Commentator Eric Greitens is a Navy SEAL who worked with Iraqi Army forces in Fallujah. He acknowledges that — five years in — some people are tired of hearing about the war. He returned from Iraq one year ago this week with a Purple Heart. And he urges his fellow Americans to actively follow what's happening on the battlefield.
During my last days in Fallujah, my barracks was hit by a suicide truck bomb loaded with chlorine. The explosion destroyed the building and filled the air with poison gas. Our throats burned with every breath.
When I finally made it out, I fell to my knees choking.
When I looked down I saw that my uniform was covered in blood. I patted myself down once, twice, a third time. My clothing was not ripped. And then I realized the blood was not mine.
Before the blast, I had been standing next to my friend, Joel. It was his blood I was wearing. His body, instead of mine, took the brunt of the blast.
Gunfire filled the air, but it was hard to tell who was shooting at whom. The building's roof was still intact, so I climbed the twisted staircase with two Marines to establish a fighting position.
We all wanted to identify who had done this and shoot back. We aimed our rifles at every movement, but the streets were clear except for a few children and families running from the violence. We held our fire. Even after all the months of combat, injured comrades, and the acrid smell of violence in our nostrils, every Marine kept their discipline.
Later that day I was evacuated for minor wounds. At the hospital I asked after Joel. He had been evacuated to Baghdad with a head injury, and was eventually sent back to the U.S. for more treatment.
When I got back home, Joel was well enough to come see me. I showed him my uniform from that day. It was still stained with his blood. He asked if he could have it back. I told him: "It's mine now, buddy. Besides, you shoulda ducked. "
When Joel recovered, he volunteered to go back to Iraq. He could have stayed home but he rejoined his unit in Fallujah.
We've been at war in Iraq a long time now: over five years. Longer than World War II. I know that many people are sick of hearing about it — bored by still more coverage.
People have many opinions about the war. But whatever you think, your fellow Americans are still there, while you are safe at home. Five years in, bombs are still going off; troops are still in combat. Today, soldiers still find themselves literally wearing the blood of their brothers. It's not too much to ask you to keep paying attention.
Greitens is a Navy SEAL who returned from Iraq one year ago this week. He currently serves as the Chairman of the Center for Citizen Leadership, an organization that grants fellowships to wounded and disabled veterans to begin new careers in public service.