Thursday marks the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq. On March 20, 2003 coalition forces from the United States and some 40 other countries began the invasion, a breathtaking victory that lasted officially until May 1st when President Bush declared an end to offensive combat operations and a beginning of the rebuilding of the nation (see speech). OIF and OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) have dominated the early years of this century, and have touched every American in one way or another.
It is too early to reflect on the war effort – nearly 200,000 troops are serving right now in Iraq and Afghanistan – it would be like reflecting on WWII after Operation Torch or the Battle of Midway.
But it’s not too early to talk about it. Just ask anyone.
For most of us, the era beginning in September 2001 will be a defining time in our lives. For those in uniform, what have we learned? Well, in my opinion, we’ve learned plenty.
We learned that Operation Desert Storm was no fluke. The American military is unsurpassed in its capability to win wars.
We learned that American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coastguardsmen have character. They can endure harsh conditions and fight with the brutality of a wild beast, then give high-fives and candy bars to children on the street.
We confirmed that nation building is difficult, but can be accomplished. Our military commanders, engineers and medical personnel provided virtually the only infrastructure in Iraq in the early years, but through patience and cooperation they have trained the locals to take on the responsibilities themselves. Similarly, Iraqi security forces are assuming more of the load after careful training by coalition forces. “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime (Lao Tzu).”
We are flexible. I only need to mention the surge to prove the point.
We rediscovered the importance of junior officers and enlisted personnel to ultimate victory. Famed author Steven Ambrose often talked about the importance of the foot soldiers – the ones with boots on the ground – to winning. That hasn’t changed.
We also learned something about this generation of young Americans. They’re tough, reliable and inspired. The next Greatest Generation is already among us.
Only the Lord knows what the future holds, but this is one American who is darned proud of all those who have served – in whatever capacity – in this war. You are our heroes of the week.
“The war on terror is not over; yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide. No act of the terrorists will change our purpose, or weaken our resolve, or alter their fate. Their cause is lost. Free nations will press on to victory.”
(President Bush aboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN 5/1/2003)