Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I will not let Daniel Goetz be censored.

Seven months ago, my service in the army was to have terminated. Instead, I am in Iraq for the second time. I sit next to a DOD contractor whose job is identical to mine. Except he makes $120,000 more, works four hours less, and visits home four times more often than I do.

Daniel Goetz is currently serving in Samarra, Iraq. Read his blog here.

I am not alone in my anger and humiliation. When we were here in 2003, there was anger, but there is a difference between anger and bitter hatred. The atmosphere of discontent is thick and contagious. Even soldiers not stop-lossed feel The Betrayal. They know it might be them next time. Dissent will not change anything for us now because our voices are muted. Still, there is hope. It is that in twenty years, it will be these men and women in office. Perhaps, that alone should make me feel better. I don't think it is enough, though, for our wounded and fallen. I can't speak for them, of course. Not yet, at least.

I joined the army soon after I finished college; the decision was an amalgamation of desire to serve, to belong, and to repay student loans. I wanted the challenge to see if I really could be all I could be. Our country was a vastly different place then; one in which policemen, firemen, and servicemembers were no different than any other American. I had almost completed my two years of training to become an Arabic linguist when September Eleventh dramatically changed the nation's climate. I knew my own role would be pivotal, and was eager to see our country avenged on the battlefield. Until then, I had a rather dim view of the army. Their promise to repay my college loans turned out to be false, and I was left to shoulder the massive burden of debt alone. My dismay melted away in the patriotic euphoria that enveloped the country in the run-up to our invasion of Iraq. Like the rest of the America, I clung fervently to the justifications for it. The underlying righteousness was my source of motivation when we crossed the Kuwait-Iraq border in March of 2003.
In the months that were to follow, those justifications collapsed - and with them, my confidence in a nation. In those days, my colleagues and I would often patrol the streets of Baghdad with the infantry in a bid to quell boredom. We were also looking for hope among the Iraqi people; we could live vicariously through their optimism, and perhaps therein find meaning for our occupation. But hope betrayed us as the insurgency swelled. It was when the fighting began again in earnest that we left Iraq. By the end of August, I was back in The United States, free to pretend Iraq never happened. But it had. And nothing could wrench the darkest memories from repression like the knowledge that we were to return. Worse, our year in America was wasted. Almost every week, CSPAN would feature one committee or another complaining that our armed forces hadn't enough servicemembers in critical jobs like intelligence and military police. I wanted them to know how poorly we were thought of in our own units, and how little job-specific training we received before we left. At one point, we were told to study Arabic only on our own time. That was hardly possible when we were kept late every night, sometimes doing only menial tasks like weapons-cleaning until three in the morning.

The last straw was "stop loss". My enlistment contract ended in March of this year. It is seven months hence, and I am still in Iraq. I propose that, in order for me to respect my commitment, the army ought to respect the contract we agreed upon. It was for five years, not six. Proponents of this form of conscription argue that I signed it nonetheless, fully aware of possible outcomes. True, I ought to have prepared myself better. But to remain bound to an expired commitment - exposed to prolonged peril in support of an unjustifiable cause - was beyond my expectations. Today, I find the greatest challenge of the army is to find honor in service. I don't ever regret having joined because I've learned so much about myself and about America. I have faith in both, but yearn for hope to become reality. I want to go home as badly as I want to be proud of my country again.

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