December 05, 2007

IraqNoPhobia - Intro

Below the fold...

What is the Spirit of the Bayonet?

            When I arrived in the sultry summer air at Fort McClellan, Alabama, I had one thought on my mind: to become a Soldier. To my mind then, and indeed now, as banal as it may seem to some, a Soldier is the modern personification of Chivalry. Along with Police Officers and Firefighters, the Soldiers that defend our lives with their own are like the Knights of yore, or the reality that the legends long to be. I was to learn quickly, however, that the salty Drill Sergeants that would be my professors in the art of war had a dim view of the private soldiers of Echo Company, 795th Military Police Battalion. I had seen the movies that portrayed our Drills in their “Round Brown” campaign hats as seething profane madmen, bent on the reduction of our budding adulthood into a blubbering mass, ready for the mold. This was not far from the truth.

            The reality of the true education we received, however, was more profound than the simple soldier-building inherent in such a system. The things I learned about teamwork and self-discipline affect me to this day. Classic military bayonet training taught us that the “spirit of the bayonet” was to KILL, KILL, KILL! However, the grueling physical training sessions that we endured as a group because one person committed an infraction taught us that we were all in it together, and if one failed, it was because we let him fail. To this day, I try not to let a teammate struggle beyond what is good for him to learn, and I have yet to run anyone through with a bayonet.

            In August of 1990 as I completed the last weeks of Military Police School, I learned via a newspaper in an off-limits paper machine that we were going to war. I would soon find myself in a land so foreign that I found it hard to cope, not with the heat, the danger or the homesickness, but with the dichotomy that is Arab-Muslim society. The Saudis that we met during the build up before the invasion of Iraq were largely grateful that we were there and relatively tolerant of our heathen habits. Nevertheless, there were some that hated us just for who we were, infidels in a holy land. This was the first time that I personally experienced real and dangerous bigotry directed at me. Instead of putting me off, it enlightened me and sparked a curiosity in me that made me want to learn as much as I could about these people. People who would, due to the rules of Arab hospitality, protect a guest with their life, prepare a fine meal for visitors even if the food were all that was in the cupboard, people who would gladly blow up themselves to rid the world of a few infidels, including you, the western visitors.

            Years later in Bosnia I felt true compassion for the Bosnian Muslims on whose behalf the United States finally intervened after Europe failed to police its own back yard. I witnessed first hand the kind of ethnic warfare not visited on Europe since Hitler and Stalin. The Bosnian Serbs and their Yugoslav supporters wreaked havoc on their longtime neighbors, based on perceived slights committed by ancestors the better part of a millennia ago. I heard the tales of horror told, and saw the haunted look in the eyes of children, grown up before their time. This experience instilled in me a healthy fear of institutional oppression that no history book ever could. Our forefathers attempted to insure that we would not only have the right, but the capability, to prevent a similar fate for our country. Most Americans, until September 11, 2001, had never known fear. Not tangible, real fear in a foreboding, back-of -your-mind, always there way. The war-weary people of Bosnia have, and I knew that I never wanted my family to feel that way. The eyes of the children of the former Yugoslav Republic taught me more about war than a library of history books ever could.

            With the attacks in Washington and New York on that sunny day in September, I knew the time had come again. I watched in tearful horror with my very pregnant wife the end of thousands of lives. We were at war. Hours after my son was born, I was on a C-5 Galaxy transport from the United Kingdom, to Dover, Delaware to help secure our still reeling country. I spent the next year as a Patrol Supervisor at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Soon after returning to England, I was sent to Kuwait in preparation for the invasion of Iraq. The war in Iraq was so long in coming, and so short in execution, that I really did not have time to be afraid until well after the “end of major combat”. I worked closely with several Iraqis who understood why we were there and held only a small grudge that we did not finish the job in 1991. These men were patriots, not unlike the men who stood with musket and ball against British Regulars in Concorde during the painful birth of this great nation. I came to know their families, their histories, and their culture. I supped with these Iraqi partisans under the stars during the first battle of Najaf and learned how to negotiate on Arab terms. These men lived under the iron fist of Saddam for years and wanted nothing more than what we came to offer, a chance at freedom.

            Some months later our trusted interpreter and friend was attacked by the remnants of the Fedayeen Saddam in Baghdad. His ten-year-old son was shot in the arm and his wife miscarried because of the attack. That day my soul ached, my heart hurt, and my eyes emptied. I cried like a child as my sorrow for his loss flooded my being and made me realize just what kind of people we were dealing with. Our friend and his family had been attacked because he helped us. That day I learned exactly how far we would have to go to win this war.


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