Posted:7:18 pm ET
J. Kael Weston, the author of “The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan,” was a State Department official in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 to 2010. Newsweek writes that he spent more time in Iraq and Afghanistan than any other State Department officer, including two and a half years in the Iraqi hellhole of Fallujah. He wrote The Graves of the Marines I Lost for the New York Times. Excerpt below:
While in Iraq and Afghanistan, I witnessed military officers and enlisted soldiers, at all ranks, being held accountable for their decisions. I have yet to see that happen with Washington policy makers who, far removed from the battlefields, benefit from our collective amnesia about past military and foreign policy failures.
The commander in chief and the senior military brass should leave the manicured grounds of Arlington and visit some of those places where most of America’s war dead are buried: farm towns, immigrant neighborhoods and working-class suburbs. At a time when fewer and fewer of us have any real ties to the military, how better to remind the nation that our troops are not just faceless volunteers, but people who live next door?
Over the last four years, I have visited a dozen such cemeteries. One was in Newcastle, Wyo. (population 3,532, according to the last census), where Staff Sgt. Brian Bland was laid to rest on a hill overlooking an oil refinery and a Pizza Hut. His granite headstone is shaped like a mountain peak.
Outside Cherokee, Iowa (population 5,253), at the Galva Veterans Memorial, I stood at Cpl. Nathan Schubert’s grave, next to his father’s, surrounded by green cornfields and grain silos. Etched on his headstone are pine trees and pheasants in flight.
In Menard, Tex. (population 1,471), I located Capt. Paul Christopher Alaniz, buried alongside his mother. Colorful ceramic tiles adorned his grave’s concrete plot, hand painted by his wife and children with the words “Love” and “Papa, Happy Father’s Day” and “A classy tie for a classy guy.”
I visited each one because I was directly involved in the decision that led to their deaths.