Truman National Security Project

The Iraq War – 10 Years On

Iraq - 2006-2007 104

Ten years ago today, my son celebrated his 20th birthday. A happy time in most households, except he wasn’t at home or out with a girlfriend; on March 15, 2003 he was a Marine artilleryman living in a tent in Camp Shoup, Kuwait.

Named after Tarawa Medal of Honor awardee Col David Shoup, Camp Shoup was built a few miles off the Iraqi border; it was where the Camp Lejeune-based Marines of Task Force Tarawa were honing their skills before the expected call to combat.

No one knew what to expect from Saddam. On paper Iraq had the world’s 4th-largest army, and having used WMD’s against both the Iranians and their own Kurdish citizens, this looked to be an ugly fight. While the pro-war drumbeat from Washington promised that the Iraqi citizens would rise up joyously against Saddam as the Americans poured across the border, I kept remembering that photo of the Kurdish mother who died clutching her little baby after being gassed by Saddam’s troops. This wasn’t what I’d expected to be pondering on his birthday.

I’d driven down to Camp Lejeune in early January to see him off.  He and 4,000 other Marines had been recalled from leave on New Year’s Day and summoned to war; his artillery battalion was part of the combat-arms contingent of Task Force Tarawa and he’d called me the day before, hoping I could get there before he shipped out. They were sailing a week earlier than expected, but I arrived the next day, on his final afternoon.

We were fortunate to have a few hours together. First we went to get him another set of dog tags. A Marine in combat is required to wear three sets: two around his neck and the remaining one laced into his left boot should he be caught in a mortar or artillery blast and blown apart, the theory was they could identify him from the dog tag in his boot, or if he was killed “normally,” they’d shove one of the two from around his neck between his teeth. Lovely.

Our dinner was fun; the waitresses were serving drinks to everyone in uniform; if you were old enough to fight, you were old enough to drink. He tried to pick-up the waitress by mentioning ‘it might be his last night ever in America’….likely one of many times she’d heard that line that evening. She laughed nicely, wished him luck and then went to wait on another table.

Finally it was time to bring him back to the barracks; he needed to be up at 0400 to report to the armory to have his M16 and bayonet issued. I made sure he had addresses of family and friends, as well as writing paper and extra pens. Then he handed me a spare dog tag and as I held it, he said, “You don’t hold them, Dad, you wear them.” As I slipped it around my neck, I could see him visibly relax. It was an awkward moment; we both knew that it was time for me to leave, yet both of us were reluctant to say it out aloud.

So I told him that it was time for me to go, and he stood up said he was glad I’d come down to see him off. We looked at each other and I gave him a hug and kiss on the top of his head. I told him that I loved him and to do his – and that I’d be there to greet him when he returned.

Then it was time for me to turn and walk away.

Next: 23 March; the battle of An-Nasiriyah; “Keep Moving or Die”

Andrew Lubin is a Truman Security Fellow.