Easter, rebirth, in Iraq

April 09, 2005|by Rob James

It is the day before Easter and a new chapter is about to begin in the lives of 69 Iraqi men. That new chapter will not only affect them, putting them in great danger, but their families as well.

I attended the graduation this morning for 69 Iraqi police officers. It was a sight to behold. Two of them were a father and son. The son was 20 years old, and it was inspiring to see someone so young so willing to take the great risk he has assumed to make Iraq a country free from the lawlessness and instability it has endured for so many years.

His father was clearly proud.

And while 69 Iraqi men leave this place to assume their dangerous roles in securing this country, there are more, willingly leaving their families and making the dangerous trek here to be trained so that they, too, can assume their role in the history being made.


It was inspiring to witness the pride in their faces as they rose from their plastic chairs in an unassuming tent in a dusty spot in Al Anbar province to receive certificates signifying their success.

The ceremony was not too formal - it is not easy to find formality here; dust covers everything. But these 69 men sat quietly and respectfully at attention as they listened while an American general praised them for their bravery.

I listened and watched the graduates as Brig. Gen. Robert E. Milstead Jr. recalled how "229 years ago, a free America was formed amid the chaos of war." He told them how he, as a child, listened to stories about the brave and heroic men who risked their lives fighting for America's freedom.

He told the new policemen, "In the future, young Iraqi children will also hear stories about the brave and heroic men who fought for their freedom. You are those brave men."

He assured the men that every one of them would be the hero that children will want to grow up to become.

Anyone who has ever been here knows that those are not cheap words. Even if you have not been here, you have likely seen the images of the devastation an insurgent - willing to die and bent on killing - can inflict. To say these men are brave is, if anything, an understatement.

In the words of one graduate, "We understand many Iraqi policemen are getting killed, but we are here to help stabilize our country," said Kalid, who is from Ramadi

"It is our responsibility to protect Iraq's sovereignty and it is the responsibility of everyone who is making our region unstable to quit what they are doing and protect our nation," he said.

Tomorrow, I will rise early and make my way to an Easter sunrise service with other Marines, soldiers and sailors. It will be a bit odd - I will carry a weapon and be in body armor. As I go, I will think of my family and wonder what my wife and daughter are doing this Easter. It will be my daughter's first.

But I will also think of the men I was with this morning.

As I enjoy the fellowship and beauty of an Easter sunrise in Iraq and remember the sacrifice my God made to guarantee me the true freedom and inner peace I enjoy, I will wonder where these men are.

And as I thank God for the sacrifice of his son for someone as insignificant as me, I will pray for the safety of these 69 men, I will pray for their courage as they face the tough road ahead. The road they have to travel will be one that will demand sacrifice, and some may pay with their lives.

But as I go tomorrow, I will go praising my God for these men, these men and those who came before and those who will follow are the ones who will guarantee peace in this land.

The people of Iraq clearly want a land that is safe, free and prosperous. They want to enjoy life as we do, a life where their children go to school and learn in peace and safety. I miss my family terribly, but am honored and humbled to be here and proud to do my small and insignificant part in making this a country whose children can rest in the same peace, comfort and safety as my daughter does today.

Rob James is a captain in the United States Marine Corps and the son of Edward L. James of Hancock.

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