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“What a waste”

“What a waste”

January 15, 2016 by | 2 Comments

The following thread of comments was in response to an article posted online today by “Controversial Times” (See the article at http://controversialtimes.com/news/breaking-us-soldiers-trapped-amid-ongoing-firefight-in-afghanistan/). I’ll tell you in a minute why this is important:

Aaron – What a waste of 10 months of my life to secure Marjah, and the life of my friend Abraham Tarwoe. All for nothing.

Chris – You can’t predict the future man, the enemy has a vote, and so do the fucks in the white house. You did it right and there is no waste here. You had a mission and you completed the mission. You guys did great.

Adam – I felt the same thing your feeling when Balad fell. Keep strong brother, and remember nothing we, or your battle did was for nothing. Always forward.

Jason – Sorry bro. You fought for the people of America. Not the politicians but the people. You fought for good and you left your mark. I pray our warriors get good leadership and that their hands be untied, to finish the job and get the closure they need. God bless u bro.

Jim – I felt the same way about Ramadi, Fallujah, and Mosul, frickin ridiculous.

Steven – I feel the same i fough there in 2010 as a marine infantry i wasnt easy with a batalion i can imagine fighting with just a team is insane how our politics dont care aboute their safety even for a special operator is very dificult to fight alone prayers for our brother out there.

Morgan – Aaron and all the vets on this thread, Thank You. As Chris commented, y’all did your duty and came home. The rest is on the politicians. Do not for one SECOND hang your head in shame for doing what you were told to do.

The reason I wanted to share this is because I’ve had similar conversations with friends of mine, and it brings up an interesting point. When Aaron says his 10 months of fighting in Marjah was wasted, along with the life of his friend who died there, I hear him saying one thing.  Many other people, including some fellow veterans I know, hear something entirely different. Neither is wrong, but to most people, each perspective seems to stem from only one set of assumptions. That’s where I’d like to bring some clarity of thought, because there is always more than one set of assumptions.

Back when Ramadi fell to ISIS, which wasn’t all that long ago, a close friend of mine who had fought and lost friends there told me, “I don’t really give a shit”. I thought to myself, “Well, that’s a pretty cavalier attitude! WTF, over?” His perspective was much like Chris’ in the thread above. He was thinking, “I did my job, and that’s all that matters. I can stand tall and be proud.” He wasn’t wrong to feel the way he did, but his insistence that I had no business getting riled up about it bothered me.

Let me say this right up front. Brothers, you ABSOLUTELY should stand tall and be proud of what you accomplished, whether in Ramadi, Marjah or a hundred other shit holes around Iraq and Afghanistan where our brave Servicemen gave everything to accomplish the mission. You did what was asked of you, and no one can take that away. Not ISIS, and not the failures of our own government.

ihs isis map

The “Mission”. Here is where I start to see a disconnect between points of view. Just exactly what was the mission? We can safely say that most ground combat units pretty well kne what their particular tactical mission was within their AO. They were responsible for such things as securing main supply routes and population centers. They were responsible for building relationships with local leaders to reduce the growth of the insurgency in their area. They were responsible for conducting combat patrols to locate and destroy known enemy strongholds and root out enemy leadership to be killed or captured. Those, and many other things, are all important individual tactical components of an overall strategy, and our men and women executed all of those missions with dauntless courage.

The strategy is not the mission, and a mission is not a good strategy. Strategy is what our National Command Authority (the President and his staff) uses to extrapolate specific mission sets for combatant commands. In general, you could say the overall strategy describes what our Nation seeks to accomplish in a conflict, and generally how we will go about achieving it. I think it’s safe to say that our National Strategy throughout the “War on Terror” has been more than a bit shifty and difficult to define. We went from wanting to crush Al Qaida and its supporters, to deposing dictators, to nation building. Those are pretty widespread goals, and two of the three weren’t even on the public radar when we went to war after 9/11. Even if our goals were better solidified, we never really had a good game plan on how we could achieve them. So, the bottom line is we’ve had a piss-poor strategy based on ill-conceived goals for a long time now.

So, how does this impact individual Veterans and Servicemen? Why should we care, and what does it illuminate about the comment thread from the article referenced above?

When my friend told me he didn’t “give a shit” about Ramadi falling to ISIS, he was thinking defensively. He wasn’t about to have anyone tell him that he or his comrades failed in their mission, or that their actions in any way contributed to the fall of Ramadi to ISIS. And he’s right to think that.

