Originally posted on ivaw.org
I was at McDonald's the other day when something quite peculiar happened to me. I was standing in line waiting for my food when an older veteran, obvious by his Vietnam Veteran hat, and his wife approached me. He extended his hand and said he would like to shake my hand and thank me for my service.
He said that I and others like me were his hero. He said he was proud of me and all that I had done in service to my country. His wife looked at me and smiled broadly. She said "we are all so proud of you boys," and that "more young men should be just like you." Not wanting to be offensive, I shook the old vets hand and nodded my acknowledgment. The couple smiled and left knowing they had done their patriotic duty by thanking a veteran.
After they left, the magnitude of what that man said really hit me. He thanked me for serving. He thanked me and told me I was his hero! After it sunk in I was sort of embarrassed. I didn't know what to think so I took my food and went back to work. All day that was all I could think about. What exactly was that man thanking me for? What had I done that was *really* heroic?
While in Iraq I heroically stood by watching an entire nation being subjugated by Bush's war machine. Like a true hero, I bravely did KP duty and burned shit. I displayed my heroism even further by doing daily police calls around my motor pool. In the face of all adversity I would heroically play Call of Duty on my XBOX 360 for several hours each night. I would listen to our Battalion Commander tell us how important our mission was. How each of us was making a difference in the lives of Iraqis. I distinctly remember making said difference when I did guard duty at the detention center in Tal Afar. Heroically making sure my prisoner, who was not convicted of anything, received his halal MRE and bottle of water.
Nothing I did in the Middle East seems particularly heroic to me. When I am thanked for my service I often feel like asking what service they are thanking me for. Are they thanking me for making sure Iraqis cannot possibly live in a democratically elected state because of American interests that, by nature, prevent this? Perhaps I am being thanked for seeing that military contractors have a safe place to profit from war.
To me, being a hero would mean making sure Iraqis had clean drinking water instead of watching a truck drive around a FOB dumping fresh water on the ground so dust doesn't get too thick. Being a hero would be redirecting the manpower and resources used to repave the roads on our FOB in Basra to repave and clean up the roads in the city of Basra.
So next time I am thanked for my service maybe I will ask if they know what they are thanking me for. I would like to see if the average person knows just what goes on in Iraq. Maybe if they knew their tax dollars were going to pay the six figure salary of a contractor who does, basically, the same job as I do with half the risk involved. Perhaps if they saw the pain and suffering in the eyes of Iraqi children when they watch us drive by in our trucks and tanks.
I am not proud of my service. I am not happy with the things I did and the atrocities I bared witness to. I am not content with my life knowing I stood by and did nothing while countless innocent people died every day because of my indifference. Because I was launched into an illegal and unjust war of occupation. For this... I am not your Hero.