I have known him since he was born and now this baby-child-boy-man is going off to war.
Once a wise-cracking "authority" on the Titanic, Daniel Dobson aspired to a career in politics that he imagined might lead him to become governor of Michigan. Now 19, Daniel has taken a different road, motivated not by self-interest, but by those old-fashioned virtues - duty, honor, country - that appear to many to have gone on extended leave:.
He didn't have to join the National Guard and request assignment to a unit already in Iraq. I ask him why he chose this road and not the one of self-indulgence taken by many of his peers. Why would he put his own young life in jeopardy, causing anxiety to his parents, two older siblings and friends?
He refers me to "The Seven Army Values" and focuses especially on the fourth one, "Selfless Service," which the Army defines as "putting the welfare of the nation, the Army and your unit before your own." In an age when many think self-service means pumping your own gas, "selfless service" increasingly resembles an endangered species.
"I cannot pretend to be a soldier if I cannot live by all the Army values," Daniel writes on his last day in Grand Rapids. "I volunteered for service in Iraq while my unit was deployed to Iraq and I was able to go with them. I like the soldiers in my unit like my family."
Daniel isn't Rambo. His humanity comes through in this sentence: "On some level, I think I'm crazy for doing this. However, from the standpoint of a soldier going to war, this is what I am supposed to do."
Daniel reminds me, an Army veteran, that the Army not only has a set of values, but a creed. In our increasingly narcissistic age, this will sound almost foreign to some, but essential to many others:
"I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier."
So, again I ask him why is he going to Iraq, leaving family who love him, college for now and the track that most young men (and women) take at this stage of their lives? Why is he abandoning a safe house and a protected future for a lion's den, defying death as did his biblical namesake, when Iraq - then Babylon - was ruled by an earlier tyrant, King Nebuchadnezzar, whom Saddam Hussein embraced as his role model?
Daniel's answer should make not only his parents, brother and sister proud, but all Americans grateful: "I am an American soldier and soldiers fight wars."
There are many "Daniels" fighting to protect liberty for Americans and extend its blessings to others who have never known it. Daniel and his fellow soldiers deserve our prayers and support. How is it that we seem to have lost so much of what this young man embodies?
The other six Army Values also describe Daniel: "Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Honor, Integrity, Personal Courage."
Perhaps, with values like these, after he comes home he might eventually become the governor of Michigan. Or a professor specializing in Titanic history.