Veterans Day

12 Nov

I meant to write a big piece for Veterans Day yesterday, but the day got away from me and I am just now posting something.  This is an article that I wrote for my alumni magazine while I was serving with the Army in Iraq.  We lost many god and great soldiers while I was over there, and I am forever grateful for their sacrifices and the sacrifices of all of our veterans.

Written at COB Speicher, Iraq

On May 27, 2005, I stood with the rest of my classmates in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and took the oath of office, swearing to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, to bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and to well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which we were about to enter.  The words of our oath are profound—unlike other nations we swear to protect ideas rather than a person or a piece of land.  After four long years by the bay, however, most of us were not dwelling on the oath (or at least I wasn’t).  We were finally ready to join the fleet as young ensigns and second lieutenants.  It was a day filled with memories of the past and hope for the future, and after throwing our covers in the air and giving three cheers for those we were about to leave behind we were on our way to new adventures, not yet knowing what they would be.

A few weeks later I stood on a pier in Malta and gazed up at my new ship, the guided missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54).  Looking up at the sailors manning the rails in their whites, I took a deep breath and vowed to do the best job I could.  I became the First Lieutenant and was quickly immersed in the dual tasks of running a division and struggling to get qualified as a Surface Warfare Officer.  Life was incredibly busy between training, inspections, workups, boards, and an extended deployment to the Middle East, but much like plebe year the days passed by like weeks but the weeks passed by like days, and before too long I had a SWO pin and had “fleeted up” onboard for my second division officer tour as the Navigator, my dream job.

During my time onboard Antietam, Individual Augmentees (IAs) from the Navy and Air Force had been supplementing ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.  These sailors and airmen leave their parent commands and fill billets that the over-burdened Army (and Marine Corps in some cases) desperately need.  From supply officers to masters-at-arms to operation specialists, people who never could have imagined being part of a ground war have been stepping up to the challenge.

The thought of doing something new and different that would have an immediate, direct impact on the war appealed to me, so early one morning in March when my ship received a tasking order requesting an officer to be the Electronic Warfare Officer for an Army unit on the ground in Iraq, while everybody else thought “I joined the Navy, not the Army,” I heard myself say “I’ll do it.”

A few months later I traded in my khakis for Army Camouflage Utilities and was on my way.   In Ft. Jackson, SC I was issued an M4 rifle, an M9 pistol, and 50 pounds of body armor and began training to become as much of a soldier as possible in 3 weeks.  Essentially this meant a whole lot of marksmanship and convoy training in the sweltering South Carolina summer.  On July 6th we landed in Kuwait in the middle of the night, and the next morning when I stumbled out of my tent into the blinding sunlight and saw nothing but mile upon mile of sand stretching in every direction I thought “what have I done?”  All of a sudden 9 months seemed like a very long time.

After some convoy training in Kuwait and a crash course in electronic warfare in Baghdad, I finally arrived at COB Speicher in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown.

So far this has been an eye-opening experience.  I have always had a very healthy respect for the Army (my grandfather, uncle, and 3 cousins have all served in the Army), but I am incredibly impressed by the soldiers I work with.  In the Navy we think 7 month deployments are long, but my unit is on month 12 of a 15 month deployment and is still going strong.  The transition from war fighting to nation building is ongoing, and the Army is handling that challenge well.  Every day soldiers put on their body armor and go outside the wire, risking their lives to fulfill the mission, and their efforts are paying off.  The number of violent acts by insurgents has decreased dramatically since this time last year, and there is much hope for the future of this fledgling nation.

Much like shipboard life, the day to day routine here can be monotonous, but there are moments that will stand out when I reflect back on my time in Iraq.  One of those moments happened last night, when the division commander officiated at a promotion ceremony for my battalion’s physician.  As part of the ceremony he likes to re-administer the oath of office, and looking around the room it was humbling to hear the oath not in a grand setting with all of the pomp and circumstance of an Annapolis graduation exercise, but in a dusty makeshift building in the middle of a war zone, surrounded by Americans who had “taken this obligation freely” and were now living out that promise every day, far removed from their families and friends.  Tired from a year spent fighting and watching other soldiers die or be critically injured in the line of duty, these men and women still get up every day and fight for freedom, and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to serve with them.

Capt. Laura Muirhead, LTJG Sarah Atwood, 1st LT Melina Lee

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