Decisions, decisions, decisions.
I find myself reflecting on this simple question, “Was it worth it?”. With regards to my military service, I have been asked this question by strangers on a plane or colleagues at work. Sometimes, it’s buried beneath “Would you do it again?” Regardless of the framing of the question, the root response requires me to contemplate the worth of my service by comparing its associated benefits and detriments. So, I’ve decided to do an analysis on the side effects of my brief stint in the U.S. Marine Corps and service overseas in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Let’s start with the two of the benefits first:
Without joining the Marines I would have never…
…Known how big the US of A actually is.
I grew up in a town called Mastic, N.Y. Heard of it? If you have, then you must be from there or within a 15 mile radius. Seriously, the inhabitants don’t like to go outside of their block, let alone outside of their city. I was born and raised in that town, and though only 50 miles from NYC, I visited Manhattan 2-3 times in my youth. The fact is, if I hadn’t joined the Marines, I would never have learned that there was a place called “the dirty south”. I would still pronounce water as wawta, and never have accepted that it’s just much faster to say “you’ll” than “you guys”. I have met people from most of the U.S. and have found that I prefer the southern/mid-west personality more so than the cold weather and character of many New Yorkers. I mean no offense to N.Y, and do attribute the personality of the people to the hardness of living in that environment. You’ve got to be tough to live rough. I am thankful for meeting Mexicans, Filipino’s, Dominicans, and whatever the least offensive term is for black people (seriously, PC language has me so confused). More importantly than meeting them, learning not to associate them with wetbacks, laborers, food providers, or any offensive stigma I was taught as a child. They are people; I am a person. We, though culturally different, can come together and work in unity.
…Learned how much I did not know about the rest of the world:
It’s an interesting concept, joining a national branch of service that is about protecting ones country, yet in the process learning that there are other countries also interested in protecting their own people. Though it’s been 15 Years, going to Iraq is still one of the most incredible physical journeys I have ever taken. It is literally, a whole new world that, without enlisting, I may have never entered into. It has shaped my perspective on world affairs into one that always assumes you cannot believe what you read in the paper and that boots on the ground, though not necessarily combat boots, should always be required to truly assess a situation. As an example, the rest of the United States was told the “war was over” around 30 days in. Meanwhile, I had just watched as RPG’s flew a few feet over my AAV hitting the track beside me (see pg 341-344), and witnessed a friend receive a bullet that would later paralyze him indefinitely. The following day, George W announced the war had ended (this was in 2003) but for us in 2nd Battalion 5th Marines, it had just begun.
The vast majority of Iraqi citizens were polite, accommodating, and despite the language barrier, easier to understand. They wanted peace, and as long as we represented bringing them that peace, we were welcome in their country. I can still taste the warmness of what we callously termed “haji bread”, which I now know as Khubz. I recall the kindness of a young Iraqi boy running off to fill my canteen with contaminated (unknown to him) cold water because he thought it impossible for us to be walking around in full gear in 120 degree weather. Oh, what I would give to be able to retrace my steps with an Iraqi guide, or to visit the town of As Samawah once again to see who remains and how those young kids turned out. Who died? Who joined ISIS? Who made it to America, as many of them told me on foot patrols through the streets? My experience in Iraq solidified this: Most people are ignorant to the existence of a humanity that is irrespective of borders, politics, and economic status.
There are “little humans” around the globe hoping, dreaming, and surviving, despite their disadvantaged position in the world.