No Apologies

What do I miss from Iraq?

Be not a slave of your own past. Plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with a new power, with an advanced experience that shall overlook and explain the old.  –Emerson, On Nature

Control- it’s not the killing, the war, or the violence.  It is the absolute respect, authority, responsibility and accountability that I was afforded and bestowed by the nation.  In Iraq, my bosses gave me their confidence to execute my mission.

In Iraq, I was Captain Few, Alpha Six, and Shadow Six.  You’ve seen this from meeting my men.  If I said that night was day, then so it was. I commanded 100 paratroopers and 200 Iraqi soldiers, and we were responsible for governing 125,000 people.

Even the al Qaeda sheik who was trying to kill me respected me.

Perhaps, that is what we’re all struggling with?  It’s not really the war; it’s just being the average Mike Few or Joe Smith when we come home?  The shepherd with no sheep to herd?

We come home to a nation that not only does not acknowledge our war, but dismisses who we are by immediately portraying us as victims and wounded warriors.

I am neither a victim nor a warrior.  I am a professional soldier.  As an officer, I took a sworn oath to defend the Constitution.

The garrison Army cannot even get the name right for those soldiers and marines wounded in battle.  The term warrior is the most disrespectful label.  Simply put, as LTC Robert Bateman states,

“Unfortunately, and I cannot nail down when this started, a trend started to take hold in the Army and the Marine Corps which blurred that distinction. Sometime in the mid-90s we started to hear senior officers (defined in my head as "Colonels and Up") calling us "warriors." At first the appellation was rare enough. Now and then you might hear it creep into a speech at a Change of Command ceremony, or perhaps at a Dining In (a formal dinner for the officers of a battalion or brigade). But slowly the term began to come into more common usage, even as it leaked into print in professional journals and in speeches coming from Air Force officers. This is a bad sign, and it does not seems to be stopping. I wish it would, because calling us warriors is not only inaccurate, it displays an ignorance about what a warrior is all about. The bottom line is that a real "warrior" is really just about himself. Indeed, the key difference between a Soldier (or a Marine, or an Airman) and a "warrior" is almost that simple. A serviceman does his job as a part of a complex human system, he does so with discipline and selflessness as his hallmarks. Courage also matters, of course, but it is but one of several values that are needed. The serviceman is the product of a Western society which, while it values individualism intrinsically, values subordination in pursuit of a collective objective as well. A warrior, on the other hand, is the product of a culture or subculture which is essentially purely honor-driven. That is not a good thing.”

I fought not for profit or personal gain; I fought for my men and my mission.  I was not a mercenary. And so, this is the world that we live in.  I accept that, but I will find my own control in this world. As it is, I refuse to go back into that other world and relive battles that I already won.  I refuse to feel sorry for the poor souls who chose hate and anger and death over living.

As Emerson told me, I grieve that neither grief nor fear will teach me nothing.

I’m tired of grieving. I am going to live.  I am going to lead.  I am going to empower those around me; we are going to find our own way.  The way ahead is simply listening and building relationships- overcoming the Us-Them and becoming the We without the use of force.

It is time.

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Comments

Mike - I appreciate the words and do not view them as personal hubris as some on this thread without the creativity, courage, will to write something as personal as this. I do think the commentary on warrior actually distracts from the overall meaning of the essay. For what it is worth...

Mike---liked the article from our internal exchange.

The problem I personally think for returning vets is that yes the VN era was different than your generation of fighters but the two generations share inherent similarities---both generations see and feel and have to live with those feelings and experiences in their own private ways.

WHY---because the society that ordered you into those events has no understanding of what you did nor do they really care---yes the current society hangs ribbons--heck we had nothing similar in 69/70---yes they praise you as "warriors"---yes they speak of giving you jobs and family support mechanisms--they said the same thing for VN vets---but do they really understand---heck no and they never will. That is a burden that all returning vets from all wars face.

