“The Thing I Am Most Proud of In My Life is Having Served in Iraq”

Many of our long-time blog readers recall the 2004 blog entry “A Soldier Assures Us: Our Progress is Amazing,” by my old friend Joe Roche, then on active duty with the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division in Baghdad.

For those who don’t recall or weren’t readers back then, Joe’s essay was published by over two dozen newspapers across the U.S. (one of which was linked to by Matt Drudge), read aloud on the radio by Rush Limbaugh, Michael Reagan and others, was linked to by 150 blogs, was quoted by President Bush in his Acceptance Speech at the Republican National Convention in 2004, and quoted in a Smithsonian Institution exhibit. Among other things.

Joe’s essay, and others (you can read a collection here) ultimately were cited or republished by at least 286 blogs (I quit counting). His words led to the collection of care packages for the 1st AD, a call publicized by numerous bloggers and talk show hosts. A standout among the latter was Kirby Wilbur on Seattle’s KVI, who so inspired his listeners that three businesses in the Seattle area set up week-long “drop-offs” where Seattle residents could drop off gifts for the troops, to be packaged and mailed to Iraq at the businesses’ expense. Another notable reaction came from a major U.S. food manufacturer, which shipped many hundreds of pounds of cookies and powdered drink mix (prized because soldiers in full gear must drink a gallon or more of liquid per day) to the troops, despite logistical challenges.

Joe wrote me again today after hearing Senator John Kerry’s controversial comments (“Education, if you make the most of it, you study hard and do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”). He gave me permission to share his thoughts:

I can’t believe that Democratic Senator John Kerry said that Americans without education get stuck in Iraq. I graduated from college, did well and even was invited into and attended graduate-level pro-seminars. My bachelor’s degree is in three subjects: history, international relations and political science. I was also active in many college activities and groups.I specifically joined the US Army at age 34, leaving behind a very comfortable life and job in Minneapolis, because I wanted to serve in Iraq. I left my fiancee’ behind and took a huge pay cut in doing this. Further, I turned down the option of becoming an officer specifically because that would have kept me from going to Iraq right away. (I am a combat engineer, and an officer’s first year of duty in that field is in Korea.) I made clear throughout my enlistment that I wanted to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Further, I was surrounded by well-educated soldiers in Iraq. One was so expert in history, politics and international relations that we often would engage in long discussions about deep issues while on patrol in Baghdad.

I wonder if Sen. Kerry even realizes that there are all those West Point graduates serving in Iraq.

Now that I’m completing my active duty military service, I have to tell you that the thing I am most proud of in my life is having served in Iraq. Were I younger and more fit, I would do it again.

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