I am from a military family – my father was career – and many members of my immediate and extended family have served and now serve.
So perhaps I carry heightened sensitivities to the unique realities and challenges of military life.
With the news about our withdrawal from Iraq, our troops, and the importance of national acknowledgement of their service and sacrifice, were already on my mind when I arrived for a meeting in the office of Rep. Allen West, R-Fla.
There, by chance, I met a woman whom I’ll call Lt. Col. Sam.
Lt. Col. Sam is in her 24th year of active duty in the U.S. Army. She served in Desert Storm and returned to Iraq in 2008.
Now she is in the Warrior in Transition program, set up by the Army several years ago to provide a framework for quality care and transition for our growing number of returning wounded warriors.
One aspect of the program is work, and she chose to do staff work for Congressman West. It’s a logical fit in that West himself is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and combat veteran. But beyond this, Lt. Col. Sam’s interest is West’s position on the House Armed Services Committee.
Her passion “to serve this country” burns as strongly today as it did 24 years ago, and despite what she has been through, she says she would return to the field of battle “in a heartbeat.”
It is heartening to encounter indomitable spirits and patriots such as Lt. Col. Sam.
But everyone – no matter how focused and tough they may appear – needs acknowledgement and thanks.
And they need meaning. Particularly at times like this.
It has got to add to the struggle for those who return from the battlefield – whether those blessed to return physically and emotionally intact, or the 31,927 wounded, or the survivors of 4,487 who will not return at all – to be surrounded by a culture of doubt and naysayers.
Flying from Washington back to my home in California, I saw many men and women in uniform traveling.
I was struck by the number I noticed reading George W. Bush’s book “Decision Points.”
Perhaps these warriors are searching for meaning and context for the battles they have been fighting.
My answer to the question of “Was it worth it?” is this.
The downside of freedom is making inevitable mistakes. Sometimes big ones. The upside is scaling the heights and achieving what could never be achieved without it.
But the ideal of human freedom and the pursuit of human potential and the struggle toward this goal are never in doubt. This is what our country is so uniquely about, and this is the banner these brave warriors of ours carry.
We cannot forget about those purple fingers held proudly and highly by Iraqis who never before voted in a free and fair election. The self-evident truths enshrined in our Declaration of Independence are as self evidently true for them as they are for us.
Herman Wouk, author of many novels, several of which were about World War II, wrote: “Heroes are not supermen; they are good men who embody – by the cast of destiny – the virtue of their whole people in a great hour.”
These returning warriors of ours embody, each and every one, the virtue of our whole people.
That virtue, readily observable in Lt. Col. Sam and in those who choose to put on the uniform our country and fight, is the conviction that the struggle for human freedom must move forward without cessation. It is the thread that bonds us with them.
We cannot lose perspective that the main arena where Americans must fight this battle is within our own country and borders. But just as the rights we claim and enjoy are universal, so are our responsibilities.