Go tell the Spartans, passerby:
That here, by Spartan law, we lie -Herodotus
Also obedience in its highest form is not obedience to a constant and compulsory law, but a persuaded or voluntary yielded obedience to an issued command .... His name who leads the armies of Heaven is "Faithful and True"... and all deeds which are done in alliance with these armies ... are essentially deeds of faith, which therefore ... is at once the source and the substance of all known deed, rightly so called ... as set forth in the last word of the noblest group of words ever, so far as I know, uttered by simple man concerning his practice, being the final testimony of the leaders of a great practical nation:
"Ō ksein', angellein Lakedaimoniois hoti tēidekeimetha, tois keinōn rhēmasi peithomenoi." -- John Rushin
Going through email and stuff this morning, I was looking at something on Linked In and instead of clicking through, I decided to read the link. It takes you to an article in an Australian Business News Journal, and frankly, I'm trying to figure out why we haven't seen it before. Recounting a speech by Lieutenant General John Kelly concerning the valor of two Marines, it should have received national attention at the time -- the attack, their valor and Kelly's speech should be shouted from a lot of podiums. Damn few heroes decide to be heroes -- they do their jobs and do what they have to do. In some ways, Kelly's speech was an example of that sort of heroism -- the speech was given just four days after his son, Lieutenant Robert Kelly, USMC was killed in action. Kelly doesn't mention his son--the two young men he chose to highlight represent all who serve.
Two Marines from separate battalions, a Corporal and a Lance Corporal, are assigned to guard a checkpoint. Kelly describes it as only someone who's not only got the t-shirt but washed, ironed and starched it can:
The mission orders they received from the sergeant squad leader I am sure went something like: “OK you two clowns, stand this post and let no unauthorised personnel or vehicles pass.” “You clear?” I am also sure Yale and Haerter then rolled their eyes and said in unison something like: “Yes Sergeant,” with just enough attitude that made the point without saying the words, “No kidding sweetheart, we know what we’re doing.” They then relieved two other Marines on watch and took up their post at the entry control point of Joint Security Station Nasser, in the Sophia section of Ramadi, al Anbar, Iraq.
A few minutes later a large blue truck turned down the alley way—perhaps 60-70yards in length—and sped its way through the serpentine of concrete jersey walls. The truck stopped just short of where the two were posted and detonated, killing them both catastrophically. 20-four brick masonry houses were damaged or destroyed. A mosque 100 yards away collapsed. The truck’s engine came to rest two hundred yards away knocking most of a house down before it stopped.
Our explosive experts reckoned the blast was made of 2,000 pounds of explosives. Two died, and because these two young infantrymen didn’t have it in their DNA to run from danger, they saved 150 of their Iraqi and American brothers-in-arms.
Now, to be clear, this kind of thing happens all around the world, everywhere American soldiers, sailors, Marines, Air Men and Coast Guardsman are stationed. Anybody else recall "I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved"? But, this is what that statement means -- everywhere, these young women and men are there, maybe not conscious of it, prepared to do the same thing. The vast, vast majority of us are not called to any sacrifice beyond inconvenience and loss of sleep. But, the reality is that the world is a strange place, full of dragons, and something we must be prepared to respond to.
Kelly was the US and Iraqi Force commander at the time: CINCWORLD, Iraqi Time. When he read the SITREP, he was struck by something that just didn't seem right. He began to dig a bit, calling the Regimental Commander to see what was the real story. The Regimental Commander agreed that there was more happening here than it seemed -- this is the sort of story that probably didn't even register on the national media radar. I can understand why it didn't...Jarheads and Doggies and Swabbies and Zoomies getting killed in Iraq was soooo 2004. Our national attention deficit disorder is both cause and effect of the problem -- and the national media is the victim as well as perpetrator. One of the reasons people became focused on the Vietnam was was that people in the field kept reporting it. The Military has learned how to control journalists now. Anyway, I suspect that it didn't make the President's Daily Intelligence briefing on April 22, 2008 although, given what we know about President Bush's briefing habits, he wouldn't have understood it anyway.
Kelly decided to take a look on the ground and discovered that there were no US witnesses, just Iraqi Forces who had also been there, all of whom survived. He spoke with several of these guys, and they described a bit of exceptional heroism --
I traveled to Ramadi the next day and spoke individually to a half-dozen Iraqi police all of whom told the same story. The blue truck turned down into the alley and immediately sped up as it made its way through the serpentine. They all said, “We knew immediately what was going on as soon as the two Marines began firing.” The Iraqi police then related that some of them also fired, and then to a man, ran for safety just prior to the explosion.
All survived. Many were injured … some seriously. One of the Iraqis elaborated and with tears welling up said, “They’d run like any normal man would to save his life.”
What he didn’t know until then, he said, and what he learned that very instant, was that Marines are not normal. Choking past the emotion he said, “Sir, in the name of God no sane man would have stood there and done what they did.”
“No sane man.”
“They saved us all.”
Acts of exceptional valor and heroism aren't acts of sane men and women. They are acts of exceptional human beings and again, we are all called to that standard when we raise our hands repeating the oath at enlistment or at commissioning. Interestingly, after he had written the summary and recommended then for the award of the Navy Cross, Kelly learned that one of the security cameras caught the entire thing. Here's the meat of his description
It happened exactly as the Iraqis had described it. It took exactly six seconds from when the truck entered the alley until it detonated...You can watch the last six seconds of their young lives. Putting myself in their heads I supposed it took about a second for the two Marines to separately come to the same conclusion about what was going on once the truck came into their view at the far end of the alley. Exactly no time to talk it over, or call the sergeant to ask what they should do. Only enough time to take half an instant and think about what the sergeant told them to do only a few minutes before: “… let no unauthorised personnel or vehicles pass.”...
The recording shows the truck careening to a stop immediately in front of the two Marines. In all of the instantaneous violence Yale and Haerter never hesitated. By all reports and by the recording, they never stepped back. They never even started to step aside. They never even shifted their weight. With their feet spread should width apart, they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their weapons. They had only one second left to live.
The truck explodes. The camera goes blank. Two young men go to their God. Six seconds. Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two very brave young men to do their duty…into eternity. That is the kind of people who are on watch all over the world tonight—for you.
What makes this piece particularly hard for me to read and respond to is simple: No act of valor or sacrifice is meaningless. But, to waste that act and sacrifice is to profane something sacred, to piss on the courage, honor, integrity and dedication of those who performed heroically. The greedy and power mad assisted by the the ignorant and the fools who got us into Iraq are beating the drums and ring those bells and shooting those pistols to paraphrase their patroness, St Sarah of Wasilla with the goal of getting us into another one. Now, at least McCain and Graham served, and Palin's on also served. But, the vast majority of the opinion makers and political powers have no idea about what this means. Two Marines died; four sailors drowned; a plane went into a mountain side flying air support; a patrol of soldiers was hit by motors and wiped out. Ah, well, it's time to go ride the mountain bike, shoot some hoops, and and complain about the Democrats, the Congress, the Media. Who cares about these guys? That's what they signed up for.
So all honor to the fallen; for the rest of us, we have a solemn duty to make certain it doesn't happen again without a lot of foot stamping, shouting and flag waiving by those of us who have earned the right, at least in part to do so. Those who have paid the full price for that right are no longer able to speak, but they depend on us to act for them.