As a SF vet of 18 long months in VN and as vet of Desert Storm and again in Iraq----

---it never gets easier regardless of what people say---the memories never disappear they only fade---but never disappear---you never ever forget the moment that you were destined to die and then was surprised that you had walked through it---and then it happens again--- over and over

----it was Iraq that placed VN in perspective for me----this Arabic phrase best sums it up

----- "Inshallah"---"it is not mine to do; it's mine to do the best that I can; it's going to happen according to God's will"

Think you have found you own personal way---that has been the "real story of returning vets" each in his own way finding his own way forward. Stay at it!

THE TRULY BIG problem is that we vets simply do not talk to each other because we think we were each different in our different wars.

--simply not true.

I don't think it was control. I think it was the strong sense of purpose. "Strong" in that the more meaningful the purpose, the stronger the sense. In Iraq, I had a strong sense of purpose. I obsessed for every waking moment about every detail of what I did because I had a sense of purpose. That is why I had to make a conscious effort to keep track of how long I was awake. Otherwise, I'd lose track, stay up for 3 days, and then suddenly fall asleep in mid-sentence while talking to a platoon leader.

Back home, purpose is more difficult to find because we are removed from an environment where we had one singular purpose - fulfilling our duties - and where everything around us was provided for that purpose. Back home, purpose is either undefined or changing or not entirely clear. Not even your new AO is clear (I plan on relocating in hopes of finding work, though I am not sure where, yet).

Mike, Small Wars Journal is one of my favorite sites to get up-to-date thinking and responses to some great posts. I read with interest your "no apologies" piece and believe you have lost your way. If you leave service struggling with just being average Mike Few, you must have had an elevated opinion of yourself when commanding 100 paratroopers, 200 Iraqi Soldiers and responsible for governing 125000 people. Now you are a shepherd with no sheep! How sad, you have come home to a nation that does not acknowledge your war and dismisses who you are. I suspect there are many Vietnam Vets like me who do not feel sorry for you. And, "warrior" was one of the more dignified terms used to describe us.

Brother,

Paradoxically, sometimes one has to give up control in order to control.

I done got my flock to attend to. I was writing to other "Mike Few's" out there trying to go about and find their own way.

Sometimes, you have to get lost and stumble about for a bit until you can find your way and know who you are.

Mike,

Have you read "The 13th Valley" yet? I think LT Brooks might just speak to you.

Steve,

It might be time for me to read that book. I learned a lot from "David Donovan" and Bob Andrews.

It's a damned good read. Brooks spends much time trying to come to grips with both his own identity and the forces that pushed him (or let him drift) into a combat leadership position. And he's not even the main narrator. Del Vecchio is a hell of a writer. Leonard Scott's stuff about Vietnam is also worth a look (especially The Hill and The Expendables). It's not in the same philosophical bent as Del Vecchio's stuff (especially Coming Home, which deals with returning veterans), but he does touch on some of the psychological aspects of combat survival (especially The Hill). The Iron Men also speaks to some of this, since it picks up with a character some years after Vietnam.

Very cool. I'm actually reading Frank Rafalko's MH/CHAOS: The CIA's Campaign against the Radical New Left and the Black Panthers. It's a first-hand account from one of the operators and just came out a couple months ago. Hopefully, later this year, I'm gonna drive down and interview the author.

Sounds good. Might have to chase that one down.

One thing I've noticed with most discussions about post-conflict adjustment is that, aside from a handful of works like Achilles in Vietnam, some of the best discussions and ruminations appear in fiction. Coming Home is an extended discourse about some of the issues a group of Vietnam vets faced over about a 10 year period when they tried to return to life as normal. Did ALL vets face that conflict? No, and it's never been a universal thing. But those who did have some issues seem to express it best through the distance of writing fiction. And to an extent it's always been that way.

"Warrior" in the sense you're using it, Mike, popped up during one of those "we have to get back to our combat roots" movements sparked by people who had perhaps read too much Tom Clancy or somehow got confused when they saw Special Forces folks training. Perhaps the ultimate example of this is the Air Force latching onto the "warrior" mythos. But I digress...

