There have always been wars for whatever reason, somewhere around the world and there have always been those who had to go through the emotions of looking at their loved one’s faces and wondering if this was the very last time they would see them or if they came back would they look the same? I have always considered myself to be a “tough guy”; someone who is not easily intimidated or scared; someone who can resist a lot of pain; someone who can make tough decisions and not get emotional about them.
All this was changed forever for me on the day back in January 2003. I had to say goodbye to my only daughter on her way to Kuwait with her Marine Corps battalion to join the war effort against Saddam Hussein, the brutal dictator of Iraq. At the time, she was a young Captain in the US Marine Corps; a logistics officer fresh out of Cornell and there she was going off to war in a foreign land. And she was on the telephone from the airport in San Diego calling me to say “goodbye dad, I am on my way to Iraq.”
I was in Orlando, on a business trip. There was no chance for a last hug, a moment to look at her face or kiss her goodbye. Saying goodbye to my daughter on her way to Iraq over the telephone was one of the most emotional experiences of my life. Her brave words, total confidence and funny last minute remarks to ease my anxiety were not enough to keep the teardrops from rolling down my cheeks as I put the received down.
That night in my hotel room in Orlando, I sat up into the very early hours of the morning thinking about my daughter as well as the parents of all the other brave young men and women who were leaving their homes, wives, husbands, loved ones and children behind and going off to a foreign land and definitely into harms way. Throughout history people have said goodbye to their loved ones and sent them off to war; some came back; some came back without all their limbs and some never made it back. For as long as humanity existed, there have been wars; some justified; some brutal and others totally unjustified and horrific.
Over the years, I met many men and women officers and their parents. As I met these fellow Americans up close and personal; I found them to be very special people. They were all a very well educated bunch; serving their country and sacrificing a lot in the process. I also realized that once you take the politics and philosophy of war out of the situation, you were faced with real people, living real lives; proud of their work; proud of their country; loved by their families and friends.
These are all patriotic Americans who chose to do what they are doing. They were not drafted; they volunteered to serve out of passion for what they believed; or out of necessity in some cases but most of all because they loved their country. They routinely left behind families, loved ones, sweethearts, young children and babies in diapers to go off to far corners of the world. Yet they never complained, they never whined, they never criticized their superiors as they went about doing their jobs to the best of their abilities.
Nothing can represent the common feelings shared by these men and women as the remarks made by a young Marine Corporal who said during an interview for a TV documentary “Whenever I get back home for a short leave, I love to go the mall and hang out. There, I see all these youngsters complaining about how bad their hot dog or hamburger tasted or how their parents just do not understand them or something similarly small and trivial like that; and that is when I am most proud of my service to my country. It is at that moment when I am really proud of what I am doing. I make it possible for them to complain about trivial things here, because I am fighting for their freedom over there!”
When I hear these words, I find myself crying. Am I crying because these young men and women sacrifice their all for us or am I crying selfishly because I would have liked to have been right next to them making sure they were safe; to let them live and be productive citizens living with their own families somewhere around this great country of ours.
Almost three million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since the war started in 2003. They are all our sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts. When I am with these servicemen and women, I am always filled with pride. They look invincible, unbeatable and immortal. They are great specimens of this great country of ours we call America.
My daughter is a Major now; wife to another Major and a great mom to her two young children. She made it back from Iraq and we are very happy about that. Although she never talks to us about her experiences in Iraq (she went from Kuwait up to Baghdad in her humvee); I am sure she has seen and experienced a lot. Retelling those stories is not something she wants to do and we respect that.
Was I always this emotional or is this something I acquired after turning 60? Or after the events of 9/11? I ask this question to myself many times, over and over again. I do not have an answer yet; but I am working on it. I know a few things for sure; I am getting old, I am proud of all those who serve their country and I will forever be thankful to all those who sacrificed it all for us. And I will cry from time to time when I see our young men and women marching off to yet another deployment, another separation from their loved ones; or see them walking alone through dirty and broken down city streets in harms way thousands of miles away from home.
The way I view the events around the world today, I am sure I will cry many more times during what is left of my lifetime. I dedicate this column to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in order for us to be here today.
Tarik Ayasun was born in Istanbul, Turkey and has been involved in international trade for 35 years. Currently chairman of Marco Island’s Code Enforcement Board, Tarik has given many years of community service to various organizations.