Monday, June 29, 2009

The Price of penned while I was serving in Iraq

As we move into the week in which we will celebrate our country's independence, I dug up a document I wrote five years ago while I was serving in Iraq. It was written on Memorial Day, but I believe it's message is certainly applicable to a celebration of our independence. Many of you that know me, know that I am a Christian, and you will find obvious references to that faith toward the end of the document. I have not changed a single word of this document; it is in it's pure, original form exactly as I wrote it, and I make no apology for its content.

My purpose in posting this document is not to begin a debate on any of its content, but simply to share a piece of myself with the rest of you that you probably haven't ever seen. When I wrote this document, it was originally shared only with family members. This week, I am opening it up to the rest of you and wearing some of my feelings on my sleeve. So, without further rambling, I hope you enjoy it, and that you appreciate your freedom as much as I do.

The Price of Freedom

On Memorial Day in May of 2004 it finally hit me what it means to be free. I didn’t go to any ceremonies or hear any long speeches. I didn’t visit a grave site or mourn over lost relatives. I didn’t even think about my own grandfather’s service in the Vietnam War as I had done in previous years. Instead, I thought of fallen comrades as I suited up with body armor, ammunition for my M16, and did a final check of all my gear. I spent the day driving and doing recon in downtown Baghdad. I was in the middle of a war zone, and today it felt different. The gas pedal of my bulky Humvee was pressed solidly to the floor as we aggressively navigated a road where two Americans had died the day before. There would be no looking back, but an intense scanning of the road ahead would reveal several possible threats. My brain worked in overdrive trying to assess the intentions of every civilian we passed, my eyes never stayed in one spot for longer than five seconds. The handling limitations of a very heavy Humvee were painfully apparent as I swerved around unyielding drivers. I heard mortars explode nearby as we rested at our first stop. I thought of the many nights I’ve tried to sleep but was awakened by mortars impacting as close as 500 meters away. As our patrolling continued, we drove over sections of road that had been blasted by IED’s (Improvised Explosive Device; AKA, a bomb). I remembered seeing Humvees torn to shreds and burning that had been hit by those IED’s. I remembered being caught between two of these IED’s a mere two weeks earlier. I had picked up a piece of shrapnel that skidded across the road and landed by my foot as I stood outside of my Humvee pointing my M16 at every rooftop and window with any sign of movement. Worse yet, I remembered many of my fellow soldiers who had not been as lucky as I; soldiers who were killed performing the daunting duty that was before them. I couldn’t forget Lieutenant Vega, who was killed as a result of a Humvee accident. I thought of my First Sergeant who was shot and blown up when US forces first invaded Iraq, and who is now back to serve another year in this war. He just found out that his wife (who is also in the army) will be coming next year, just a few weeks before he will finally return home after nearly two and a half years of solid war. There are many who have offered unsung and unrecognized sacrifices. We know so little of those who have given so much.

The country we fight to protect decays with pride and selfishness, and yet every day I am responsible for the safety of four other people besides myself. There are those that will never hold a gun, and mine is locked and loaded for at least 8 hours a day. Others say that war is a deadly thing that causes many deaths, but still I will not hesitate to put two bullets through the skull of anyone jeopardizing my life or the lives of my countrymen. Every day I pray and make peace with my God because of the great strain that the task of war can cause a man.

Those who have never fought for their freedom, those who have never fought in a war, and those who have never fought for anything they believed in will never understand the sacrifices made by those who have. Even the fiercest of war critics must hush in the presence of one who has fought in a war, because that man fought for the freedom that allows the critic his free speech. Many who enjoy freedom have never paid the price for it, so how could they possibly understand the cost? The price of freedom is not a tag that can be readily read by everyone. It never goes on sale or gets marked down. The forces of evil that cause us to fight for our God-given right of agency do not flinch in the face of war or death. Those that fight for freedom are aware that the cost may include their life. Though we may grieve their passing, their deaths are landmarks of courage and inspiration. The good Lord comforts us in the deaths of our righteous comrades as follows: “…the Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgment may come upon the wicked; therefore ye need not suppose that the righteous are lost because they are slain; but behold, they do enter into the rest of the Lord their God.” (Alma 60:13) The Lord Almighty and our Great God be thanked for his infinite wisdom and righteous judgment. 1 Peter 4:8 teaches that “charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” Charity is none other than the pure love of Christ, and we also learn from John that “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” There is great hope indeed for those who have lain down their lives for the freedom of others.

May the graces of Christ reach to those who have lost a relative or friend to the cause of war. What is the cause of war? The cause of war has always been and should always be the defense of freedom and righteousness. There is no consoling word that can fill the hole left by the loss of a loved one, but I can still say thank you. Thank you, because I am still alive and enjoying freedom because of what those brave men and women have done. I would give my life for the comrades to my left and right, and they would do the same for me. Only God knows why my life has not been taken, but I am grateful for every day that is granted to me. That is why I say thank you. Memorial Day of 2004 will never be forgotten, and Memorial Day for me will never be the same. Freedom means much more to me than being free. Freedom is made up of the courage of thousands of men and women who have died defending it. Freedom is looking at your family and knowing that you would die to protect them. Freedom is not hesitating to stand up to the forces of evil that would rob us of agency and happiness. Freedom is being able to breath clean air every day having measured yourself as a man, and not been found wanting. For some though, freedom is just a gift, given by those who have spilled sweat and blood on countless battlefields. May we never forget or under appreciate that gift, and may we never forget He who has made us eternally free from the enemies of our souls, even Jesus the Christ.

-SGT Matt Downing
Memorial Day 2004

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Someone likes my keys

On Thursday I was at the gym in an aerobics class, and wen't to leave, but couldn't find my keys anywhere. Someone took them! I waited for a half hour for someone to bring them back, realizing they weren't their keys, but to no avail. So we had to walk home and pop out a screen window to get in the house. (Aleia thought that was a lot of fun). We went back the next evening and someone had returned them. So, I think that is some random incident, right? It happened to me once four years ago, but someone else had the same car I have, and it was an honest mistake. (This key ring only had house keys on it and the gym tags.) So then Monday, I'm at a different gym, different class, and GUESS what happens?
My keys are missing again!!! I couldn't believe it. I dumped out my diaper bag three times, scoured the gym, and stayed again for an extra half hour. (The keys were different looking this time too.) So then I had to use a gym phone to call Matt (my phone was in my car). And he came to rescue us. Lame. Really Lame. Quit taking my keys! Matt drove back and checked today, and sure enough, they were returned by someone. How can you not notice that you have the wrong keys? I dunno. I don't get it.