war. Ironically it started with comments by Hillary Clinton. What struck me was that for the first time I can recall I actually agreed with something she had to say. She was speaking at a rally and made the comment that the troops had not failed, but that the Iraqi government had failed. I think that on several levels this is both accurate and unsurprising. Our military has not successfully rebuilt a country since WWII and those were long arduous tasks at best. Our military is ill-equipped to deal with nation-building. Lets face it armies, by design, destroy nations, not build them and ours is the best ever at the former. The Iraqi’s have failed themselves, but it is not because of a lack of desire. I firmly believe that the vast majority of Iraqi’s want peace more than anything else these days. The history, culture and experience of the Iraqi people is conspiring against them. What is so difficult for the typical American to understand is that the typical Iraqi values family and the group before self. This is such a foreign concept to a western civilization that prizes the accomplishments and rights of the individual. For us to try to install such a government that puts the individual first is ignoring the fundamental beliefs of the culture we are attempting to help. Of course there’s going to be friction, even if Iraqi’s shared 99% of western beliefs, but when our foundation is such a polar opposite we can only expect failure. That there are such myriad cacophony gelling into insurgency should not come as a shock.

Reporter Richard Engel’s War Diaries brings to light another important concept that should be more obvious. Engel is interviewing troops who make the point that you can’t support the troops and not the war. The two are not mutually exclusive. The troops are, in essence, the war or perhaps our extended American-ness in the middle of the Iraqi conflict. Another enlightening moment comes from what Engel saw on the ground during the famous scene of Iraqi’s pulling down Saddam’s statue. His prescient take was a group of Shiites finally in power after 1300 years under Sunni rule. He saw the first strike in the Iraqi civil war. We are now caught up in that war with both sides trying to play us to their advantage. Add in the mix of foreign insurgents who’s only goal is to disrupt any potential progress and it is simple to see that any of the current and former plans are somewhat naive.