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January 09, 2004

Thoughts by an Army Chaplain on his service in Iraq

I'll let Chaplain Huerta speak for himself.

Commentary by Maj. Carlos C. Huerta Jewish Chaplain in Mosul, Iraq Dec 12 2003

I am about to get on what soldiers call the "freedom bird,"
the aircraft that brings us back to the world.

You would think I would be ecstatic, since I will once again see my
wife, children, mother and friends. But, strangely, I am not.
I am caught in a twilight zone of anxiety and loneliness, mixed with
some measure of happiness. I leave Iraq with tears in my eyes, joy in
my heart, happiness in my soul and deep sadness in my being. I am so
glad to be seeing my family, but so sad to leave my other family.

I have to say good-bye to men and women who are willing to put
themselves in harm's way for me, ready to run towards bullets to save
me, ready to die for me. How does one say good-bye to that kind of
relationship and not feel pain, sadness and loneliness. How can I not
feel pain in my heart knowing the ones I'm leaving behind are still
in harm's way? I worry about their safety, I worry that they may not
see the day when they ride the freedom bird back to their loved ones.

The soldier in me wants to stay until the last bullet is fired in the
last battle in the last war for freedom. However, when I take a
minute to think about it, I realize it's impossible. Our role of
defending freedom for us -- and for others -- began when we were just
a colony. There can never be a last war, a last battle, because -- in
every generation -- there are those who wish to take freedom away.

As a Jew, I know Chanukah was a war for freedom -- religious freedom.
It was more than two thousand years ago that a tyrant forbid the Jews
to practice or teach religion. He decided the way we worshipped our
Creator had to be wiped off the face of the earth. We found that
unacceptable and, under the Maccabbees, went to war. We were
defending our right to worship our God; to teach our faith to our
children and to live as free men and women. Since then, little has
changed but the location.

Here we are in Iraq, once again defending our freedoms from those who
wish to destroy them. We see the fight for freedom never ends --
there is never a last battle, a last bullet. We know, from
experience, that if freedom is to survive, there must be men and
women in every generation who are willing to pay the supreme

As I climb aboard the "Freedom Bird" and leave my buddies behind, I
am sad and happy. I remember the good times we had, but I also
remember the pain, the bleeding, the dying we did together.

One incident in particular will always stay vivid in my mind. At the
site of two downed Blackhawks I, with a Soldier from the 1st
Battalion, 320th Field Artillery, our commander and Col. Joseph
Anderson, USMA 1981, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team Commander, went
through the wreckage and recovered the bodies of seven of our
Soldiers. I will always remember touching my friends, saying good-bye
to them and putting them in body bags.

I will always remember Anderson pulling the bodies out of the bird
and personally carrying each one off the roof. I can see him carrying
them down three flights of stairs as if he was carrying something so
precious and dear to him.

I will always remember Lt. Col. Mark Murray, my commander, tears
filling his eyes as he identified his Soldiers. I will also remember
the pain on the face and in the voice of Capt. Vincent Generoso, USMA
1996, the Charlie Battery Commander, as he told his soldiers they
lost five of their buddies. These are exemplary lessons in leadership
I will never forget; lessons of soldiering I will always carry with
me; lessons about the true cost of freedom I will pass on to anyone
who will listen.

This is why I reluctantly get on my transport home, despite the fact
I know my job is done and another waits. I carry a message in my
bosom, a message I am not sure I can ever express in words. It begins
with the words Duty-Honor-Country, but ends with words embodied in
the lives and actions of America's sons and daughters in uniform.
They stand alone, on guard through the dark night of oppression,
whenever and wherever it may be.

The message I carry is of great sacrifice, but also of great hope for
the future. It is a message that contains a firm belief in the
rightness of our cause, but sadness on what price we have paid -- and
will continue to pay -- for the freedoms we hold so dear.

I understand it can be no other way. George Orwell once said that we
sleep well at night because there are brave men and women awake,
standing guard, prepared to do great violence to those who would harm

This holiday season, as our hearts turn to peace and joy, I hope we
take time to remember. We, as a community and a nation, must remember
that we celebrate the joy and peace of the holidays in safety and
security because of those men and women far away. Those men and women
who are prepared to do great violence to any who would harm us. It is
because of their sacrifices that we can worship where and when we
wish and celebrate the birth of the prince of peace.

So as I fly the freedom bird towards home, I wish all Americans
everywhere, of every faith, every race, every ethnic group, every
background, wherever you are, A Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah,
Happy Kwanza and happy whatever-you believe-in. May this New Year be
one of health and happiness, one where the words of the prophet ring
true and no nation lifts a sword against another.

Enjoy, but in your enjoyment, remember. See you on the high ground.