Friday, March 19, 2010

Memorial Service

We had a very moving memorial service today for one of our security force people. Robbie was a young Brit who spent 15 years in the Royal Marines. He was an accomplished triathlete, very sharp, a "by the book" team leader. He was also a husband and a father to three young children, one of whom he helped bring into the world just a few weeks ago. Robbie was killed last week by a roadside bomb while on a mission to a project site.

Unfortunately, his is not the only hit that our security forces have taken recently while at, or en route to, project sites. A week prior to Robbie's death, a member of a different team to the north was killed by a sniper. A few days ago, two security guys lost their legs to another roadside bomb.

That spate of incidents is extremely unusual. It's not uncommon now for us to go for weeks with little activity, and there have been surprisingly few injuries or deaths over the past year or so. It's easy to forget that we're still in a war zone. We have a Burger King and a Cinnabon on the base, and there are salsa dance classes, yoga, and college classes. The national and international newspapers only talk about the ongoing election process, which is a bit of a zoo. I don't recall seeing anything more than a brief one-liner about any of our forces being hurt or killed, and never anything about a US civilian, and especially never anything about contractors. If your only exposure to what's happening on the ground in Iraq is the media, you'd think that we're sitting here on our bases, twiddling our thumbs, waiting to go home.

But traveling around Iraq is still dangerous. The number of bombs and mortar attacks and so forth is way down, but not eliminated, and there are a few trouble areas where shitty things happen a bit more often. All three incidents that I mentioned were in these trouble areas. Our security guys, Robbie included, knew the dangers and the risks and willingly took them.

Why? Well, that's a good question. A skeptic might say it's for the money or the adrenaline rush. That might come into play for some people. Everybody has a lot of reasons why they're here. Most of the military members are ordered here; some volunteer. All the civilians and contractors are here because we volunteered. Money is probably part of the reason; career advancement may be another. Maybe I'm an idealist, but I think most of us are here primarily for other reasons: the opportunity to contribute to something bigger than ourselves, to participate in something vitally important, to do something that not many other people can do or are willing to do. I think that's especially true for those who put their lives on the line and go outside the wire on a regular basis.

I didn't know Robbie, but I heard about him from his buddies. Robbie was a level-headed, very dedicated guy. You have to be to survive 15 years in the Royal Marines, and Rambos don't last long in the real world. So as a level-headed guy, Robbie certainly wasn't here just for the money. He was here for something else, bigger than him. And he accepted the risks.

When I first arrived, I wanted to get off the bases as much as possible. I've been lucky enough to have made some trips around the country. But I've also gained an appreciation for what it takes to do those trips, and especially for the security forces that take me where I need to go. Every one of those men and women has been extremely professional. I owe it to them to make sure that my trips are absolutely necessary.

On the other hand, our very business requires us to go outside the wire. You can't run construction projects if you never see the sites. And we're not building things, or (in my case) running training and development programs, just because we want to. These are projects that will help make Iraq stronger and more able to stand on their own feet. The sooner they do that, the sooner the level of violence will drop, and the sooner we can all go home. And then maybe one day, in a generation or two, Iraq might actually be a fully-functioning member of the world community.

So that's what Robbie was doing here: helping this place get back on its feet. He knew the risks, just as we all do. But we have to take them if we're going to succeed. Tomorrow morning, Robbie's teammates will go back out again, taking construction managers and others to project sites or meetings in the Green Zone, or any one of a number of other places. The mission goes on.

3 comments:

jen said...

Wow. I love these insights into your world. I like that you say that these guys know the risks they're taking, and I'm sure their families realize it too, but it's no less sad that it happens.
I hope his family can find acceptance and peace someday.

Kanani said...

Landmines, IED's are all things that somehow slipped off our consciousness after Vietnam, even though they were very much on the minds of the people left behind, & in third world hot spots. I also remember they were a special cause of Princess Diana.

Sorry about Robbie. Condolences to his family, and also to the others who were lost. And best wishes to the ones who were injured.

Kanani said...

Landmines, IED's are all things that somehow slipped off our consciousness after Vietnam, even though they were very much on the minds of the people left behind, & in third world hot spots. I also remember they were a special cause of Princess Diana.

Sorry about Robbie. Condolences to his family, and also to the others who were lost. And best wishes to the ones who were injured.