Mike is not really his name but I often change names to protect the innocent. (Maybe not often enough). When I got on the mini-bus, which took us out to the little plane to Key West, I was sitting next to a handsome young man with a warm and wonderful smile. Like it “lit up the bus” kind of smile. He sat for about two minutes and then offered his seat to a woman standing nearby.
She sat down and commented that he was a very nice person. I looked at him and said, I “Bet he’s in the military.” “Why would you think that?” she asked. “Because he has seriously good manners.” Then I asked him if he was in the military and he said “yes” and “how did you know” and we had the circuitous military/manners conversation once again.
We didn’t sit together on the plane but we did make conversation before take-off and when we landed and I saw him waiting at the rental car counter, I suggested he take a cab into town and rent a scooter. “There is no place to park and the hotel will charge you a fortune” I said in my role as everyone’s Jewish mother. He thanked me and asked if we knew any place to eat or party. “Eat I can do.” I said. “My party is not going to work for you.” He laughed and there was that smile again. “Look,” I said. “We go to Louies Backyard for cocktails. Why don’t you meet us there and we can brainstorm with the locals about the best places for you to go.”
He met us at 6:30. We were sitting with a young couple who had just gotten married and they all chatted about college football and basketball. When it was time to leave I invited him to join us for dinner the next night –before he started to party. He thought that was a terrific idea. So we made a date to meet at Blue Heaven for a pre-party meal.
Em, Louise, Soozie, and I arrived at about 6. Mike came at 6:30 with apologies and that smile. He ordered a mojito. He had never had one and heard they were the drink to have in they Keys. We all ordered dinner. Then we began to talk. Mike is a Captain in the army. He likes his job, which is to supervise drill sergeants. He has served in many places, one of them being Iraq. He did not have a good experience. Not with the Iraqi people, who he thinks are wonderful but with the Generals serving and making life death decisions. “They lie about everything” he told us with a great deal of pain and overwhelming sadness. “When I first got there people were happy about American troops liberating their country. But now... We had a friendly fire incident and my Brigade Commander wanted to clear out the 1000 or so refugees that had made there homes around us. He wanted to blame them and I talked to him about the mistake he was about to make. Then later after the investigation was complete we found out they did not do it and we didn't clear them out like he wanted to. I'm not sure of the reason...hopefully because we discovered the truth. They make up programs so they can pay warlords and keep the violence at what they think is bay. But it’s not. The Generals don’t care and when I tried to tell the truth, because I thought what they were doing was immoral, and wasn’t helping our position in Iraq, they said I had mental problems and accused me of being a traitor. But I had evidence to the contrary and I told them I wouldn’t make it public if they just left me alone. And I was really lucky to find a Commander who understood and offered me a job instead of retribution. It was horrible and you know I am not the only soldier this has happened to. It’s all about the politics of CYA.”
He shared more and his conversation lasted well over an hour without a break. We were speechless. It was not that we were surprised, we had heard so many other horror stories in the news, but the depth of his concern and the intensity of the passion with which he spoke were stunning. We were saddened by what has happened to this country. How can it be that when a someone wants to tell a truth, that will strengthen a nation, there so many deceitful powerful people with a not so honorable agenda, who can prevent them from doing so. Never mind, I’m not that naïve I know the how’s and why’s but I can’t get beyond the, so is there anything we can do?
Mike had a great vacation. He says he’s going to make it an annual adventure. He met a local girl, they went swimming, sailing, and snorkeling. They watched the sunrise and the sunset and my hope is that they partied in between. He left Key West rested and hopeful and with us as part of his new family. But his heart is heavy with grief for the nation. For what people around the world perceive we have become. “The Iraqi’s were rooting, not only for themselves but for us,” he said, “And now they hate us. I guess we really blew it.”
Last week I heard a group of retired and active Iraq Veterans against the war talk about what they had been through and why they decided to speak. So Mike is not alone in his frustration. I am happy that these people feel that where the military won’t listen the American people will. I hope that Mike will find someone he loves and trusts with whom he can share his disappointment about this injustice we forced him to endure. And I hope that all the “Mikes” who have a story do the same. We hope they know that there are people who think the war is an outrage but we do support them because they are our children and they want the world to be a better place. And we pray that they are not emotionally wounded for the rest of their young lives and they will find a way to live with the guilt they feel about having participated in activities that simply made no sense. We’re just sayin...