My Iraqi Election Weekend with US Marines

My fellow Headlifers, I’m now out of the witness protection program. WARNING: this post contains language that fails to load up on caveats about the inevitable difficulties we still face in Iraq and does no fretting about how some Sunnis didn’t get to vote. It also offers dangerous unqualified praise of heroic ideals.

Last weekend’s events were extraordinary. I was annoyed by the handful of poser Republican legislators with the stupid nerve to stain their fingers purple in ultra-secured environs of the US capitol. But that won’t cheapen the astonishing historical moment, the human event, of Iraq’s vote last Sunday.

I ended up with a surprising view of the election. I was in Southern California, and on Saturday I went to Oceanside to help a friend move into his new appartment. Ryan Aiken and I were in Tom Lantos’ office together (yes, I worked under a Bay Area Democrat). In the wake of 9/11 he decided to join the Marines, a somewhat surprising decision. He’s a gritty kid, but he’s also a Utah boy with a privileged background, fluency in three languages, a marketable college degree, and three straight years of big raises as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill.

On Saturday, three of his Marine friends were there helping with the move as well. I don’t spend much time with Marines and I suppose I harbor certain stereotypes, we all probably do. I thought Ryan was one-in-a-million as an intelligent, educated Marine with loads of other opportunities. Apparently not. The other three: one had a BYU law degree, one (a quiet Catholic kid) was accepted at Duke and several other quality schools, and the third had a degree in marketing from UNC. Now these are not “corps men”. They are all in Marine intel, studying foreign languages, the best that the Marines get. But they all volunteered. They all chose life under fire in Iraq of Afghanistan over security and prosperity in the near future.

They told me about one of the sergeants who had trained them in boot camp. Last February he was entering his last year of service after a full year in Iraq. He was given a cushy assignment in Hawaii to conclude his Marine term. But he made a special request to be sent back to Iraq because he believed in what was being attempted there and he did not want to abandon his mates. He was killed by a car bomb while distributing candy to a crowd of Iraqi children in late September.

The next day I watched as election images, courtesy of CNN and MSNBC, streamed by. Purple fingers, old men with canes, dignified families in formal dress, and then one that made me lose it….a half-dozen Shiite women in dancing, singing, waving purple fingers, and gesturing in praise around a group of stoic, M-16-toting US Marines. The CNN ticker ran this translation of their chant: “we pray for you, we pray for you, you give us hope, we pray for you.” This was CNN, not FOX.

It was clear in an instant to me that it was men–like Sergeant Aiken, walking away from a comfortable path to Washington influence, like Sergeant Redford turning down lucrative offers from LA law firms, like the officer who chose Iraq over Hawaii–who sacrificed opportunities, lives, good food, and good sleep, that made this monumental assertion of civic liberty possible.

Sacrifice and liberty are the foundations of things bigger this event (more of a United Brethren topic), but there isn’t a lot in recent history that is bigger than this event.


  1. Nice post, Stuart. Too often, because of Abu Ghraib and Monsieur Moore, we lose sight of the incredible bravery of our soldiers. Of course, the brave soldiers do not a just war make, but that’s another post, and for the time being we will simply admire your friends’ bravery.
    As for talk of Southern California–not fair. It’s freezing here in Baltimore! 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>< HREF="" TITLE="ronan at jhu dot edu">Ronan<>


  2. I had wondered what happened to Ryan! That is so interesting. Cool perspective.

    Who was the one with a BYU Law degree? Maybe I know him. 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>< HREF="" TITLE="john dot fowles at gmx dot net">john fowles<>


  3. Hey John–

    The BYU Law Guy is named “Redford”. They all just called him “Redford” and I never picked up his first name. He does have an Angel Moroni tatooed on his right shoulder, next to a CTR symbol and he is a very gifted soccer player.

    That’s all I know 

    <><><><>Posted by<><> <><>Stuart


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