Thursday, March 23, 2006

Background - getting to Iraq part one

It's going to be impossible to maintain organization on this thing - bear with me as we move back and forth through time and subject.

So why go to Iraq at all? There was a lot behind the decision. Here's part of it.

In winter of 1998 Kirk was tagged for a 4 month deployment. At the time he was an Air Force intelligence officer stationed at Elmendorf AFB in Alaska. The military was well drawn down by this time, but overseas commitments had risen drastically and every military member knew that extended deployments were going to be a frequent part of life. Kirk was lucky, he was given a great assignment. He was sent to Vicenza, Italy to join a nato group watching the situation in the Balkans.

Of course the timing was lousy. His four months would mean he missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and three family birthdays, but on the other hand, he got four months in northern Italy. Naturally we were aware of tensions in the Balkans, but we didn't know the situation in Kosovo would erupt as it did while Kirk was there. He used to say that the war in Kosovo ruined his Italian vacation.

Kirk's unit was responsible (probably among other things - there was always much he couldn't tell me) for choosing strategic targets. They analysed the intelligence they got in, then figured out what was most vital to destroy. Part of that, of course, was looking over photographs and video after a mission was run to assess whether the target had really been knocked out.

In real terms what that meant was Kirk, and the people he worked with, chose daily where violence would visit. They always did their best to minimize collateral damage, but it was impossible to be sure. There were times when the timing of a mission had to be adjusted and so there was more traffic on a bridge than they hoped and people died. There was another time when because something wasn't successfully eliminated several dozen people were killed.

I think it's important to be clear that Kirk was an extremely intelligent and empathetic man. He did not take on a universal guilt that he did not deserve - he knew he had not made this war, and he was well aware of what needed to be done and why. But he did take on an enormous sense of responsibility. He made his choices based on what he honestly felt to be best, but was always aware of what those choices entailed.

There is so much to tell about Kosovo - even with the little that I know - and maybe eventually I'll write that as well, but the relevent point is that more and more after the war Kirk talked about wanting to be part of rebuilding since he had been part of destroying. When the job in Iraq came up, it seemed to be the opportunity he had wanted.

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