Welcome home – and thanks
Jimmy Lee is back home from Iraq and, boy, am I glad! Jimmy is family – an in-law. He’s my wife’s first cousin and her special childhood pal, to boot. So I guess he’s my special first-cousin-in-law. And he just got back to the U.S.A. – healthy and strong – after a long tour of duty in Iraq.Is it any wonder I’m glad?I think Jimmy Lee is a hell of a guy. He’s an honest, straight-forward straight shooter. And darned smart, too.I know there’s a good chance that he and I don’t agree on a whole lot of things. I don’t know that for sure, because he and I have never felt the need to sit down and have the kind of discussion that would wind up with us shouting at each other about things we never needed to talk about in the first place. I don’t visit family to get into fights – but more than that, I respect Jimmy for his intelligence, fairness and commitment, so why take the trouble to fight? (And besides, he’s a lot of fun to hang out with.)In some ways, it was no surprise that Jimmy went to Iraq. My wife’s family is solid military and has been for generations. Jimmy’s a West Point graduate. His father and his uncles were all high-ranking officers – colonels and commanders and the like. The trail of brass goes back for generations – clear back at least to Jimmy’s great-great-grandfather who fought Indians out West with the U.S. Cavalry.After West Point, Jimmy served his full Army career, retired and joined the Reserve. And when they called him back to active duty, he left his job as a marine biologist and went without complaint – even though (and here’s where the surprise, perhaps, comes in) he was in his early 50s. And that certainly made him one of the oldest helicopter pilots in Iraq.Yes – in his 50s, flying helicopters in Iraq.But Jimmy said the Army had always treated him well, paid for his education, paid him in the Reserves to stay in training – so now it was time to give something back.And so he went. And he served. And now he’s back – safe and sound.And so now I get to say that I’m very proud of Jimmy Lee. I’m proud to know him, proud to be part of his family.And, more than that, I’m grateful. I’m grateful to Jimmy for his service to our country. And, while I’m on the subject, I’m grateful to all the men and women who are serving with distinction in Iraq.I suppose now is the time to point out that I opposed this war – and I still oppose it. I reject the arrogance and dishonesty with which this country was led into war. I am appalled by the disgraceful, near-criminal incompetence with which civilian leaders have conducted the war. And I am disgusted by the truly criminal behavior that some of those civilian leaders have allowed – and perhaps even encouraged – on the part of some of our soldiers.I have to say all that because it is true. That is how I felt and it is how I feel. But it is also something very separate from the pride and gratitude I feel for Jimmy Lee and the many thousands of other men and women who are serving our country.These are complicated emotions. It would be nice to have simpler feelings, but we don’t always have that choice. Christianity says, “Hate the sin; love the sinner.” That isn’t quite the case here – but I do hate the war and honor the warriors.And how fortunate that right now, in this wash of complex emotions, we have something solid to all be very proud of. For any dishonesty and incompetence, for any lives wasted or innocent blood that was shed, we can at least all look with pride to last weekend’s election in Iraq.That is a moment we can all cling to.And it is a perfect moment to stop and say to Jimmy Lee – and all the rest – “Thank you. Thank you for your service.”Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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