by Matt Mabe
Veteran, United States Army
Interim VP of Staff, Stop Soldier Suicide
Yesterday, March 19, America marked 20 years since the invasion of Iraq. On that day in 2003 I was a young second lieutenant and newly minted combat Engineer who had just taken charge of my first platoon. Before the sun rose on the morning of March 20, I and my soldiers crossed from Kuwait into Iraq's southern desert with the 3rd Infantry Division. Our lives were changed forever.
Yet here at the Mabes', the anniversary of the invasion passed uneventfully. We had a family friend over for breakfast. My wife and I and the kids took a long morning walk around the neighborhood. I spent most of the afternoon installing shelving in my garage. I didn't even give a thought to Iraq or the Army or any of that, let alone to the indelible effects that years and years of war have had on veterans -- and all our countrymen. I had all but forgotten the 20-year milestone was upon us until I saw it as a passing news item right before bed last night. No, I am a lucky one, fortunate to have gone undamaged psychologically by my experience.
Still, I woke up today reflecting on those of my comrades who either sacrificed their lives or took them with their own hands. This morning, while taking my kids to daycare, I passed a contractor van, the owner's name of which -- Tieman -- was emblazoned on the side, the same name shared by one of my favorite young NCOs all those years ago. Staff Sergeant Tieman went on to die in a 2010 suicide bombing. I thought about my classmate and one of my best friends at West Point, Erin, who killed herself in 2004 just after becoming a Blackhawk helicopter pilot, her dream. I never found out why. Then there was the 18-year-old soldier in my battalion, who shortly after the invasion killed himself alone in his tracked vehicle -- my battalion commander seeing to it that the death was ruled an accident so that honors and insurance remained intact. Different times.
There were many others I knew -- loved -- who never got to experience the joys I have been blessed to receive in my own life. And that breaks my heart. So today, I'm dedicating my thoughts, actions, and prayers to them.
Just felt like I had to share.