re: Humans of NY

Re: #HONY (1/4) – I know a lot of Marines who served in Iraq in 2007, in Al Anbar Province, when the “Sunni Awakening” helped turn back the Al Qaeda-Iraq (AQI) led insurgency, subsequent to which American politicians touted the success of the “surge” (but the Marines knew better). I also know a lot of Marines who served in Afghanistan in 2009, in Helmand Province – then a Taliban stronghold and hotbed of insurgency against Hamid Karzai’s Coalition-backed Government of Afghanistan (GoA). By 2010, Helmand was considered largely secure. Subsequent troop withdrawals saw Ramadi, a key city in Al Anbar, fall to ISIS in 2014, and as recent as last week, reports were coming out of Lashkar Gah that the Taliban was close to retaking Helmand’s provincial capital.

I hear a lot of Marines – those of whom gave, completely, chunks of their lives to far away places called Al Anbar and Helmand – lament: “All that for nothing.” But I tend not to think that “all that” was for nothing @humansofny

Re: #HONY (2/4) – There was never any guarantee, following 2007 in Al Anbar, or 2009/2010 in Helmand, that either Iraq or Afghanistan would become stable Western-style democracies in the years following. Politics mattered. Culture mattered. History mattered – none of which Marines had control over. Stabilization Operations are fundamentally about setting conditions for more permanent change – to secure follow-on international aid, for local governance to operate, to set up schools and create infrastructure. We were there to give those subsequent requirements for permanent change a chance.

Re: #HONY (3/4) – People always ask, “Was it worth it?” – particularly those who know my past (and continued) skepticism of the likelihood of “success” in our endeavors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But in spite of that skepticism, it was worth it, in at least two ways:

1. If your actions are guided by your values, then regardless of the outcome, what you do is “worth it” – in the sense that you’ve lived a life consistent with those values. (Is there really another way?) 2. More in-line with #WillStacey’s point – in 2010 when we were in Afghanistan, a local villager brought his young daughter to our outpost. She had 3rd-degree burns covering much of her body from a (non-military related) accident, and he pleaded for our help. Our battalion surgeon was able to provide effective, if rudimentary care, and saved the little girl’s life. To that father, it was worth it. To that little girl, it was worth it. To the Marines in the combat outpost, far away from their own families that day, I am sure it was worth it.

My skepticism about the end-result of the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars, in broader terms of whether it achieves our nation’s National Security Strategy is irrelevant in this context – If I wore a different hat, my feelings might be different, because then I might have to consider things like, how every $ spent fighting wars overseas, is one $ less on important domestic social programs. But I presume people are asking me, was it worth it, as a Marine (not an ordinary, voting, citizen), going to Iraq/Afghanistan.

So if you asked me, as a Marine, “was it worth it?” – I would say: 

It was worth it when you personally believe that those of us who enjoy the privileges of a common citizenship, should also be willing to undertake the burden of shared sacrifice – regardless of politics.

It was worth it to see the relief and joy in a father’s eyes, and the lessening of suffering in those of his child’s. 
It was worth it to be in the company of young men who believed, not only that there is purpose in life greater than the satisfaction of our own appetites, but chose to act on it. @humansofny
Re: #HONY (4/4) – The the US military executes the orders given to it by a democratically elected civilian leadership, and does it with the resources that leadership appropriates to it. 

The question of “is it worth it”, in a more broadly relevant context, then, should be one that is not asked as frequently of veterans, than it is one that should be asked more frequently of civilians.

Is it worth it, for example, to be disengaged, apathetic, removed from our political process – one that produced the leadership responsible for 10 years of war laid upon the shoulders of less than 2% of the American citizenry, and billion of dollars not spent on our own infrastructure, education, and people?

It was worth it to me as a Marine.

Was it worth it to you as a citizen?

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(1/4) “I was in charge of 250 Marines during my second deployment. We were assigned to a district called Sangin. Most of Afghanistan’s poppy was grown there, and the heroin it produced funded the Taliban’s war effort. We didn’t have a clear mission. Our job was to establish a ‘presence.’ We were supposed to make the Taliban as uncomfortable as possible. Our mission wasn’t to take any hills or to kill a certain number of enemy combatants. And that lack of clarity could be frustrating. Guys were getting killed but we had no concrete ways to measure our gains. The best I could do was tell them that our mission was to ‘make Sangin a better place.’ Every day I’d send them on patrols. I’d sit in a small mud room, square like this, with maps on the walls and a radio on the table. And the patrols would call back if they needed support. Some days it was chaos in that room. Multiple patrols would come under fire at the same time and they’d all be calling at once. We lost nine guys over those six months. Dozens more lost arms or legs. Others had serious gunshot wounds. I remember sitting on an ammo canister the day before we left, with my head between my knees, wondering if we’d done anything at all. And a village elder came up to the gates of our base. He wanted to thank us for making the area safe enough so that his village could finally return to their homes. That was the only tangible difference that I’d seen in six months. It was the ray of light I needed.”

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