Was it worth it?
Last updated 9/7/2021 at Noon
“There, on my left in a small grove of trees, I recall finding three dead Iraqi Special Republican Guard soldiers. They had been killed during the fight for Saddam International Airport. They had died hard, their corpses swiftly decaying in the 130-degree heat. Their bodies had been overlooked during the battlefield clean-up still underway. I’d located them by the ancient aroma of Death. I reported where their remains were to be found and taken away for burial. Regardless of ideology or cause, they’d been soldiers and they’d fought hard. They were due the honor and respect of those they’d fought against.”
— “Special Forces soldier from Astoria reveals how freedom has a cost,” SFC Greg Walker, May 8, 2003, Daily Astorian.
sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.
– George Orwell
On September 11, 2001, I and 81 other “Green Berets” from Company A, 1/19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), filtered in and out of our temporary orderly room at Fort Polk, Louisiana. We were grimly watching CNN as the Twin Towers were being hit and beginning to collapse.
I called my wife, Carol, and asked if she was watching what we were.
“Yes,” she replied quietly. “You guys are going, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I replied.
Afghanistan or Iraq?
Major Greg Allen graduated from West Point.
He held command positions with the 2/75th Ranger Battalion and 1st Special Forces Group at Fort Lewis, Washington.
He is one of the very few who make the cut for DELTA, our premier counter-terrorist unit.
Allen told us that evening that the powers-that-be were looking at our company moving directly to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with possible deployment to Afghanistan.
A year later, in 2002, we deployed to Kuwait in the knowledge we would become “boots on the ground” in Iraq.
Once he’d launched our operational detachments Major Allen headed into Iraq by vehicle, where he participated in the liberation of several Iraqi towns and later in the rescue of PFC Jessica Lynch.
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Greg [Walker] came out in the process as the number one candidate. I hope in the future there is an opportunity for him [Officer Walker] to compete again for another position with this agency.
– Sheriff Les Stile, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, April 18, 2002
Putting our lives on hold
As we continued to train and prepare for war, I’d interviewed with Sheriff Stiles and his staff for the open sergeant’s position with the agency’s search and rescue capability.
I’d shared with him our unit’s upcoming deployment projection and that I would be part of that deployment.
Carol and I were looking forward to returning to Central Oregon when the towers came down.
Stiles needed the position filled – I could not in good faith accept his offer of employment at that time.
Sheriff Stiles understood.
He is a former Green Beret himself.
It wouldn’t be until late 2004, after multiple deployments to Iraq and Malaysia in support of the global war on terrorism, that I would join the Sheriff’s Office.
In 2005, I would honorably retire from the U.S. Army/Washington National Guard.
In 2006, I would medically retire from the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office due to my service-connected wounds and injuries incurred over 24 years of honorable service to our great nation.
I was a lucky one. We’d left men in the field in Iraq and Afghanistan since our deployments. Killed in Action. Others like myself had been injured, wounded, or made ill. After three intense years of care, treatment, and rehabilitation I would be blessed to transition from a law enforcement career to that of a Warrior Care case manager — first for the U.S. Special Operations Command where I worked with our most seriously wounded, injured, or ill war-
fighters and their families, and then in the private sector with conventional force and our veteran populations.
Was it worth it?
Even as I write this, Afghanistan has been abandoned by the President of the United States, Joe Biden.
Iraq is, likewise, a shattered country in great part due to the very poor political leadership of the Bush, then Obama, then Trump, and now the Biden administrations.
And our country is once again facing a resurgence of global terrorism, newly inspired by these incredibly poor decisions that will haunt us and the rest of the free world for decades to come.
Just prior to coming home from Iraq in May 2003 I wrote, in part, this for our local paper, the Daily Astorian, where we lived at the time:
“The time has come for me – As the plane gathered speed and headed down the darkened runway, I offered a brief prayer of thanks for our safety during the past year. We’d come over here together, gone our separate ways and done our separate missions, then come back together to enjoy the liberation of a nation from under the twin heels of torture and tyranny.
“I’d made great new friends and been privileged to serve with men [and women] – not only professional soldiers in the most elite units in the world, but with citizen-soldiers who’d put their lives and families on hold and were now preparing to pick up where they’d left off when we’d watched the twin towers of the World Trade Center fall under the weight of terrorist attack.
“We knew we’d be going to war even then…and now we were coming home after delivering justice to many of those responsible for that singular act of mass murder.
“The plane lifted free from the ground and Iraq slipped away from beneath us. I shifted back in my seat, closed my eyes, and relaxed for the first time in days. It was good to be an “old guy,” good to be among friends and comrades, good to be alive and well, and especially good to be on the first leg of an 8,000-mile journey home.”
Was it worth it?
As I was given the opportunity to draft, staff, and then supervise the execution of the Friendly Forces Combat Identification System (CIS) for the U.S./Coalition, Special Operations, and other government agencies — a system officially identified as having been “a huge success during Operation Iraqi Freedom, saving thousands of lives from possible blue-on-blue fratricide situations” — then yes. It was worth it.
After becoming re-abled to enter the workforce in 2009 and in a role to provide care, treatment, and renewed hope to my fellow warfighters and their families, efforts described in part by Colonel (Ret.) David Heintz, my employer during this period, noting “[his] unsurpassed level of compassion and commitment for this mission. His actions were directly responsible for the enhanced recovery of countless Wounded Warriors,” — then yes.
It was worth it.
“No fallen comrade left behind.”