Faces of the war: Major Tim Marshall

Posted: Apr 19, 2006 12:05 AM
About two weeks ago, I met three servicemen (two majors and a lieutenant colonel) in a restaurant in Los Angeles. I approached them to thank them for their service, and we got into a long conversation about foreign policy, the media and the current unpopularity of the war on terror, particularly the war in Iraq. One of the majors, Sol Sukut, Officers Candidate School Battalion Officer in Charge of the 175th Regiment (Regional Training Institute), pinpointed what he saw as the source of popular dissatisfaction with the war. "I think the real problem here is that Americans don't see a face to this war," he told me. "Most Americans don't know or speak regularly with anyone currently serving in Iraq; they have to abide by what the mainstream media tells them."

He was right. The only faces of this war that Americans are seeing are the faces of tortured detainees at Abu Ghraib or of crying Iraqi children as tanks roll through to fight terrorists. The only pictures of American soldiers Americans see are headshots of the wounded or killed, or pictures of caskets. It's no wonder that support for the war is at an all-time low, despite the fact that Saddam Hussein has been deposed and captured, despite the fact that Iraqis have turned out in the millions to vote, despite the fact that rape rooms and mass murders have been stopped.

Without faces of the war, Americans are left in the dark. Maj. Sukut cited an incredibly offensive interview he saw on Chris Matthews' "Hardball" (MSNBC) with actor/comedian Richard Belzer. In that interview, Belzer claimed that asking troops in the field what they thought of the war was "bulls---," since it "doesn't mean [a soldier is] a brilliant scholar just because he's there. You think everyone over there is a college graduate? They're 19- and 20-year-old kids who couldn't get a job," Belzer sneered.

That conversation crystallized for me the importance of showing the American public just who our servicemen and women are. As Maj. Sukut put it, "Americans need to know about our new Greatest Generation." And so this column will be the first of a continuing series profiling the men and women currently serving in the armed forces, their families and the civilian contractors working in Iraq. Their day-to-day heroism is what keeps us safe; they do us honor and credit every day. The mundane details and regular jobs they carry out protect us. Their ordinary is our extraordinary.

The inaugural face of the war is Major Tim Marshall of the 3rd Infantry Division. A native Texan, Maj. Marshall has served for 14 years and just returned from a one-year tour of duty in Iraq. Maj. Marshall joined the service because "it was just something I had to do. As a citizen, I felt I had to give something back." He's not an uneducated boob, as Belzer insists our troops are. Maj. Marshall graduated from Vanderbilt University with two degrees; the Army paid his way through the University. But he wasn't an underprivileged kid seduced by the promise of full tuition and then subjected to the rigors of war: Maj. Marshall's father has been in the insurance business for 30 years and eventually became a vice president at Lincoln Financial Group.

As a military planner, Maj. Marshall works from morning until evening crafting operations, debriefing and then recrafting. He isn't starry-eyed about our mission in Iraq. "Iraq is a Third World country, no doubt about it," says Maj. Marshall. "It will take a very long time for them to reach Western standards. But," he insists, "we are building a democracy there and creating, if not an ally, then at least a country that will fit within a circle of countries who are not actively opposed to us." There's also no question that the mainstream media is sensationalist: "Sensationalism sells. Whether I read newspapers or watch CNN, it's very clear that they're sensationalizing everything."

Like most other servicemen with whom I've spoken, Maj. Marshall cites as his best experience the bond with his fellow troops -- "the camaraderie is the best part about serving" -- and, as his worst experience, the distance from his family. Maj. Marshall is married with three children.

Currently stationed in the United States, Maj. Marshall is scheduled to return to Iraq this fall. How does he feel about returning? "I dread to leave my family again, but I look forward to the mission and feel it's my duty to go back."