For those who contend that "warrior" isn't an individual term, I offer up the American Indian example. Many of the tribes produced warriors of great skill and ability (the Comanche and Apache being two outstanding examples, but there are others), but those nations were also fighting collectives of individuals. The tribes that gave the Army the most difficulty in open conflict (Nez Perce and Modocs) actually used team-type tactics and fought more as units than individuals. In a typical Frontier engagement the Army was usually outnumbered (sometimes by a great degree), but most of its actual defeats came only when the unit in question lost its cohesion (Fetterman and Little Big Horn are two of the best examples) and was isolated and overrun. There are too many examples of outnumbered contingents holding their own against high odds (Beecher's Island, Wagon Box, Palo Duro Canyon to name a handful of examples) to dispute the advantage in many cases of a trained unit against a mass of individual warriors.

Warrior also has an undercurrent of primitive rage and uncontrolled aggression that should be distasteful.

And the post-conflict adjustment is nothing new. I'd contend that it's something that has always been there but we're only now coming to recognize (and perhaps have an unhealthy obsession with or addition to in terms of political spinning and the like). In the past it was either denied (you can just ignore drunk old Uncle Herman there...he was in the war) or dealt with in other ways (consider the number of significant figures on the American Frontier who were Civil War veterans and you may begin to see what I'm talking about). That it's nothing new does not make it any less significant or important, but it should remind people that it is not something unique to this point in time and it being there does not make our veterans somehow "weaker" (and yes, I've heard that word used) than those who came before them.

After three tours in Iraq, seeing my fellow marines and soldiers die - my fellow warriors die - I can honestly say that this article does a disservice to our community. After complaining about being portrayed as a victim, you go off about how you are a victim because some of us have the audacity to call each other "warriors." But in a sense you are correct sir - you are not a warrior. And having served under such "leaders" I can tell you that no one mistook you for one. It appears that your main priority over there was "control" and "respect." A good leader has to trust his subordinates once you give them your intent. This means that you lose your precious "control."

"If I said that night was day, then so it was." Well...maybe in your mind but not to the rest of us. The reality is, you appear more concerned about control and respect as opposed to actual mission accomplishment.

As someone who served under the MJR, I would have to disagree with the assessment of a person more concerned with control than anything else. This blog piece is truly an introspection, and as such the things we tend to think and write about ourselves often carry meanings that are not clear to external observers. I feel that is the case here.

This blog comes days after an article from 2007 began weaving its' way through the old TF300 circle. Titled "I Miss Iraq. I Miss My Gun. I Miss My War." the author outlines an introspective line of thought about the myriad mixed feelings soldiers encounter after returning to what we used to jokingly refer to as 'the real world'. I imagine this blog is a personal continuation of the theme.

This blog was also posted days before a horrific incident involving a fellow paratrooper that has left the old community stunned and saddened. That incident highlights the losing side of the reintegration and PTSD battle that many former servicepeople face. It's brought the issue home to our little group and triggered a new wave of self evaluation.

The concept and dialogue about the word "warrior" also fits with the pattern of using words as packages for ideas, things that we can wrap up thought in that will provide context and meaning. This process can be ingenuine, and I believe that is the argument here.

I don't know MJR Few has ever written about some of the units we worked alongside during the Surge. We found a consistent pattern of American military units that could not or would not pick up their share of the fight. We dealt with American military units that gave in to their fear and retreated the field of battle during ongoing combat operations. Not once, but three separate times, from three separate units. We found that getting support from the higher units we were attached to very difficult at best, and were forced to be as self-sufficient as possible. Often our patrols would roll in from to the FOB from two or more weeks at the outposts, only to see shiny new t-shirts for the FOB sports leagues, staffed by soldiers that should have been running patrols in their own AOs (which we had fallen into).

All this is no news to any experienced combat soldier. When we returned to Ft. Bragg, many of our fellows found readjustment issues. Some ended up in WTB awaiting serious mental health counseling. 'Warrior Transition' is the very name of the units. It's simply assumed that if you are in one, you are a warrior, and yet my friends would tell stories of the slackers, fat kids, and maladjusted waiting outprocessing. Men who had been dodging deep-buried IEDs for a year, or pulling guard over the burned out hulk of the humvee that had once held their friends, kicking doors and pulling SKTs were sharing rooms with people that hadn't experienced any hostile threats and yet still seemed to have developed PTSD. And all these soldiers were slapped with the label "warrior" and sent on their way.

