A Very Real War

I have had many friends during my time in the military. They were and still are a courageous bunch, and I'm proud to know them. But there is one who I think of every time casualties are reported on the news. Captain Cecil Strickland is the C (Charlie) 1-26 Company Commander and was during the events in these articles. His emails about writing home to all the families of the men who died under his command makes these stories all the more gut-wrenching.

Cecil is one of the best men I have ever known - straight as an arrow, morally courageous, tough minded and yet deeply sensitive with a great love for the soldiers he is responsible for. His wife Betty is as equally strong as her husband. Betty is the anchor of support for the other wives in the unit that wait back at home in Germany (where Charlie Company is based out of). Cecil and Betty have two children - a boy, Stephen and a girl, Olivia who have had to share their father with the Army since they were born.

Cecil and I met at the University of Texas as ROTC cadets. We were both "prior service" meaning we had enlisted in the Army and spent some time at the bottom rung of the rank structure prior to our acceptance into one of the programs that trains enlisted soldiers to become officers. Wanting to both join the Infantry and having a strong sense of duty we became fast friends with a great deal of mutual respect for one another. As cadets we were confident, competent and just plain cocky. We liked to train hard and we dreamed of the day when we would get our commissions and it would all be for real. Like all soldiers we wanted to test ourselves in the extremes of combat. We wanted to know what we were made of. But our friendship wasn't always about the Army as we spent much of our time talking about how to balance all the elements of our lives - school, family, work and our future.

Admittedly, Cecil was always a much better soldier than me, which I always envied, but he always just wanted it more than me. We both were honor graduates from our class and went on to be Commandant List selections later at the Infantry Officer Basic Course. Beyond that our circumstances changed and I left the Army sooner than I wanted while Cecil stayed in. When I think back to all the conversations Cecil and I would have over endless pints of Guinness or between the lulls of a training exercise where we dreamed of our future careers I couldn't see any other life but the military for me, but God knew better. There was something else intended for me. But for Captain Cecil Strickland and his wife Betty God has placed the ultimate tests of strength and courage knowing they have the fortitude to carry out that mission.

It's going on six years since the war started and it seems that on a large scale the news from fighting has become white noise. I wonder how much people are paying attention to what is going on and who is dying? I'll admit I've been guilty of not paying attention myself, but it's not that I don't care. I have other reasons. The story of my friend and his unit give context to the reality of a war that may have lost it's way. What's important is that the soldiers and their families do not become lost in the white noise. Say a prayer for them and that with the coming elections the new leadership will salvage sacrifice and bring them home. You may or may not feel the same , and I mean no offense, but please take the time to read these stories. Most of us have no idea what it is like to be in their shoes and we never will, but they need our prayers and support none the less.

Pics: #1) Cecil as a cadet, Captain (now Major) Paul Shelton and myself. Then Cpt. Shelton was a cadre teacher for ROTC cadets as well as our class advisor, but for Stric and I he was also our friend and fellow hell-raiser. #2) Cecil and I conducting rope-bridge training for the underclassmen cadets. . . and having some fun at the same time. #3) Cecil and his wife Betty. Betty was already accustomed to military life before meeting her husband. They met & married when he was a precocious little airborne grunt and she was working near by up in Alaska. She's done a helluva job keeping her man in line as "Household 6."

The amazing story of Major Strickland and the heroic men he lead has been made into a book, The Fought For Each Other: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Hardest Hit Unit in Iraq. I guarantee the courage displayed in this book will both humble and shock you.

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