One year ago from this last Memorial Day weekend, I stood in Afghanistan with my fellow warriors from the 10th Mountain Division. General Eikenberry, then the commander of all U.S. forces in that country, told us we were in a land far away so that our loved ones would be safe. In other words, we kept the war here in Afghanistan and in Iraq, rather than fight a war on U.S. soil. I recently drove the 5 miles from my home in Alma and walked among the gravestones at our small cemetery on a bright sunny day. I began and ended my walk in one corner of the cemetery. Here, warriors having died in wars as far back as World War I are buried. And some have been buried as recently as our current war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

General Eikenberry’s words are still true. In our country, we are safe, at least to the extent that soldiers are not deployed here to maintain civil order. I am also thinking about President Bush’s message given on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. He said we are called to a great mission so that we may be safe.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are in the news every day. At the highest levels of government, however, the debate about their necessity continues as these wars move forward in time. At what cost do we continue? How many more warriors will die or be injured before we are done there? And at what point do we declare the war done?

Although I was a civilian service member, I became in many ways part of the military culture. In fact, I must have become military-orientated so that I was an asset. My commanding officer let me know that during my second day at Bagram Air Field. I often state that becoming military from civilian is hard, but what is harder is leaving the military culture and once again being a civilian. I am still struggling, although every month home is better.

Our military teaches this: Identify the task, use the tools available to implement the task, identify the metric for success, then get out of the road. There are no finer warriors than the U.S. soldiers who use this model in battle or in any part of the world.


Our government must identify the metric for success. This is difficult. We are fighting an asymmetrical war; the insurgents wear no military uniform. They live with the civilians, and they do not follow the standard rules of engagement armies have used for centuries.

And in these two countries, the war of ideas is asymmetrical as well. We fight for freedom, liberty and the assignation of a representative democratic government. The insurgents fight for a dream that longs for the past and a culture accorded domination over the masses in which control is based on ignorance. The insurgents desire nothing more than control and domination, so introducing the western model of democracy and equality amongst men and women is antithetical and would shatter this dream.

This clash of ideas or dreams is not new by any means. Warriors have been fighting the war of ideas for centuries.

Thus, it seems to me that what we need are new ideas. We must build a different model, and it cannot be at the end of a weapon. Eventually our warriors will come home, and for some like me, not a moment too soon.

Somewhere there exists a plethora of ideas that answer the metric for the success portion of the model. In these ideas, dreams are fine, but not when a country is at civil war. The ideas of representative government are noble, fair and require leaders that will place a society ahead of themselves. We do not yet have these leaders in Afghanistan or Iraq.

I view the challenge as the foundation of intertwined individual liberty, freedom and government. As long as the model is based on the past, including dominance and ignorance as the drivers, I suspect we will be in these two countries for a long time.

It is this last word I think is key – ignorance. The insurgents to this day claim they are determined to keep people ignorant so they may be controlled. To this extent, their targets are schools, and they are assassinating teachers and instructors. They are pitting tribe versus tribe in a civil war that endures every day. The bloodbath is enormous and every bit of it is based on ideas of the past. Yes, they are fighting over wealth, land and resources, but at the foundation they fight the battle over ideas.

I am still very much in favor of educating the young people in this part of the world. At a fraction of the cost of what we are spending for military deployment, we could introduce young people to new ideas. They could remake these countries as many European and Asian countries did after wars destroyed their territories.

However, we recently celebrated Memorial Day, and to that end, we should remind ourselves that warriors are in a faraway land so that we do not have war here. We are grateful. We are respectful. And we ought to give them a metric for success so they know what we want them to work towards achieving. Once we know that, and that can be reached or obtained, then they may come home.

To do otherwise is tragic. My recent visit to the military cemetery reminded me that others serve so that we may endure peace. But I do hope that not a single new grave will be dug for a young soldier coming home in a casket wrapped in the Stars and Stripes.

For these are my brothers, and I love them. So should we all. PD