To me, the "warrior" mythos as applied across the board is offensive. Furthermore, the image of the modern American soldier that is filtering back into the culture entails this fallacy. "Warriors" are seen today as a tragic lot, placed in harms' way and forced to defend themselves, to be pitied as a pawn of the larger machinations of an imperialistic government. Absent is the image of a professional, adaptable force of people working together and each subverting a portion of their own ego and id to become an entity with a purpose.

As to the comment about MJR Few's leadership, I cannot express how inaccurate that statement is. MJR Few led us, but we also willingly followed. There was a very tangible trust between the ranks that MJR Few would not only do what he could to protect us, but also to let us do our jobs. There were occasional rumblings at some disciplinary measures from a few of the junior enlisted, however there was never a doubt about his leadership or combat abilities.

This is not a hollow statement-- MJR Few did not finish the Surge tour with us. His replacement was no match in the combat and planning arenas, and the successes of the Troop existed solely on the backs of the junior officers and NCOs who maintained the organization that had been built under Mjr Few. Even the Shadow 6 moniker was retired rather quietly, and most people agreed that the name belonged to the individual rather than as a slot filled by any commander.

MJR Few's departure was the first time of our entire tour that I felt scared for me life and comrades. When it became apparent the quality of officer we had lost, the entire unit took on a fatalistic malaise like men on death row, simply waiting. We transitioned from being wolves seeking the sheep to something more passive.

Read more: http://www.esquire.com/features/essay/ESQ0307ESSAY#ixzz1lrS2dDRF
(http://www.esquire.com/features/essay/ESQ0307ESSAY)

Sigh...I suppose that you have been watching too much Rambo.

Commanders command and control. As a third-party intervention force, control is but a temporary illusion. Sadly, most professionals would immediately pick up that "night becomes day" as a reference to continual night operations. As Paul Yingling said this morning, "warrior" - best used as an adjective between the nouns "Xena" and "Princess."

Personally I care little about marines or soldiers using the word "warrior." But to attack those that use it, or call themselves warriors after they have served their country honorably is disheartening coming from a "professional officer."

In my experience, it has been such "professional officers" that second guess the soldier or marine that is actually outside the wire facing the enemy. It is why we have ROEs now that consistently hamper and impede the actions of the marine or soldier (warriors) trying to accomplish their mission.

These "professional officers" have become so risk adverses that they now micro-manage and control what PPE the war-fighter wheres and when, as opposed to allowing the company grade officers of SNCOs to make such decisions. But as long as they are controlling something...

You're missing the point of this essay. For the past two years, while I was recovering from my own combat wounds, I watched several highly decorated NCOs with multiple tours die from either accidental overdose or suicide. I wanted to understand why. For whatever reason, many of them had lost their own self-respect and control after they came home from war.

This essay speaks to those who are trying to reclaim themselves. That is all.

And, from my own experience, empowering your subordinates and trusting them while arming them with a good commander's intent is the best form of command and control :).

Mike - I liked your piece up until the sidestory about being called a warrior. The movement towards the warrior ethos was driven by the fact that Army training had become diluted and there was a lack of the warrior spirit in both pre-commisioning and basic entry training.
I disagree that the term warrior represents individualism - that was represented by "The Army of One". All professional soldiers must be warriors first. Teamwork is important, but I want to be on a team of warriors not a team of model citizens.

Totally agree with your piece. I ran a MAT in Vietnam and don't miss the food, the paddies, the constant nights on ambush with people whose reliability was open to question. I do miss being in charge and being on my own, no higher authority (excepting God) to check in with satisfy the second guessing of etc. You got that one dead nuts right Mike. For those too young suggest you read "Once a Warrior King". We took care of each other cause that was what we had and, honestly, saw little that was honorable back in the world.

As to the warrior thing, I am with you there as well. As long as I was in, I resolved to be a professional, an Infantry Officer and to hell with those who didn't like it or us or the good we accomplished. Not a victim, either. I refer to my "eccentricities" (checking tree lines sitting so i can see the door etc) as healthy adjustments to an unhealthy situation. ;-P

In some ways you move on, if you are smart but in other ways you bring it with you. If you were good at that line of work, it is part of you and that's a fact too.
Thanks for your service.