Editor's Note: Angela Hart is a Patch editor in Rohnert Park who served eight years in the U.S. Army.
When news broke Sunday that Osama bin Laden had been killed, I jumped on Facebook right away to find out what my military friends’ reactions were. My gut response? Finally, what we fought for wasn’t imaginary.
Honestly, last night listening to President Obama’s speech, I started crying. On Facebook almost all of my Army friends changed their profile pictures to images of the American flag, and what followed was a steady stream of photos depicting celebrations, complete with beer and bubbly, and maybe a celebratory banner or American flag in the background. The terrorist who masterminded the 9/11 attacks was killed during a special operation that went down in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
I’ve been in Rohnert Park for seven months now, so most of you know about my military experience. In short, I spent eight years in the Army Reserve, and almost two of them activated for the Iraq wars. My company, the 341st Military Police Company out of San Jose, was one of the first boots-on-the-ground units — we got there in March of 2003, just a couple of months after the initial invasion. Our primary mission was to run convoys, one of the most dangerous jobs to date. My job was supply, to make sure my unit had everything to do its job — food, armored vehicles, clothing.
While I didn’t necessarily celebrate bin Laden’s death, I did feel, for the first time, that what we did over there was worth it. It's been a process getting readjusted to civilian life, and writing about it is difficult. Today I feel that maybe all the convoys my unit ran, all the nights we spent away from home and the days we worried about dying were worth it.
I cherish my time in the military — it taught me discipline, it taught me how the government works, it taught me to accept people for who they are. We had an interpreter staying with us on our base in Balad, Iraq, after my unit was extended for a second time, and we became friends. We spent many nights talking at length about Iraqi culture, his children, the war. It was those experiences, talking with Iraqis and hanging out with other soldiers away from their families, that showed me what we were really fighting for. I was 17 when I enlisted, 20 when I went to Iraq, and grown up when I returned home.
After months in the desert, spending time with fellow soldiers there — either at a checkpoint, a swimming pool or at the mess hall — I came to realize that we were there because we wanted to protect our country, but that’s really all we knew. So much of it was being held from us. Today I feel a little less like that.
To date, according to the U.S. Central Command, 5,978 soldiers have been killed in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. That number is probably much higher when tallying Iraq and Afghanistan civilian deaths and contractors. It really breaks my heart. I don’t know the answer to the wars, but I do know today, that what bin Laden’s death means to me is that I know we’re safer. Maybe now we can stop dying.
Obama said last night that the images of Sept. 11, 2001 were “seared into our national memory — hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the Twin Towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa., where the actions of the heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction.”
I was in training in Fort Lee, Va., at the time of the attacks, so in a way my memories were shaped by the military. They would only let us see so much. I felt so disassociated from the horrific events until I got home. When I saw the true impact of the attacks that altered our nation's view of the world and hurt so many people, I knew I'd be deployed. I was scared, confused and excited to be a part of something that would bring these people to justice.
What I felt when I came home, was mirrored in Obama's speech last night:
“...The American people come together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and the love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.”
Obama continued, “For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda."
I am not sure what the answer is when it comes to war, but I do believe in the responsibility of our nation’s leaders to be open and transparent with the American people — that’s why I got into this job. What I saw firsthand on the thoroughfares of Iraq often conflicted with the news I was watching at night when we returned to base.
It's not that the reporting is inaccurate, but I think the role of the media is to report more than what happened. It should show its impact. While I think it's important to show America's reaction to bin Laden's death, I think moreover it's our duty to responsibly explore what mission we're really trying to accomplish and what's next for our servicemembers.
Today, I hope that we can move forward. So much money has been squandered, lives taken unjustly. One of my friends said it perfectly: “The froth of news reporting with the hysterical crowd scenes are indicative of a deeper problem; years of many lives wasted and finances depleted that could have been pressed to the service of our society. All beg to address the yearning cry of our democracy's greatest need: civic stewardship.”
Lastly and most importantly, I’d like to thank my fellow soldiers. As my grandma would say, God bless.
Click to see a video compiled by Koka Sexton, a fellow soldier. It is a montage of our deployment.