WASHINGTON — Before I left for my current deployment, an 8-year-old asked me out of the blue, “Why do you have to go to Iraq?” It stopped me in my tracks.
I remember thinking, “How can I possibly answer such an immense question without somehow tainting her view on this unpredictable world?”
When I deployed to Southwest Asia in 2002, a fellow Airman told me that he explained to his daughter why he had to deploy by telling her, “Daddy has to go help feed the camels in the desert.”
After about two months into his tour, he said, his 4-year-old told him on a telephone call, “Daddy, someone else needs to feed the camels. I want you to come home.”
I thought that was such a cute, bittersweet story, but I knew the camel trick definitely was not going to work on the well-informed 8-year-old bookworm who posed the question to me.
I wanted to say something profound and comforting, but I was at a loss to answer her. After all, I was headed for a war zone where people don’t always come back alive, and there is no easy explanation to ease the worries of family and friends.
After a few ‘ums’ and ‘ahhs,’ I heard myself tell her, “We have to help the good guys fight the bad guys who are trying to hurt them.”
She seemed satisfied with the response, gave me a beaming smile and ran off to play. I sat there stunned.
I had been trying to avoid thinking about the reason why I was going back to Iraq.
After my conversation with her, I thought, “Is it really that simple? Do good guys still win in our universe? Can U.S. and coalition forces really help a nation of people overcome their differences to rebuild a stable country? Who exactly are the good and bad guys?”
In reality, I know there isn’t a black-and-white answer to these questions. That’s hard to accept by a nation of Americans who pride themselves on their logical and forward-thinking mind set.
To service members’ advantage, we are used to operating in the grey. While it’s unfortunate, and although we do our best to avoid it, it’s accepted there will be collateral damage in war. Lives will be lost. Families and innocent people will be hurt on both sides. I don’t like that reality. However, I firmly believe we are doing more good in Iraq and Afghanistan than harm.
I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve witnessed children receiving the first stuffed animal or toy they’ve ever had, and I’ve seen their eyes light up. I’ve seen thirsty and hungry people barely surviving in blistering 130-degree heat receive life-sustaining supplies.
I know most Americans don’t have the opportunity to witness the endless parade of care packages that family members send their loved ones to give to the Iraqi people: shoes, clothes, wet wipes, diapers, food and more. I had the privilege to see the goodness in people on both sides, despite the harsh conditions that brought them together.
Many military members, and those who support them, are personally invested in helping the Iraqi people.
We admire Iraqis who are forging ahead to make their country a better place, even though they and their family members are targeted for accepting the responsibility to secure their future.
Insurgents don’t recognize freedom of speech, nor do they value human life. They don’t seek a compromise with their countrymen or neighbors for the greater good of their collective society. They are the bad guys.
Not only is our mission to destroy the bad guys, the U.S. military spends a huge hunk of time on humanitarian missions. We patch up Iraqi and Afghanistan children when they’re sick or hurt. We provide medical services that a vast majority of people could never afford on their own, and might not have access to if they could.
We build hospitals, schools and a myriad of facilities that directly improve their lives and will continue to do so long after the U.S. and coalition presence is gone and this war is in the history books.
The success stories are rarely told in the media, but they occur every day. I knew that from my last tour in Iraq, but I was still confused about how I felt about this war.
Now, when anyone asks me why I’m in Iraq, I know what to say. I’m here to help the good guys win. It’s that simple.
Editor’s Note: Air Force Master Sgt. Melissa Phillips is deployed to Iraq from 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, Dover Air Force Base, Del.