We are a fortunate country to have such brave and patriotic troops to protect our freedoms. It is easy to take this for granted, but Veterans day offers us a chance to appreciate military service and simply say 'Thanks' to those who serve. For most of the year, I'd argue most people simply lose touch.
It was just before the November elections a year ago when I found out an Army buddy had died in Iraq. I've learned of such news before when I was on active duty, but this experience was different as a civilian -- admittedly, I had lost touch.
As I flipped through the channels one night, I came upon a debate between two candidates for Senate. I was about to turn the channel, but the debate turned to Iraq and one of the candidates said the name "Patriquin". The tone in which the candidate cited my friend's name alarmed me, so I went to my computer to run a search of what happened. My old friend, Travis Patriquin, had died two years before I learned of his heroics.
I stood in front of Travis in formations during the Infantry Officer Basic Course at Fort Benning for about 16 weeks in the Fall and Winter of 2000. Most of what I remember of Travis from that time was his optimism when things, as he would put it, 'sucked', and his enthusiasm for leading soldiers.
We were patrol buddies during a culmination exercise in December of 2000. It was one of the worst field problems I ever endured. It was cold, wet, and we were tired after walking through a Georgia marsh all night.
Travis pulled me through the field problem as a peer and even teased me about how I was soft to the cold. There was something very genuine in his personality and the way he interacted. He defined the mental challenges of the field simply as 'Sucks', as if they could be classified like basic elements. Cold, Hunger, Fatigue, and being wet all different 'sucks' that had to be endured.
This was a unique strength. Travis had a gift of taking difficult situations and simplifying them so that they could be solved with basic principles. In my case, he helped me find a mindset to endure the 'sucks' of the field.
While deployed to Iraq in 2006, Travis outlined a simple plan that was later covered by several media outlets. "How to win in Iraq" offered a stick-figure, and somewhat humorous, presentation of how Iraqi Sunnis could be convinced to push Al Qaeda out of Iraq. His ability to speak Arabic and understanding of the culture also allowed him to build ties with local Sunni leaders who began to cooperate. The subsequent movement became known as the Anbar Awakening.
Travis' was killed by a road-side bomb not long after making such progress. His death fueled resentment among the Sunni leaders against Al Qaeda whose trust Travis earned. After his untimely death, the Sunnis only strengthened their resolve to press Al Qaeda out of Iraq.
Regardless of one's views on the war, I think it is important to appreciate the service of those in uniform. My view was that we should never have invaded Iraq and that Al Qaeda chased us there after we invaded. However, this perspective in no way denigrates my view of Travis' heroism. In fact, in some ways it only strengthens my admiration of his service. Travis was given a situation that truly 'sucked' and yet he persevered with the same strengths I took note of almost ten years ago.
Thank you Travis and thank you to those men and women who continue to serve. You make us proud.