American exceptionalism demonstrated in Army

IâÄôm with an extraordinary group of Americans in a uniquely noble cause. After serving in Baghdad and elsewhere as a soldier in the Army, I was released a couple of years ago from active duty. Then, this spring, I was surprised with orders returning me to duty in six weeks for another deployment. Yes, I was stunned, but I am so glad I reported back to duty. As a student at the University of Minnesota in the 1990s, I studied history, politics and international relations âÄî and, of course, the full scope of liberal arts. The value of service and activism in our worldâÄôs affairs that was always a part of my student experience remains. Because of this, I see and appreciate the full scope of the extraordinary people and mission IâÄôm a part of. I spent months in India and elsewhere before college, and after I graduated, I went to live in the Middle East with Israelis and Palestinians. I was studying the rise of the terrorist threat and volunteering with groups engaged in the struggle against violence that was destroying the region before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. After Sept. 11, I felt it was my duty to join the Army and serve our country in this war. I was very blessed, because, though my unit experienced some of the worst conflict in Iraq, we also saw some of the most virtuous sides of humanity. It was those moments that gave us inspiration every day to ride out on missions, putting our lives at risk on the front lines, helping millions of people traumatized by tyranny and desperation, and fighting back against the terrorist threat. Several of my fellow soldiers were killed and wounded, but never did I hear defeatism or negativity. In fact, visiting wounded soldiers in hospitals over the years since, I only find resolve to continue our missions and to persevere in this noble cause. It is the human experience that is most inspiring. Being a soldier is not all about combat. In this war, it is more about making partners with the Iraqi and Afghan people. There are countless moments of special bonds that weâÄôve made with them. Often, this involves using the full resources of the American people to help desperate people far away, giving them hope and strength to pursue their lives and ambitions. It is also a great lesson to us to see our Afghan and Iraqi friends taking huge risks every day to stand up for their freedom, rejecting a long legacy of tyranny. It saddens me how little of this side of our mission is told. Mostly, the news covers the controversy and conflict. As a soldier, however, IâÄôve worked with many Iraqis in many different ways. IâÄôve been on missions building and starting schools and colleges, major sanitation and sewage projects, improving hospitals and doing things on a large scale to help traumatized people in great need. This is what we do as American soldiers. Behind the fight, this is also the worldâÄôs largest humanitarian mission. Those fellow soldiers called back to duty in six weeks are heroes. Many are parents, spouses and professionals from all walks of life. Each had to confront the prospect that this could be a one-way trip, yet they showed up, closing their personal affairs, making huge sacrifices for your security. This is noble and demonstrates a very special patriotism. The soldiers we are assigned to are also extraordinary in special ways. Not only are many repeat veterans of Afghan, African and Iraqi deployments, having understood the importance of our missions, but they are also Americans that many Americans donâÄôt even know about. IâÄôm with a battalion of South Pacific Islander soldiers from Samoa, Saipan, Guam, the Marshall Islands and Hawaii. They bring with them the Pacific culture of discipline and dedication born out of the epic struggle for freedom against Japanese imperialism during World War II. This unit was, in fact, the highest decorated unit in World War II, made up of all Japanese-Americans fighting in Europe. That is their legacy. It brings tears to my eyes when I hear them sing songs expressing pride and honor in the sacrifices made for AmericaâÄôs most noble cause in that war. They know that freedom is not free, that sometimes very high costs have to be given to protect it against tyranny. Some of them spent up to 20 months in Iraq during some of the worst fighting there on their last deployment. They are giving back that which was given to them by the World War II generation. They are also humane and gentle, and this is something that the locals we work with in this war see and appreciate. These American soldiers have an impact in ways that are so powerful for our country, representing some of the best we are as Americans. Yet, IâÄôm struck by how few of us even realize these are our fellow American citizens. There is a lot of abusive politicization and criticism of our missions in this war right now. IâÄôm seeing anew, however, that you have much to be proud of. Your soldiers are bringing forth that exceptionalism that is only American. They are shedding blood, sweat and tears in service to bring the most special gift of freedom and self-determination that only our country can give. This is what makes what we are doing in this war so noble. Instead of retribution, we are responding with liberation and empowerment of long-oppressed people. In doing this, we are also hitting at the heart of the terrorist threat, because this is what will defeat the hatred and ideology of enslavement and wanton murder. IâÄôm not with you during this election season. Instead, IâÄôm returning to the front lines of this war with amazing Americans, carrying out the noble yet common contribution of American exceptionalism to the world. I hope some of you will join me in this journey IâÄôve gone on. It is amazing and inspiring! Joe Roche graduated from the University in 1998. A former Daily columnist, he is now a Sergeant in the Army. Please send comments to [email protected]