I am writing you today in remembrance of Veterans Day , and as a personal act of service to my community and my country. It is my hope that you’ll read this, and pass it along to others to read as well.
I’ve often found that listing some of my personal experience tends to open ears that would otherwise stay closed, so first, a quick introduction:
I served four years in the Marine Corps as a Military Policeman, the bulk of my enlistment assigned to MSSG-31, 31st MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit (SOC)), based out of Okinawa, Japan- the only MEU that is always forward-deployed. Though our primary area of responsibility was the Asia-Pacific region, we received orders to Iraq in 2004, in support of Operation Phantom Fury, the The Second Battle of Fallujah, and the bloodiest battle of the Iraq War. I also served three years in the Army with 212th MP Co. based in Germany, and deployed again to Iraq (Kirkuk) for 14 months.
My first deployment consisted of escorting convoys in and around the Fallujah area, resupply missions to infantry units, escorting and protecting EOD (Explosive Ordinance Division) units to enemy weapons cache sites and suspected IED locations, and prisoner transfer. My second deployment consisted mainly of training Iraqi Police (IPs), advising local leadership on IP station construction, and conducting regular security patrols around the area.
One thing many don’t realize about Military Police is that we’re always fighting, and we must constantly maintain a defensive posture. Even when we aren’t deployed, we are law enforcement and security for the base, often dealing with fellow Marines and Soldiers, occasionally in tragic and/or hostile circumstances.Our duties required us to always be observant of the people around us.
As the years went by, I observed a lot of faces, in a lot of places. I made friends and enemies in 13 countries, and saw the same joy, sorrow, hate, love, confusion, and determination in their eyes. I’ve seen far more death than I care to, and have felt the deep sting of the loss of friends to both the war without, and the war within, which many of us are left with once we return. I came very close to self destruction myself on a few occasions, during my early struggles with PTSD. It was the death of a friend that made me realize I needed to change something, or I also wouldn’t survive.
War truly is hell- or at least our most practiced attempt at it. It’s hell for the troops, and it’s a deeper, hotter, more encompassing hell for the local people caught in and around it; who can’t get away from the war, nor its collateral damage. The scars it leaves on those who survive it are deep and difficult (if not impossible) to heal. It is the worst tool and strategy mankind has ever devised.
Including the 9/11 attacks, we’ve lost approximately 10,000 of our own; and the death toll for Iraqi citizens alone is in the many hundreds of thousands. That’s at least 50 deaths for every one we’ve lost- and those are the low estimates, from spotty poll samples. Our military only counts the deaths of our own; we will likely never know how many have actually died.
Every single one, a loss of life to war, something we so collectively despised after WWI that we christened November 11th Armistice Day, to “[commemorate] with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations…”.
My experiences have allowed me to see the relentless cycle of fear, anger, attack, and retaliation- and I do everything I can now to throw a wrench into the machine that is profiting off of so much human suffering. A machine fueled by hateful and demeaning rhetoric, and thrives in societies that lack empathy for other peoples and cultures.
Years into this self-imposed mission, I’m still surprised to see so many folks turn their nose up when I mention the concept of pursuing peace- like it’s a dirty word or something. Peace is noble, peace is strength, peace is the central message of many religious leaders, including Jesus Christ. Read the red words. Never once does he glorify war and fighting, but spoke against it numerous times. He preached love above all else, especially when it’s difficult or even downright risky.
Like Armistice Day, we’ve lost a part of what we once were, and we’ve been drifting toward larger and longer conflicts ever since, and we’re losing our empathy, a critical part in any respectable and sustainable people or country. I believe that if we can reclaim that empathy, we will reclaim a part of what it is to be an American, and in doing so, begin to find solid, peaceful footing again.
Peace is possible- but it takes a real, determined desire to create and sustain it. If we truly wish to honor our veterans, both here and gone, as well as our own country, we must remember the true costs of war; they are far steeper than most of us realize.