Normally I'm not very serious on my blog but I received this email from my best friend's boyfriend who is currently in Iraq. He is serving on a Military Transition Team (MTT) which means that he along with a very small group of American Marines are working to train Iraqi soldiers. He deployed in early September and is not scheduled to return home until this fall. His days are long and he certainly does not have the conveniences of home so I can only imagine how he must need these little pick me ups every now and then. I'm going to quit talking now because I cannot do his story justice with my words. His writing is so eloquent and he really does a fabulous job at painting a picture of the recent Iraqi elections. (Carrie, please feel free to correct me if I've misstated anything)
Regardless of how you feel about the war, you should be able to appreciate the message Burke is trying to convey. Please, put your political opinions aside for a few moments and take the time to read this e-mail.
I have just returned from today's patrol. 31 Jan 2009. We covered the Iraqi BDE's complete area of responsibility. The election sites have only just closed and what eerily seems like any other day in Iraq is completely the opposite. Today, alongside the Iraqi Army, Iraqi Police, Provincial Security Forces and my fellow Marines, I walked the streets of Hit, Haditha, Baghdadi, Barwana and Haqlaniyah. It was admittedly a long day but the kind whose gravity fully weighs in upon its completion or in quiet retrospect. I have to say that today in my area of Al Anbar, I witnessed an army, security force and local civilian population handle a difficult and dangerous task with complete confidence, fluid coordination and guts.
I must have shaken hands with over a hundred people today and I was only one of a lucky handful permitted in the "shadow-like" coalition presence within the cities. Some of those hands were old and have experienced the full swing of the politics, fear and pseudo freedom of the past half century in this country. Some were middle aged, weary of the past decade, continuous martial patrols and very aware of the positive and negative impacts of the past 6 years. Some were young, happy to be a part of the next step and eager to be involved. Last but certainly not least were the kids who sat on shoulders, held a father's hand, grasped the leg of a mother.... to watch... bear witness...and learn. The common link was the color purple. The purple ink that covered the right index finger of a man or woman that decided to courageously stand up, stand in line, be searched and publicly, defiantly and decisively involve themselves in the future of their country. In the face of threat and intimidation, people turned out in amazing numbers. No one cheered, no one ran, no one fired weapons in celebration but today, they voted and in turn both gave their voice to a candidate and let the enemies of their freedom know that they are not afraid. They will endure.
I saw many humbling and amazing things today. Through a rifle scope, binos, armored windows or tinted sunglasses, I was able to observe the events that transpired. With the help of our interpreters (both of which escaped Iraq 10 years ago and have returned to work with Marines in Al Anbar) the members of my team, MTT 0720 has each had their own experience with respect to these elections. Doc (our navy corpsman) and I conducted countless IED sweeps today, around our vehicles and the 38 election sites. Doc spoke with a boy of about 12 or 13 who reached out a hand and told him in broken English.... "Thank you, Amriki (how the Iraqis say American) .....for this future." Doc also reached out, shook his hand but could only muster an amazed.... "you're welcome, brother." I think he understood the moment. I think they both did. Later, I watched a father walk with his young son who couldn't have been more than 5 or 6, stand outside of a polling site. The man raised the little guy up in his arms to talk to him. Close and deliberate, he spoke to his young son about the importance of "a choice." He put him back down, looked at him with the finality of a father's lesson, took his hand and walked on. I don't know where they were going and in truth it doesn't matter. What I do know is that they walked, two generations of Iraqis, away from an voting site.... unafraid.....unintimidated and hopeful. Towards the end of the patrol as a report came in about some suspicious activity in the southern sector, I stood with my counterpart, the Iraqi Army Brigade Operations Officer, in the middle of the road as he briefed the brigade commander with a map in one hand, a radio in the other and a GPS on the hood of his vehicle. I never said a word. No Marine standing by them said anything. Immediately and decisively, the BDE Commander explained his intent, switched vehicles and drove off to make the phone call that would shift elements in that zone to deal with the issue at hand. It took less than five minutes.... from intel to decision to communication to operation. I shook my friend's hand (the G3 Operations Officer), smiled and we returned to our vehicles to complete the patrol.
Take a moment with me to feel the weight of these small things. Add them up and apply them to what you may see on the news or hear from others who have been here as to whether you believe the war on terror can ever be "won." In Iraq, Afghanistan, Beirut, Manhattan, Oklahoma City.... or your hometown....
Remember that I am only one of thousands of Marines, servicemen/ women and contractors in Iraq on a day like today. Remember that it has taken very close to six years and immeasurable sacrifice by the Iraqis, their families, Americans and their families to ensure the success of a day like today. Today is only a small piece and those of us here know that the true test will arrive in the coming days, weeks and years to continue the momentum of "a choice." While it may seem like any other day, I will never forget it and am proud to have been here.
I ignored the cliche' and focused/ reflected on what I saw in reality. Iraqi and American blood has often touched the streets that I walked in relative peace today. Days like today have a price and I thank all of those that have bourne the cost.
P. Burke Eltringham
Captain U.S. Marines