On the Regarding War blog, soldiers, veterans, and journalists will share their stories from Afghanistan, Iraq and other war zones. It will feature personal stories and opinions from those who have first-hand knowledge of past and current conflicts. Those at home directly affected by a family member serving in the military will also contribute. The blog is meant to be a place where ideas are exchanged and experiences are related in an effort to gain a better understanding of the realities and effects of war. Share your thoughts, raise a question, and join the conversation by leaving comments on the posts.
Let me express my thanks to PBS for providing me a forum to write. With the American public war weary after nine years in Afghanistan and Iraq, PBS's active and enthusiastic support of military families and exploring war is extremely appreciated.
An equal expression of thanks goes to my editor, Matt Elliott. Matt's a good editor; he gave me the leeway to pick the themes and the topics I thought important and primarily stuck to grammar, spelling and trying to keep my work from being too 'OOH-Rah.' (Not easy, was it?) And you, gentle reader, your comments and support meant I'm not railing in the dark as uselessly as I feared.
Maybe it depends on the branch of service, but to me being a military parent is an occasion for pride — not anguish. Yes, my son's a Marine, and, yes, he's back from his fifth deployment and wants to reenlist and make it a career, and, yes, I worry about him being IED'd (as he worries about me being IED'd), but in the scheme of joie de vivre and accomplishment, how can any parent object to one's child having such a life?
I don't want people's sympathy when he's deployed. I guess I'd like their acknowledgement for his efforts, but it's best not to patronize me. We're doing something you're not, and as my fellow PBS contributors and military family members Kanani, Stacey, and Kathleen have gently suggested, it's important to be involved in something bigger and better than yourself.
In closing, I'd like to share a few snippets of a speech about two young Marines. It was given by Lt. Gen. John Kelly, USMC, last month — only four days after his son was killed in Afghanistan. He's talking about two Marines on guard duty in April 2008 in Ramadi as a suicide bomber in a truck bore down on them:
Two Marines, Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, 22 and 20 years old, respectively, assumed the watch together at the entrance gate of an outpost that contained a makeshift barracks housing 50 Marines and 100 Iraqi police.
We saw the last six seconds of their lives on the security camera:
... the truck came into their view at the far end of the alley; 60-70 yards away. Exactly no time to talk it over or call the sergeant to ask what they should do. Only enough time to take half an instant and think about what the sergeant told them only a few minutes before, "Let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass." The two Marines had five seconds to live.
It took maybe another two seconds for them to present their weapons, take aim and open up. By this time the truck was halfway through the barriers and gaining speed. The recording shows a number of Iraqi police, some of whom had fired their AKs, now scattering — some running right past the Marines. They had three seconds to live.
For two seconds more, the recording shows the Marines firing non-stop; the truck's windshield exploding into shards of glass as their rounds take it apart and tore into the son-of-a-bitch who is trying to get past them to kill their brothers — American and Iraqi — bedded down in the barracks, totally unaware that their lives depended entirely on two Marines standing their ground. If they had been aware, they would have known they were safe because two Marines stood between them and a crazed suicide bomber.
The recording shows the truck careening to a stop immediately in front of the two Marines. In all the instantaneous violence, Yale and Haerter never hesitated. By the recording, they never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread shoulder-width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons. They had only one second left to live.
The truck stopped just short of the two and detonated, killing them both catastrophically. Twenty-four brick houses were damaged or destroyed. A mosque 100 yards away collapsed. The truck's engine came to rest two hundred yards away knocking most of a house down before it stopped.
The truck explodes. The camera goes blank. Two young men go to their God. Six seconds. Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty into eternity. That is the kind of people who are on watch all over the world tonight — for you.
These two young Marines lived life by "Honor — Courage — Commitment" right to the last second. It's not how they died, but rather how they lived. Let's raise a glass to Yale and Haerter, and to their fellow Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen standing watch for you this Christmas season and Christmas seasons to come. Semper Fi.
Embedded journalist, author, and father of a Marine
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