I cannot imagine how much greater my pain might have been if I had lost any of the people on my team: people that I personally knew, people whom I worked with daily, people I led, mentored, counseled, evaluated, and taught, people who, in the turmoil of combat duty, had become as close as family. I could be thankful at least that all of my team members would return without injury. Regardless, even though I only personally knew a couple of the soldiers who died during our combat deployment, somehow I felt responsible for and felt grief over each of the many deaths in our command. To this day, I cannot fully explain why I felt such strong guilt or a sense of responsibility for those people. Perhaps it is because I have always been a “people person,” oriented on others rather than on self. Some might say that I led with my heart. Perhaps this personality trait of mine made me more susceptible. Also, perhaps my moral reasoning was not very sound in the pressure of combat operations, a situation in which “the stakes were high,” as Dr. Shay would describe it.
I think perhaps I felt this way because I was a high level leader in our organization. I was a lieutenant colonel with over 20 years of military service, working directly for our deputy commander, a very senior full bird colonel who was working in a general officer’s slot. I was also working for our commanding general (a one-star working in a two-star slot) who was my boss’s immediate boss. Having a high position in this organization, especially an organization that was so large, much larger than a typical division while we were deployed, I had a fair amount of power and influence. So, I think that part of my guilt stemmed from knowing that, although I had power and influence, I was absolutely powerless to affect the dangerous situations that our soldiers were going through in every corner of Iraq on a daily basis. I’ve often wondered what the leaders above me and around me were going through during this time with the rapidly escalating insurgency throughout 2005 that took so many of our troops from the road-side bombs (IEDs), the suicide bombers, and vehicle borne IEDs (VBIEDs), not to mention the persistent rocket and mortar attacks on all of our bases.
I pray that you will walk in the light of His Limitless Love on this day that He has created.