Friday, April 11, 2008

To Our Friends Who Are Still In The Desert

"To Our Friends Who Are Still In The Desert"

(I've used this title before it seems.)

This is an old, old French Foreign Legion toast. I tried to look it up on wikipedia with nothing and google it without result. I likely read it in a book on the foreign legion years ago but I can't recall which one now.

I think of this when I read reports of the numbers of soldiers we've lost in Iraq (and Afghanistan). Or recently when one of the bloggers I regularly read told us her sister's national guard unit has been mobilized and will deploy to Iraq. I would find her news ironic since she's a staunch conservative and was a Bush supporter. If it wasn't too serious for that. If I had absolutely no idea of the anguish she's going through now. But I can't. We've disagreed before but she's shown herself to be intelligent and articulate and the facts of an issue will sway her point of view. I used to think that my mother never worried about me while I was stationed in Germany (1982-1986). A few years after I came back she disabused me of this notion. And that tour wasn't nearly as dangerous as current tours in Iraq or Afghanistan (although we did have four deaths in our battalion - 500-600 men - during those four years). I think I can say nothing affects a soldier the same way as those boots with the helmet on top that are set before the podium in the chapel during a memorial service. Or the lone bugle playing Taps afterwards. Especially not an officer.

I can't really say I know how they (deploying soldiers) feel, it's been too long since I've been a soldier. But I can empathize with their desire to "get the job done". If they don't seem to accomplish anything over there then all those deaths (American and Iraqi) would be pointless. And that thought is simply abhorrent. So I can understand that from their point of view we can't leave until the job is done. The problem comes from politicians not defining what "the job" is before sending troops into combat. And the platoon and squad leader or even the grunt on the ground can't really influence this. But since it's an all volunteer Army now, they've chosen to be in the Army and thus have to take it all. Eventually the number of deployments a soldier goes on may wear even this commitment away. That will be a sad day.

But what does this quote mean? I've used it before but I don't really think anyone who heard it understands. It refers to the comrades that Legionnaires have left behind in the desert dead. It links to the Legion motto "March or Die" from their very earliest days in the North African desert. And their indomitable spirit. Get the mission done regardless of cost. If you won't march, you'll die. An American quote I've heard soldiers use is often "To Absent Friends". This is the same.

This I think, is the spirit of our soldiers, sailors and airmen deployed. In that same spirit I can only support our soldiers (but not the people who sent them there with no clear goal) and raise my glass to repeat the toast.

"To Our Friends Who Are Still In The Desert"


Blogger Lisa Stone said...

Jim, wonderful post. I echo your sentiments entirely.

Blogger banzai said...

I was long out of the Army by the time this war started but one of my best friends, a lieutenant with me when I was stationed in Germany and a lieutenant colonel now, commanded the 5th Engineer Battalion posted to Iraq in 2004.

He hasn't told me many stories but I'm certain that some of his are heartening since his engineers would have spent their time building (schools, wells, etc.). This illustrates the wellspring from which our soldiers good intentions spring and it brings some small bit of joy to an otherwise bleak endeavor.

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