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A reminder of why we serve

By Staff | Jan 30, 2009

I recently had a very inspirational conversation with a member of the Iraqi Army. The Iraqi soldier shared with me his vivid memories of what it was like to live in the Saddam Hussein era, and why he recently joined the Iraqi Army.

In light of his circumstances, I think that this Iraqi soldier is one of the most courageous people I have ever met. His only motivation is to serve his country and earn a living for his family.

What is extraordinary about this soldier is that he and his fellow service members, and their families, are targeted every day by a small group of their own people. Needless to say, his position is much more dangerous than mine. Yet, he and his countrymen serve with the same valor, patriotism and personal integrity as do American service members.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

When I asked this soldier why he joined the army, his forehead creased thoughtfully.

“My family was persecuted under Saddam Hussein,” he said. Then, with a smile and an obvious feeling of pride and patriotism, he added, “I want to serve my country during its new birth of freedom.”

I connected with him when he made that statement. I thought of our Founders and all that they risked and endured to secure our independence and freedom. It is that same sense of patriotism and spirit of service that motivated me to join the Navy Reserve. Still, I was humbled by his words.

Our common spirit of service is not motivated by manipulation or self-promotion. It is fueled by love of country. We both are motivated by a desire to help others. As we say at the Rotary Club of Shepherdstown, “Service above self.”

My conversation with the Iraqi solder also caused me do some inner-reflecting and has given me a greater appreciation for what we have in America. We have it a lot better than much of the world.

My experience in Iraq has made me think differently about my relationships and friends. I think I will be a better husband, father, friend and citizen of the world because of my service here in Iraq. I’ve gained that appreciation for what really matters. You have to be the best person you can, while you can.

– Tom Maiden lives in Shepherdstown with his wife and four children. When not serving as a “Citizen Sailor,” Tom works part-time teaching insurance and financial planning at Shepherd University and owns a financial planning practice in Shepherdstown.