In the frustrating and agonizing wake of the senseless killings of 16 Afghan civilians allegedly committed by an American Soldier, pundits and citizens alike ask the painful questions: is this the brand that we will remember our mission in Afghanistan by, and have we overstayed our welcome?
The news cycle has constantly been bombarding us with this story. Over and over we hear every little detail of the life of times of the alleged perpetrator of these horrible crimes, the defendant Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. Pundits ask the question, is four tours of combat duty too much for anyone? Was it PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, financial and home problems that caused this soldier to go off the edge, or a combination of all of the above?
Scott Ott, a conservative commentator for PTJV, ruefully remarked on a March 13 episode of Trifecta that this unfortunate incident may be the “Brand” that the American military may be remembered for in their mission to Afghanistan. That would be sad indeed he says since the US military has done countless acts of bravery and compassion in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last ten years that will never be shown on the mainstream media.
PJTV Trifecta host Steve Green commented that Afghanistan is “just a place on the map where other nations aren’t.” Building a nation there may be pointless exercise and it might now, in the wake of this tragedy, be time to bring the troops home, Green said.
As the main stream media beats us up about the head and shoulders with this story of woe, taking a break from it all to bring us another tragedy in the form of Treyvon Martin killing, a story that embodies the real brand of the US military cropped up in the headlines for a day and then disappeared. I think it is worth revisiting.
On Thursday, CBS News reported the story of a brave and compassionate warrior from the Rhode Island National Guard who without any thought for himself saved the life of an Afghan girl when he pulled her out of the way of an oncoming military convoy. The girl was saved but sadly, Sergeant Dennis Weichel, 29, was crushed and later died of his injuries. Rhode Island National Guard spokesperson Lt. Col. Denis Riel poignantly stated that Weichel represented values that cannot be taught anywhere.
“I have heard nothing but incredible stuff about this kid, selfless beyond our core values that we live up to,” Riel said. “As I hear more from family and others, he was the living embodiment of the Army’s core values: courageous, selfless and loyal. All values we expect from our soldiers. We mourn all combat deaths, but this one is a significant loss.”
Indeed, Colonel Riel! Well said! First Sergeant Nicky Peppe, who had served a tour of duty with Weichel in Iraq, had further praise for our deceased hero.
“He was a big kid at heart,” Peppe said. “He always had a smile on his face and he made everyone laugh. But as much as Weichel was funny, he was also a professional! When it was time to go outside the wire for a combat patrol, he was all business!”
Wow. That’s the kind of soldier you want to deploy with, if you have to.
Weichel is survived by his fiancé, his three children and his parents. When his body is returned to his family on Saturday, they will be told the tale of his heroics. They will be told how when children picking up brass in the road were threatened by a passing convoy, the convoy stopped and Weichel and his fellow soldiers dismounted their vehicles to clear the road. Afghans often live in poverty and recycled brass is a lucrative commodity. When one girl darted back into the road to get one more shiny article of brass, Weichel quickly followed and got her out of the way. With all that armor on his vehicle, the driver didn’t see, and meant no harm. Knowing this, Weichel was unwilling to watch another tragedy unfold before his eyes. He sacrificed himself for a girl he didn’t know. He received a posthumous promotion and was awarded a bronze star, an honor too low in my view for his selfless act.
Jesus Christ famously said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he give up his life for a friend!” This is the value that Weichel embodies, and is not all that uncommon amongst out troops serving overseas, who are more often than not, the best of us. Sometimes there is a bad apple, who does something stupid and horrible and it embarrasses and shames us all. But more often, a quite professional does his job, unseen, behind the scenes and is heard from no more. I want the Americans who read this article and who love our troops to understand this and to spread this message. Our troops are inherently good, doing a tough job under very difficult circumstances. They need us to defend them and to pray for them and their families while they defend our interests and our freedoms overseas.
I don’t know if there is still a valid mission in Afghanistan. Maybe not! Maybe it is time for the troops to come home. But I know this. Weichel and many of our unsung heroes like him are the Real Brand of the American Soldier, and they need to be remembered for it, not the other.