Staff Sergeant Yance T. Gray and Sergeant Omar Mora died on Monday in a vehicle crash in Baghdad on Monday, along with six other American soldiers and two "detainees." During their time in Iraq, both Gray and Mora displayed more than just the courage needed to face the enemy. They also displayed the courage needed to stand up, to face the country, and to say that the strategy in Iraq isn't working, and never will. They had the courage to say this, knowing that their opinion would not be well received by many of their superiors. And, ultimately, they had the courage and civic responsibility needed to say that while they did not agree with their mission, as soldiers they would see it through to the end.
Gray and Mora were, along with Specialist Buddhika Jayamaha, Sergeant Wesley Smith, Sergeant Jeremy Roebuck, Sergeant Edward Sandmeier, and Staff Sergeant Jeremy Murphy, authors of the "Sergeants" op-ed that appeared in the New York Times on August 19th.
From the op-ed:
In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, ''We need security, not free food.''
In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are -- an army of occupation -- and force our withdrawal.
Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.
We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.
They saw the mission through. In so doing, they displayed both courage and a devotion to one of the principles that is vital to the preservation of our system of government: the military is subordinate to the civil powers. Once the civilian leadership gives the military a mission, the military will see that mission through regardless of how poorly the soldiers might think it was conceived, and no matter how high the cost. Gray and Mora were men of strength and courage, and they saw their mission through.