Thursday, February 17, 2011

SOLDIER'S HOME: A Boone baby's Afghan year as an American Marine

Adam Tharp, Lt. Col., USMC, (left) was born at Boone Hospital and -- like his mother, father, sister, and three brothers, graduated from the University of Missouri.  

He has just returned home from an extraordinarily long overseas tour of duty, one year in the barren hills of Afghanistan.   On the occasion of Abraham Lincoln's birthday and his return, Col. Tharp -- my brother in law -- sent this message home on Facebook:   

"First, I want to say a heartfelt thanks to friends and family who provided wonderful emotional and physical support over the last 12 months.  Any deprivations I suffered pale in comparison to what my wife, Leanne, and my three children, Mara, Corey, and Collin, have had to bear.  It is you I salute and say "thank you" with deepest sincerity.

All 271 words, though, are perfect in their construction.  Echoing Pericles' speech to the Athenians, the Gettysburg Address gives meaning to a sacrifice that otherwise would have seemed futile. In giving thanks, I want to share a few thoughts through the lens of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

To many Americans, Lincoln's address that cold November day is little more than six words discussed briefly in school:  "Four score and seven years ago."  
Lincoln described the epic sacrifice at Gettysburg as the "last full measure of devotion" to an ideal.  On that bloody Seminary Ridge, the future of democracy found its way on the blade of the bayonet and through the courage of the devoted. 

Out of my own character, I am scribing reflections and feelings to similarly articulate meaning from this last year spent as part of a Marine Regiment, fighting a savage war -- of peace.

This is not a comment on the strategic or political motivations driving the conflict.  Rather, it is my effort to give voice to the pride and pain our Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, British, Georgian and Afghan brothers experienced over the last 12 months:  the ultimate statement of what it means to be an American:  General James Mattis' "no better friend, no worse enemy." 

At its core, their pain was Regimental casualties second only to taking the bloody beaches of Tarawa:  84 people not coming home, 7,000 lives changed forever.

Their pride was tactical victories; fighting Taliban troops terrorized enough that they called us "those crazy, unkillable Marines."  It was indigenous forces fighting for freedom learning to do for themselves. 

It was also the more mundane:  roads being paved, tea being drunk, canals being fixed, schools being built.

For me, the experience was serving with the finest people I have ever had the privilege to serve.

We are engaged in a global struggle to see if any nation so conceived as we were can long endure.  Those are Lincoln's words, not mine.  The global struggle did not start on 9-11, but well before this country's birth.   When his address concludes with "this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth," Lincoln was not merely talking about the conflict of his time, but providing a vision for all generations.

As Americans, we seem to always see an "end state" -- as if there is a finish line.  But that is a mirage.  If the Founding Fathers' ideals are to survive, then we must acknowledge there is no end state, no finish line.

Instead, there are ebbs and flows, of consciousness and conflict, about what it means to be an American.  Fehrenbach's tiger is lurking; Friedman's Olive Tree is battling the Lexus;  Huntington's civilizations are clashing;  Kaplan's anarchy has arrived.   Until the tiger is killed and the Olive Tree can live with the Lexus, we will find ourselves clashing with civilizations, battling the anarchy over the ideals Lincoln made so wonderfully clear.

It is for the clashes and battles in preservation of our ideals that we have a Corps of Marines."

Adam Tharp
Lt. Colonel
United States Marine Corps
In Country and Coming Home 

Adam Tharp in the news

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