My problem with that line of thinking brings to light an alternative thought process that I wish more Veterans would consider. My initial thought was not that our men in uniform had in any way contributed the ISIS debacle. For his part, my friend thought that my focus on the loss of Ramadi (or Marjah, etc) amounted to calling into question the efforts of those who fought those hard battles to free those cities from a crushing insurgency. Far from that, what I actually felt was a sense of righteous anger about the cost of our earlier victory in cities where our men fought so valiantly and gave so much. My outward expressions were intended to be an indictment of the very government that sent those men into harms way to bear such a heavy burden, and that would now turn it’s back on the “national goals” that those men fought for!

War is the ultimate result of failed diplomacy. Our elected officials and their appointed officers (Cabinet Officials of the Executive Branch) are responsible for affecting the security of the United States. One of the most important elements of that duty is the exercise of diplomacy around the world. Whether that means getting deeply involved in the affairs of other nations, or whether that means choosing to stay on the sidelines in a dispute in which we have no standing, we rely on our diplomats and elected officials to make wise decisions that will keep us in a state of relative peace so that we don’t have to send young Americans into harm’s way. Primarily, we want to live among the nations of the world in such a way that, whether they be a close friend or a rival, none would call us their enemy. This isn’t always possible, but I’d venture to say that we’ve made more than our share of enemies over the last century. Enemies that, but for a little better diplomacy, could have been friends.

So, now we have Veterans who feel regret and anger when their hard work and sacrifice is undone by the very people who ordered them to do it. And we have Veterans who, because the thought of failure is too difficult a burden to bear, cling to the idea that they “did their duty” and that’s all that matters. I’m in the former category. While I believe we all did our duty, and that does matter, it’s not all that matters. We Veterans are uniquely qualified to speak about the conduct of war, the cost of war, and the folly of it all. I believe we Veterans are more qualified than any other segment of our society to hold those accountable who would send us off to fight and die.

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The term “public servant” comes to mind. So does the hallowed phrase, “of the People, by the People and for the People”. If that’s really how the relationship between our citizens and those we elect to office is meant to be, then why do we shy from holding them accountable? We Veterans hold ourselves to a sacred code that begins when we take the Oath of Enlistment. Most of us feel obliged to adhere to that oath for the rest of our natural lives. What we sometimes forget is that, as Citizens of this great Nation, irrespective of our Veteran status, we also have a solemn duty to perform. If “we the People” are the ultimate source of authority for our government, then it’s only right that we should be fastidious in demanding an accounting of the actions of our government. It is there to serve us. It owes us an explanation for every action it takes. When it seeks to constrain our Liberties, or when it chooses a course that is costly in lives, energy and treasure that only results in more turmoil and fear, the government itself should be restrained by the People.

I encourage every American Citizen, especially our Veterans, to turn off the endlessly pontificating TV talking heads and educate yourselves on the issues of the day. Visit the website www.congress.gov to see what bills are before Congress. READ THEM. See who is for them or against them. Call your representatives and ask why they don’t support a bill you think is important. Visit the websites of various watchdog organizations to see who is donating money to whom. You’d be really surprised. Be involved in the process of governing your country. If you don’t, then the career politicians who have carved out nice little economically advantageous dynasties for themselves will continue to do that they want, and not what “We the People” require of them.

Finally, every Veteran who served honorably has nothing left to prove, nothing to explain or account for. You did what was asked of you by a country that, in large part, never even understood what they were asking of you or why. But, don’t let all your sacrifice be in vain. If the cities you fought to free are falling like dominoes to an evil power, demand that your government stop the spread of evil in its tracks. More importantly, demand that we institute a foreign policy of 24/7 active engagement around the world. But, this must be tempered by a parallel policy of non-intervention in the affairs of other nations unless our national security is imminently threatened.

Tim Parkhurst

SmallVersion

Profile photo of Tim ParkhurstTim retired from the Marines after a career spanning over 25 years, including service in Panama, Desert Storm, OIF and OEF. He served as a Communicator, Infantryman, Scout Sniper and Parachute Rigger. He proudly served in all four Marine Divisions, various Logistics units, two Reconnaissance Battalions and with Marine Special Operations Command. Tim and Leony have been married since 1992 and have two beautiful daughters. They currently live in Eastern North Carolina, where Tim is trying his hand at entrepreneurship, nonprofit leadership and is going back to school.

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