Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


              It has been just over eleven years since I found myself flying across the Pacific on my way to be the Base chaplain for Camp Commando in Kuwait. The incredible race to Baghdad by the 1st Marine Division was instantly tabbed for the annals of military warfare in how to overwhelm the enemy.

During my two months in Kuwait I flew by Marine helicopter up to the 1 MEF headquarters in Babylon to pay my respects to the commanding general and my boss, the command chaplain. Our headquarters was set up in one of Saddam Hussain’s many palaces which were scattered around the entire country just for his enjoyment and recreation. The stories of Saddam’s lust and barbarity, as told to us by the Iraqis in Babylon, goes beyond anything remotely resembling civility.

Being in Babylon (yes, the Babylon of the Bible) was awesome. Quite a number of the ancient walls that had been built several thousand years ago were still standing, although great damage was done to them by the Turks in 1917. There was still a charm about this unique place that I found to be inviting. Early in the morning I would sit under a tree in the courtyard just inside the Ishtar Gate, a gate built about 600 years before Christ by order of King Nebuchadnezzar (The original gate doors were removed and are in a museum in Germany). An Iraqi gentleman operated a souvenir shop just inside the gate facing the courtyard. We became friends, exchanging pleasantries each morning, even though I could not speak Arabic, and he was very limited in his English.

One morning that will forever haunt my memory, found me in my usual place having my devotions when my Iraqi friend approached me. After our smiles of greeting and pleasantries in English and Arabic, he turned to me and said with a tone of finality, “You not leave Iraq!” At first I was puzzled by his comment. Seeing my puzzled expression, he repeated his statement, “You not leave Iraq!” I quickly realized he was saying that Iraq was now free from the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussain, therefore for the Iraqis to have the opportunity to regain their country the United States and its military forces would need to stay there for some time to come.

So, today I sit and wonder what has happened to Iraq and the golden opportunity they (and we) had to see something very special happen in that region of the world where the pages of history are writ large. And I particularly wonder what has happened to my Iraqi friend who practically begged me (read: United States) not to leave Iraq. Is he still alive? If so, is he in prison because he collaborated with the U.S.? And what of his family? Have they, too, suffered because we left them unprotected from a vicious and hateful brand of Islam that has filled the vacuum that was left by our withdrawal?

Over the past dozen years our political leaders have exercised their power to manipulate for political gain a crisis of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not only have we betrayed the trust of the people we initially liberated from the maniacal hands of madmen, but we have spilled the blood of our young men and women unnecessarily. It was my privilege, as well as sad duty as Deputy Command Chaplain for the I MEF (1st Marine Expeditionary Force), to meet the first planes carrying our wounded back to the United States. I was also on hand to receive the bodies of those who gave their lives. I have attended or officiated at more funerals for our fallen than I care to remember. So it galls me to see our nation simply walk away because it is politically expedient. That isn’t very comforting, especially to the families of these warriors who gave the last full measure of devotion for their country.

I find myself wondering, asking, “What have we become?” Why is it, for instance, that of all the conflicts and wars the United States has engaged in since the surrenders of both Germany and Japan, thus ending WWII, why haven’t we won another war? Since we haven’t won another conflict/war in 70 years, what is the problem? Did our military prove incapable of finishing the job? No. Ours is the best in the world in every conceivable category. Well then, did we make a mistake (repeatedly) by engaging in conflicts around the world? It certainly would appear to be so. This begs the question: Why then were we in Korea? Vietnam? Lebanon? Somalia? Iraq? Afghanistan? Or any of the other dust-ups we found ourselves in? What gives?

I would like to strongly suggest that as Americans we reflect and remember what it is this country has stood for, particularly what we have believed. Whatever has united us in the past we need to get back to.

A good start for all Americans is to watch the recently released movie, “America: What if she never existed?” It is a powerful reminder of why America has been a great nation, but that somehow we have lost our moorings. “The movie, America, is a celebration of the uniqueness of America, and a powerful and moving rebuttal to America’s critics both at home and abroad. This film begins with a simple premise: What if America never existed? What if Columbus never landed in America because there was no America?” And then sit down to read Dr. Ben Carson’s book, “America the Beautiful.” You’ll be blessed.

Stand up, America! We are still the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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