Saturday, May 10, 2008

Shout-out to my boss deploying to Iraq

My supervisor, Paul, is a USMCR Staff Sergeant and Platoon Sergeant, soon to be promoted to Gunnery Sergeant. He's an infantryman. Yesterday was Paul's last day at work. He's taking a week off to take care of personal matters and relax a bit with loved ones. Then, he's leaving on his deployment to Iraq. He'll be away for a year. I'll miss him. Paul is a caring man and an exceptional leader. I have my job because of him.

When better men than I risk their lives to do their duty in this war, once again, I am challenged on what I am doing versus what I should be doing:
Columbia Spectator: Doing Our Part in a Time of War
By Eric ****

In the opening scene of Patton, starring George C. Scott as General George S. Patton, Patton ends his monologue saying, "There's one thing that you men will be able to say when you get back home, and you may thank God for it. Thirty years from now when you're sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee, and he asks you, 'What did you do in the great World War II?'-you won't have to say, 'Well, I shoveled shit in Louisiana.'"

Attending Columbia University is hardly shoveling shit in Louisiana. Nonetheless, that's my worry. I have not done my part.

Five years have passed since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks flipped our collective existential state of being from peace to war. Since then, thousands of young Americans have heeded the call from a wounded nation to confront frightening, intolerable enemies. They have put aside loved ones, comfortable jobs, or college to do their part and serve in the war of our generation.

I am not one of them. Since Sept. 11, my toughest battles have been with term-paper deadlines. For the most part, I have experienced the war via neatly packaged segments and sound bites in the media. I have lived comfortably and hardly sacrificed while fellow Americans have literally invested their lives for the sake of a better future for me and all Americans.

No one faults me for using this time to earn my degree from one of the best academic institutions in the world. It's difficult to criticize someone for not volunteering when he has already given the nation four years of honorable military service, albeit before the war-it's not my fault the Sept. 11 terrorists waited until after I was out of uniform to carry out their mission.

I'm not young anymore (I turned 30 this summer), and as my mom often reminds me, it's time to establish my professional career and start my own family. The logical thing to do is parlay my Columbia degree into a safe, upwardly mobile job in the civilian world and settle into the rest of my life. As a veteran, I also understand that a soldier's loved ones pay a steep emotional price for his or her choice to serve. It was hard enough on my mom the first time, and I dread the distress I'd cause her if I went back.

In short, no one I care about would blame me if I didn't return to the uniform. Except me.

I realize I wouldn't feel as drawn to the war if I hadn't been a soldier before coming to Columbia, but because I was, I can't feign ignorance about why it matters. As a member of MilVets, I have the privilege of personally knowing many of the Columbia students who have served in the war. They've done their part, and I envy them that they can go on at Columbia and into the rest of their lives secure in the knowledge that when the time came, they proved their worth.

This war is the litmus test for our generation, and it's made tougher by the fact we can contribute only if we volunteer. We don't have a draft to make the decision simple, like it was for Patton and his soldiers. Frankly, the thought of going "over there"-whether "there" is in Iraq, Afghanistan, or the Sudan-terrifies me. However, not serving during wartime will mean facing the knowledge for the rest of my life that when the time came to choose the harder right, I accepted the easy way out instead.

It's not about politics. I don't claim to know if we will win the war or if winning is even possible. I can only guess what the world will look like in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, and beyond as a consequence of the war. Defeat certainly is a possible outcome, as is the fate of all great nations when they fall.

However, the story of our generation-the Sept. 11 generation-is clear. Over time, as the burden of America and our children's future becomes ours to bear, we will appreciate the difference between those of us who stepped to the side when the moment of clarity arrived, and those of us who stepped forward to pay the full freight of citizenship. In two months, I'll complete my degree. I have a hard decision to make.


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