Saturday, July 10, 2010

Iraq and Afghanistan--A Soldier's Question: "Do people know we are out here?"

"Let me ask you something, Do people know we are out here?"
--a soldier's question to Sebastian Junger as he headed home
 from Iraq after spending a year with the troops.

He sat in the seat next to us in the airport in Philadelphia. He had on his army fatigues and was looking at his computer. Great big guy. On the seat beside him was a small Bible. When he folded his computer he started talking to us. He was on his way home to Alabama after being deployed to Iraq three times. “I’m having some tests run tomorrow at the hospital and prep me for surgery.” he said. “That’s why I am going home. The day after tomorrow they will operate on me for cancer—and after about three weeks recovery I’ll be on my way back to Iraq.”

He shook his head about General McChrystal—said he should have lost his command. “You don’t talk about the Commander in Chief—he’s the boss.” He said, “I’m surprised that he will retire as a four star general—doesn‘t seem right.”

He told us, “You think it’s hot here—it was 127 degrees when I left Iraq. The scorpions are as big as your hand. Some of the guys actually play with them. Crazy, I know.” He expressed his frustration of being in Iraq. “If they are gonna send us somewhere they ought to ship us over to Afghanistan—that’s where we are needed. In my company—we don’t do anything but sit around. We’re supposed to be training Iraqi soldiers to take over but some days they don’t even show up at all. I wonder sometimes why we are over there anyway—protecting their country when they are doing little.”

He was trying to squeeze himself into two seats on the way home. Looking back, he had the little overhead light on and he was reading his Bible. Maybe he was looking for something to hang on to in his hard days to come.

As we left the plane we stood around getting our suitcases. He picked up this enormous military bag, shook our hands and was on his way. Waiting for our ride I saw him with a grey-haired lady that must have been his mother. Today he must be recuperating in a hospital nearby. I hope his report is good and that he is all right.

I pray for him and all the young and not-so-young men and women that serve in a hard and dangerous place. The Pentagon says we have 94,000 US forces in Afghanistan and 92,000 troops in Iraq. CNN reports that there have been 1,899 deaths in Afghanistan and 6,773 wounded. We have had 4,733 death in Iraq and 31,882 wounded. This does not count all the others who have died or been wounded from 20 other countries.

When you sit down and talk to one of these men and women you don’t see figures and statistics—you see human beings just wanting to be well, to make it, to be safe—and to find life meaningful.

In another very troubled time, the prophet Micah dreamed a dream: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid…” Amen.

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