Operation Iraqi Freedom Journal - Part 5 (Letters from Children)
In this installment of my Operation Iraqi Freedom Journal, we take a break from my actual journal entries and experiences to remember something that was very special to me and my fellow soldiers, that being letters I received from children while deployed oversees. Perhaps times have changed and the experience is significantly different now. As of the writing of this post, fifteen years have passed. Modern technology at times kind of feels like dog years; for every actual calendar year that passes, computers and communication mediums advance seven years ahead. Not like we didn't have email way back in 2003! It's just that my experience was the early days of the Iraq War when we were all thrust back into the "stone age" when writing a letter required taking an actual pen and putting it on real paper. In addition to this laborious task, patience would also be called into action. Letters would typically take two to three WEEKS to get from the U.S. to wherever we were located and the same was true of a reply's return journey back home. So when the First Sergeant walked in, hearing those words--"Lewis, you got mail!"--was like an early Christmas. And while I was fortunate to get lots of letters from people young and old, correspondence from kids did something for us that I don't know can be put fully into words.
play as an alternative to war
I had a thought not too long ago as I pondered the state of our world and the perpetual wars and violence that plague us. I wondered if children held a key to reversing our seeming addiction to unleashing war's unspeakable and wide-scale pain and suffering on each other. Their simple solution? Playing. Now I'm not trying to romanticize children too much. I have two children, age three and eight. I know that they tend to fight from time to time. But mostly they just want to play. In fact, playing often trumps other adult-mandated responsibilities, like homework and doing chores! That aside, I think we could all agree that if this world was a little bit more preoccupied with playing, then perhaps we would have a little less time to kill each other.
Playing is the universal language of children. I observed it when we engaged with Iraqi children. Ever cupped one hand and placed it under your other arm's pit and then flapped that arm like a chicken? Yes, simulated flatulence is hilarious no matter what part of the globe you are on. I'd like to force some of our diametrically opposed geopolitical leaders to stand across from each other and perform this simple exercise. I have to believe that this would result in some progress.
Perhaps that is why a tent full of grown men in a war zone seemed to enjoy these letters so much. It's as if for a brief moment, we were reduced to little boys and didn't have to worry about the grave dangers we were facing as 'grown ups'. It's in the hope that you might rediscover the same innocent playfulness that underlies each message that I now share these letters with you. Or in Michaela's words, "Have a good time at the war."