It is now seven years since the towers fell. Seven years since Congress sang “God Bless America” on the Capitol steps. Seven years since our grief turned to rage, and a tidal wave of patriotism swept the land.
But things are different now. September 11 marked the first day of a long war fought on two primary fronts. We’re all too aware that the nation is and has been bitterly divided about Iraq. While we are far more united about Afghanistan, partisan fingers point over perceived losses to the Taliban and over our failure to find Osama bin Laden. There may be an end in sight in Iraq, but in Afghanistan? The long war promises to get longer and more intense.
What does all this mean? I think it means that there has never been a better time for a patriotic citizen to join the fight.
After spending almost a year in Iraq, I perceive two central — and competing — truths about this war: First, because our enemy is more evil than I imagined, losing is simply not an option. Second, the strain of multiple deployments is very real, and any given individual can only give so much before the hardship is simply too great.
And so, we face a dilemma. As we confront an enemy who will shoot infants in the face to “send a message,” individuals who would be happy to slice your head off on videotape and who are full of the most racist, extreme, and depraved hatred, we rely on the same people to come back and fight again . . . and again . . . and again.
In my unit, 2d Squadron, 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment (LTC Paul T. Calvert, Commanding), men who have been “blown up” (in vehicles hit by IEDs) seven, eight, and even eleven times still wake up each day, put on their boots and go outside the wire. How many more times must they be blown up before someone else takes their place?
One of the men I respect the most in our Squadron is the “Ops Sergeant Major,” Sergeant Major Charles Taylor. He was here during Desert Storm. He’s been here twice before. (A tremendous mentor to young officers, Sergeant Major Taylor will sometimes pull them aside and say, “Sir, I was over here when you were in elementary school writing ‘Dear hero’ letters. Now, listen to your hero . . . “) How many more years does he have to spend in Iraq? Or can he come home and teach you how to fight?
My friend and Troop Commander, Captain Greg McLean, is the father of young children. A tremendous leader, he wants to make the Army his career, and is more than willing to do what it takes. But how many Christmases will he miss? How many school plays, youth football games, and Cub Scout meetings? Isn’t it about time that someone else missed their child’s games, just to spread the burden a little?
While Americans are amazingly willing to “support the troops,” and I have been personally overwhelmed by the outpouring of support through cards, letters, and packages, we are much less willing to “become the troops.”
“I’m too old,” some say, but — truly — you’re not if you’re less than 40 years old.
“I have a family,” say others. But so do most soldiers. Our squadron commander has young children. My troop commander has young children. Many of even our youngest soldiers have new babies at home. Yet they are here.
“I’m not in the kind of physical condition to withstand training and deployments.” Join a gym, or just buy a good pair of shoes and start running.
“But my career is taking off.” Join the Guard or Reserves. As a reservist myself, I’m grateful to have a supportive employer waiting for my return. I’m also grateful for the chance to come here and serve.
If we have to win this war — and we do — then people have to fight. In a strange way, I think many well-meaning citizens wrongfully separate themselves from Soldiers by defining them as something “other” — heroes or victims. In reality, Soldiers are normal people who have made one extraordinary (and extraordinarily good) choice: to serve their country during war.
We have good days and bad days. We make mistakes, and we do some things right. We have family problems. We deal with fear, despair, and sometimes shocking and horrific loss. Sometimes things go so well that we swell with pride, and other times we shake our head at incompetence. We all miss home terribly.
In a few weeks, I will begin the long journey home. Already, my mind is dominated by thoughts of holding my wife and kids again, restarting my civilian law practice, breathing in the cool air of a Tennessee autumn, and catching up on Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica. If, by God’s grace, I arrive home safe and sound, I know that I will see my year in Iraq as perhaps the most important, most meaningful, year of my life. And if — like so many others — I have to go back, you can be sure I won’t be happy about it, but I’ll go. Because somebody has to.
How can you honor the memory of those who fell on September 11?
Help make sure it never happens again.
— David French is a senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund and a captain in the United States Army Reserve. He is wrapping up his first deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.