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Memorial Day; what will you give?

  • Published
  • By Colonel Russell J. Quinn
  • Air Component Coordination Element-Iraq, senior airspace planner
It's Memorial Day in Baghdad, Iraq. Every Memorial May, since 1991, I remember a wedding celebration that happened in July of 1987. The wedding line consisted of eight women and eight men. Seven of the eight men were young Air Force pilots. The wedding was mine, and the seven men I asked to stand with me on that day were pilot training classmates full of youth, promise, energy and pride. By the time I reached the rank of Captain, four years later, four of the seven were dead. All perished in fighter aircraft accidents.

There have been many others. Captain Mark Todd died in South America while he was training with our allies. Lieutenant Danny Johnson died while learning to dogfight in his F-16 in Spain.

Lieutenant Tommy Doyle died flying a strike line in Germany and Captain Troy Gilbert died near Tikrit supporting our Army brothers. These are only a few. There are obviously many, many more. So many young men and women have died not only here in Iraq, but also on every corner of the globe.

Do you ever wonder why America puts up with so many young men and women dying in foreign lands?

I'd like to offer, for your consideration, a reason. America puts up with it because it's the only thing that has ever truly made America great. There is nothing else that even comes close and at their core countless Americans know this to be true.

Many today talk of American exceptionalism and when they do, I believe they miss the point completely. They talk about justice, freedom, promise, education and economic and military might. These are very important and precious things. But I submit to you that the sole thing that has made America great is its willingness to sacrifice its youth to ensure a better life for others.

That job now falls to you. It's your turn in the arena. I saw firsthand what my grandfather's generation sacrificed for and won in Japan and I saw it again firsthand in Germany. My good friend Colonel Pickle Rice is seeing our growing impact in Afghanistan every day. I wonder what my seven-year-old son will see here.

There are many thieves here in Iraq. They steal life, opportunity and innocence. They drive a bomb-laden truck to a soccer game and detonate it. Then when the traumatized fans rush to help the wounded, they bring in the second group of suicide bombers who mix with the frantic crowd and detonate themselves, killing even more.

However, despite these thieves, there are also many good men and women of integrity in Iraq. They care about the future of their country and are willing to, or have already, sacrificed greatly to build it.

On September 1, 2010, Operation Iraqi Freedom transforms into Operation New Dawn. The mindset change is just now beginning but it's up to you to ensure it takes hold. This conflict has never been about you, as much as your family and friends would like it to be. This conflict is about what you give, and what you leave behind.

There are many skillful Iraqi and American warriors hunting down the thieves, and they do spectacular work. However, with this change of mission, there will be many of you who will again be asked to turn your energy, attention and inventiveness toward the Iraqi Armed Forces, Police and public. Your approach to that task will determine its success. What will you do?

It's my hope that you will learn from your grandfathers and learn from your friends...especially those that have provided you with such a superb example of service. They committed and they gave...as you must. It's not about you; it's about what you give.