What Soldiers Know

We won. That’s it, pure and simple. We won. We won the war in Iraq.

That is the clipped response from a veteran of five tours in Iraq. That is five tours in Iraq — this time. He is also a veteran of the original Desert Storm and the dust up in Panama resulting in the removal and imprisonment of drug kingpin Manuel Noriega in 1989.

We were in the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Sunday evening on a return flight from our vacation in Mexico. Because of flight delays we missed our connecting flight and so had some down time in the airport while we waited for the next flight. Whenever the opportunity presents itself my wife and I, like tens of thousands of other Americans, take the opportunity to thank the men and women of our armed services for their service. Busy airports present the opportunity regularly.

It might do us all well to stop and think of the incredible bravery of these soldiers, sailors and airmen who stand in harm’s way so that we may remain safe and secure in our homes and lives. Our freedom historically has been earned and preserved at a terrible price and we should honor those who have sacrificed so much.

But back to our conversation at LAX. Most of the time our encounters are with young men and women — seldom anybody over twenty-five. But this time it was different. This gentleman was in his early to mid-40’s, a twenty-year veteran and a First Sergeant. This wasn’t Clint Eastwood so much as Audie Murphy (To Hell and Back) — a quiet, confident presence centered by a pair of blue-gray eyes. He was reading a thick tome of what appeared to be a political history of early America.

He was gracious as I extended my hand and my thanks. I asked where he called home. He said that we was born and raised in Iowa but now home was upstate New York where his wife and children were.

I sat down next to him and began the conversation. We were soon joined by another gentleman about my age and a veteran of the Vietnam War. The first question asked brought about the surprising answer.

“How are we doing in Iraq?” I asked.

“We won,” he replied. “We have won every battle, every skirmish, every objective. We have removed a corrupt and vicious regime and replaced it with a duly elected one. We have defeated Saddam’s well equipped but poorly trained army and rebuilt a new one, better equipped, better trained, and more respectful of its citizens. We have restored services destroyed by the war. There are now schools for the children and both boys and girls are being educated. While there will always be extremists who hate us, most of the people we encounter on a daily basis are friendly and grateful for a new chance at life.”

“How is the morale?” asked the other gentleman. “Especially with all of the negative press and political statements.” He spoke with a degree of anguish recalling the treatment afforded him and his comrades in a war that the politicians decided they would not win.

“Morale is high,” said the First Sergeant. “We know what we have accomplished and we are very proud it. We can see the results every day.”

“But wouldn’t it be nice if the politicians and the press would acknowledge that too?” I asked.

“I suppose so, but it really doesn’t matter,” he replied. “We know, and in the end that’s all that counts.”

“What’s next?” I asked.

He replied that he was on his way to visit his wife and daughters and then expected that his next deployment would be to Afghanistan. “It’s where the enemy is now and where we are needed.”

That gave me a lump in my throat. “It’s where we are needed.”

Thank God for the American soldier.