In Harms Way

by Prescott Johanson

I recently received news that one of my old high school rivals was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb. It stirred up many emotions in me that I didn't think were there, along with a greater respect and admiration for those who make the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country.

John, I'll call him to protect his family, attended a high school 20 minutes from my own in a town that most of my family was from including my cousin/good friend that played on the football team with him. He played the same positions as me, wide receiver in football and middle infield in baseball, and was an exceptional athlete. I considered him my greatest competition in the league and actually disliked him at the time in a competitive sort of way. I wanted to beat him every time we were on the field together. We both ended up leading the league in different categories, him in receptions and me in receiving yards and tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns. Again in the years prior he had already gotten respect on the field, so for a couple of years I knew that he was the best and to be the best you have to beat the best. That was where my dislike started from.

After graduation me and one of my other football buddies were contemplating joining the reserves to pay for college. My friend joined but I decided against it. One of their big selling points was the sports leagues you could join and play in the armed services. They also mentioned John numerous times as joining and how gung ho he was about it. That was almost 10 years ago, he had stayed in to fight for the freedom of this country.

When I heard the news, at first I was shocked and saddened. He left a wife, 3 kids and another child on the way. After marinating on it for awhile my saddest turned into a deep respect, knowing that he made the ultimate sacrifice. I also felt a kinship with the fallen rival, knowing that it easily could of been me. See I come from a military family, dad and uncle drafted into Vietnam, two grandparents in the navy fighting the Japanese in the Pacific, all the way back to a Brigadier General in the Civil War. Often my grandfather would talk to me about joining the Navel academy, but I never had the grades for it. Basically though when the time was ripe, I had become who I am, namely a wannabee artist/poet with a lot of ideas and aspirations and a lack of discipline. I like to think I have a lot of discipline when it's my choice, I simply couldn't bring myself to put that choice in someone else's hands, namely a Sargent in boot camp. Since then as my life has had it's ups and downs, and even to this day with the war on terror I have thought about joining up, to fight the good fight, to serve my country, and this feelings came roaring back with the death of John.

Many people disagree with the wars we are fighting, and I don't begrudge them their opinion. Quite simply I would love to live in a world without wars, a world in perpetual peace. We are not there yet and will not be anytime soon. The world is actually more dangerous then it has been since the beginnings of the Cold War. We have Iran and North Korea on their way to having nuclear weapons, a behemoth in China becoming more and more aggressive both militarily and economically, and a Russia that says all the right things but certainly doesn't offer the support the U.S. needs. Proliferation of nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union is also a major concern. When we were attacked on 9/11, the call to arms was sounded. There's no doubt that this president raised the stakes. We didn't need to go into Iraq right then. The fact of the matter, although no smoking gun had been found, is that Saddam was trying to get or already had weapons of mass destruction. Nobody would bet that big and do so much blocking of the UN folks if they had nothing to hide. If he really didn't have weapons it was possibly the biggest mistake by a leader of a country ever. He's sitting in a jail cell right now, his country taken over for nothing? I don't think so. Diplomacy is also not working in some of the other country's listed above. There is no long term diplomacy with dictators who oppress their people, and there never has been. The fact is that free country's do not attack each other, there are other means to resolve differences. The only way to gain the long term safety of our country from fanatics is to give their people freedom. If Iraq and Afghanistan work as democracies, as I said earlier a big bet, it will spread throughout the region and bring the great people of the middle east back into the forefront of society. Once the greatest doctors, scholars and teachers on the earth resided in the Middle East. The difference was that the Europeans were more flexible, borrowing and adding to ideas of different cultures, and they left the people of the Middle East behind,who simply kept to themselves and never adapted and that still happens to this day. A free society works with other free societies and improves upon each others ideas, and I fully believe that a free Iraq will add greatly to the world community. Look, freedom with the sword is never the best idea, but the ideologues in that region of the world have held power for too long, pushing their people down instead of raising them up. After 9/11 we had to stand up and take action, and I hope we made the right decision.

A soldier's job is not to question those decisions though. Their job is to follow orders, perform to the best of their abilities and protect their fellow soldiers and themselves. John obviously loved his country, he could of left the military years ago. He heard the call and he answered it and I respect him for that. I believe in an afterlife, and I believe he's there, probably better off then we all are. The fact is, there is no peace with folks who live for violence, live to kill the innocent, and there are a lot of those maniacs out there. John is a hero to me, and there are more out there, fighting to keep us free. When did we as Americans become so spoiled. This is the first war where the general public is simply not involved other then to politick and protest, which I also respect. The fact is even the poor and downtrodden in this country don't starve, except in severe cases, unless they choose to. A country where poverty means a color TV, a cell phone, and a house, but only basic cable. These maniacs we're fighting know poverty, they know oppression, and their leaders have convinced them it's all our fault. The reason I'm saying this is we are blessed by the freedom to disagree with our government, but don't do it just because you are in college and it's the "cool" thing to do. I believe that our government is not evil and did put our soldiers in harms way for the good of the world. Love and respect our soldiers, they are the heroes, the brave and proud. Unfortunately war is necessary right now and in the near future. Not fighting is simply not an option at this time, or we all may be gone tomorrow because our enemies are out there plotting against us. For no other reason then that we are free and blessed. God bless John, his family and all the rest of our soldiers in harms way.

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