Thursday, July 2, 2015

More Than Self: A Soldier

It's time to proudly wave and wear red, white, and blue, eat BBQ, and celebrate the United States of America and her birth.  It's time to give thanks for our freedom, pray for our country, and sing our favorite patriotic songs, like The Star Spangled Banner and America, the Beautiful.

America, with her spacious skis and majestic mountains, is beautiful.  But as a selfish person, I need to look at the third verse of America, the Beautiful, which not only reminds me of how we won our freedom but also urges me to remember how we keep it. 
     Oh Beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife
    Who more than self their country loved 
    And mercy more than life.

While we sleep soundly in America, the Beautiful, there are those whose mission is to place "us" before themselves, and they deserve our praise, so I asked my favorite Veteran, my cousin, retired Army Sergeant First Class David Brown Crawford, to share his service.

When David entered the army in 1988, he said the Army didn't actually do that good of a job instilling Country First or Selfless Service.  It was talked about, but he joined with a generation who grew up with a sense of patriotism.  They had recited the Pledge of Allegiance in school and respected the flag of the United States of America.  When a soldier acted selfish, they were berated a bit with physical activities and taunting, "It's all about Johnny, isn't it?" Then, everyone else was punished for a soldier's self-serving attitude.    

The majority of the guys I served with almost regardless of background had at least the basic building blocks of  "America biggest and best" concept instilled in them.  Through my 22 years in the Army these building blocks were rapidly eroded, and more and more new soldiers only were in it for themselves. Combine this with "the mass punishment is cruel" mentality and the "Me, Me, Gimme, Gimme" attitude of the modern day youth, the Army had to improve their messaging.  So toward the end of my career (2004-2009 time frame), the Army began to develop things like the "Soldiers Creed," Army Values and Warrior Ethos.

The Soldier's Creed begins and ends with I am an American Soldier with eleven statements in between, among them, I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values, I will always place the mission first, I will never accept defeat, I will never quit, I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.  The Army's Core Values are Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.  Selfless Service: Put the welfare of the nation, the Army and your subordinates before your own.  This messaging is now a large part of Basic Training.  Along with posters and paintings on the walls, recruiters teach their recruits these sayings before Basic Training, keeping these ideas in the forefront of a Soldier's daily life.

These are strong words, but if you don't believe it, and at some point give yourself to cause then the tendency to continue to put yourself first will remain and reflect in how effective you are as a Soldier.

"He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest.  He is a shield to those who walk with integrity." Proverbs 2:7

David served twenty-two years, including three tours in Iraq.  Toward the end of Desert Storm, he was part of "Operation Provide Comfort" in Iraq and Turkey. During his second tour in 2004, he joined  his unit already in country twelve months and ready to redeploy. With temperatures reaching 110 in Kuwait, his men were ready to recover their gear, load the boat, and "let the freedom bird swoop in and take us home to our families, comfy beds, good chow, and no more sand!!"  But, that didn't happen. Because of troubles with Shite Militia in Eastern Iraq, their time was extended ninety more days.

I feel certain each of us were having deep conversations in our heads dealing with Love of Country, Selfless Service and Mutiny at that time.  We did what we were told, packed up and went back to base and got our heads down. The next morning my battalion commander had the task of telling the unit we had to go back.  He was choking up as he told us, and we knew we were all getting a huge gut check from the lowest ranking to the highest ranking. In the end I knew I couldn't complain at all.  My guys had been there much longer and would have cut me no slack if I was to complain at all.
David's last tour in Iraq, 2007-2008, was fifteen months.  Many guys he served with had already spent close to five years in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

We knew there was little you could do to make it go faster.  It was not a race. You just had to literally lean forward everyday and put one foot in front of the other just to get through it. We all knew we could die but we knew we were good at what we did, and if we continued to do what we knew how to do then as a group we would survive.
Not only do Soldiers sacrifice their lives for us, their families sacrifice as well.  Missing countless birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, David knew what time he had to be at work but never what time he would be at home, often going home for dinner then back to the hanger for more work.

My family all agree that it was a good luck day when David met Anja while stationed in Germany.  Taking care of two children with a husband overseas and moving every three years wasn't easy.

It was probably tougher on her than me in many cases, but Anja's level of motivation and responsibility always amazed me and allowed me to do my job without having to worry that the kids were not being taken care of or other household duties were not being accomplished. I owe more to Anja for keeping our family together during those times than I could ever put into words. Anja and our kids (Josh and Hanna) were very supportive during this process. I think they have a sense of duty because of the environment they grew up in.

The Army's Core Value of Selfless Service states The basic building block of selfless service is the commitment of each team member to go a little further, endure a little longer, and look a little closer to see how he or she can add to the effort.  David said, "Accepting 'you can't just quit' attitude is the only way to get through it."

With an adventurous spirit (always), David enjoyed the travel the Army provided. His job as a helicopter mechanic was challenging, but "learning and managing a complex piece of machinery was exactly what I needed." His mom, my Aunt Gladys, always said he spent most of this childhood taking apart and putting back together anything and everything.  But, David also served as a recruiter for a few years and was as honest as possible with new soldiers.

Sacrifice was part of my pitch, but I didn't really focus on it. Anyone who goes into the Army not taking into account that they are going to have to give themselves to the process at some time usually didn't make it. Those who were unable to relieve themselves of "me first" mentality and give into the "I am here to serve a cause that is bigger than me. My buddies are in this with me, and what I am doing matters" at some level did not fare well in the Army environment.

Being a Soldier is a job, yes, but it's also a big sacrifice with a mission.  Every employee has goals and a mission, but the mission of a Soldier is to make it possible for us to live freely in America, the Beautiful.

Even though he doesn't agree with the path we are taking and believes our situation will worsen before it improves, David would serve again. 

"I feel very fortunate to be an American.  I always think back to what it took to win WWII and wonder if we would have the intestinal fortitude to win that type of fight again.  Oddly enough, if I had to do it all again, I would still choose to join the Army and serve my country.  The level of camaraderie and respect I have for the Soldiers I had the privilege to serve with is enormously important to me, and I will value that until the day I die.

How much do you love America, the Beautiful and our freedom?  Thank our Soldiers.  Your welfare comes before their own.

Happy Independence Day,


I could never express how proud the Brown family and I are of our Soldier, David. After twenty-two years of career military, we were relieved to have him safely home in the country he served and protected.  Thanks, David, for your willingness to share your service and thoughts.