Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

I started writing this last Monday- but couldn't bring myself to finish. Partly distracted by the last week of training for this group of Iraqi National Police, partly because I hesitated to get to the work of thinking about the meaning of the holiday.

About 2 weeks ago, a group of nine U.S. Army soldiers that was participating in training here at NNPA had finished their tour. After a farewell dinner, each of them had a few words to say to the collective 40 or so of their remaining teammates. The most heartbreaking of them was the one who shared his sorrow that his best friend on the team was not returning with them. He had been killed by an improvised explosive device about 3 months ago, the only one so far to have been killed from this National Police Training Team.

I am not in a combat role, or even one of the advisory roles where U.S. soldiers essentially embed with police and army units, putting their lives on the line daily. Regardless, as I hear reports of soldiers missing or killed, I feel my eyes water. Watching one of the weekly news shows this morning, they put up brief profiles of soldiers killed, one after another- name, rank, service, and hometown (or duty station), with some mournful string music in the background. I hurt when I see it, I hurt as I write about it.

In my religious culture, tithing is a part of our way we show our love and dedication to our Creator. In a sense, serving a church mission a while ago was a tithe out of the first 20 years of my life, and I often think of time spent in church service in a similar way- a small, but meaninful effort on my part to return the love and blessings that I have abundantly enjoyed.

I have come to think about this deployment in a similar way. I have been pleased with what I am learning and what I am allowed to do within the scope of my responsibilities during this deployment, early though it is in the process. But this is not a life and experience that I would choose for myself or my family. It is painful for me to be away as each of my four children experiences vital and important milestones in their lives, to hear my 20 month old learning to say "I love you, Daddy", only it is over a crackling cell phone on the other side of the world, and I'm not able to hold her in my arms. It is painful for me to not be there to support my wife as she struggles with our good, but very young and energetic family on her own. It is painful to them to not have my support- I would guess the deployment is harder on them than me- I have stuff to do which helps the time go by.

But despite those things, I do consider it an honor to serve the country I love so much. This is my second time outside the country for a long period, and I am yet again reminded how blessed our country is. I have served as a reservist or guardsman for 16 years, and at this point I have been asked to take up arms and work full-time to help the Iraqi police forces reach a level of self-sufficiency. No, not fun, but I will at the end be able to say I have done my duty, and I have served my country honorably. I will let that be one way in which I can show my gratitude for the sacrifices made by my brothers and sisters in the military.

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