Our Troops Didn’t Die For Iraq’s Future — They Died For Yours

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U.S. Marines pray over a fallen comrade at a first aid point after he died from wounds suffered in fighting in Fallujah, Iraq, Thursday, April 8, 2004.
AP Photo/Murad Sezer

Was the Iraq War worth it? That’s the wrong question.


It isn’t easy watching Iraq fall apart at the seams.

For those who fought there and for those who lost loved ones there, it can feel as though it was for nothing. Understandably, many in our community are at best depressed, at worst angry. We are forced to ask what did our friends die for? It’s an impossible and haunting question, one that is best asked at the beginning of a war, not at its end.

Three months ago, I welcomed my son, Wolf Emmett Iscol, to this world. People say there is nothing like the love a parent has for a child. There isn’t, but it felt remarkably similar to the love I felt for the men I fought beside in Fallujah in 2004. Just as I would willingly do anything for my son, we few would and did do everything for each other.

John 15:13, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Putting aside geopolitics, for veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, our brothers and sisters gave their lives for one reason — so that we could live ours. In the thick of a fight, none of us are fighting for politics or flag; we fight for the man to our left and the man to our right. They died so that we may live.

And so the lives we build, the contributions we make, will ultimately decide the worthiness of their sacrifice.

That is a heavy load for all of us to carry. And it strikes to the very heart and mission of Hirepurpose and Task & Purpose.

This is the first time in American history that we have fought a protracted war with an all-volunteer force. At no other time have the majority of Americans been so insulated from the effects of war. Today, not only have fewer served, but fewer know someone who has served.

For some veterans this leads to an unhealthy sense of entitlement, and that is no way to honor the fallen. Rather, we should remain firm in our commitment to live bigger than ourselves. In business, politics, and other forms of public service in our communities and neighborhoods, our country desperately needs examples of service, selflessness, and citizenship.

If we few can provide that, and keep alive the ideals that our comrades fought and died for, then yes, they did die for something.

Zach Iscol is a combat-decorated Marine officer, Iraq veteran and entrepreneur, who served as the first officer-in-charge of Recruiting, Screening, Assessment, and Selection for the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command. He is the executive director of the Headstrong Project, and the founder and CEO of Hirepurpose.

(DoD photo)

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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

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