Why I served: Reflections after a tour in Iraq

While in high school I made a decision, on a whim, to join the military. I was asked countless times by teachers and friends why I was choosing not to join my peers in the world of academia and why I would volunteer for what was widely considered a pointless war over oil and government dishonesty.

In the months leading up to boot camp, I could never come up with an answer as to what caused me to raise my right hand on that chilly morning in Portland and swear an oath to protect this country from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Six years passed, and I turned in my military-issued equipment and permanently put away my camouflage uniforms in the closet. However, the memories, both good and bad, will always be with me.

Reflecting on these memories, handfuls are ingrained into my thoughts and are still as vivid as the moment they happened. The feeling of intense heat the first time I stepped of a troop transport plane in central Iraq. The sounds of bullets screaming though the air above our heads while attempting to clear an insurgent stronghold. And the hugs and tears from family and friends as I safely stepped foot on solid ground, back in Oregon.

Over the past six years, I have developed a list of reasons why I joined the military. It's easier to write than to speak my reasons, so this is why I served:

I served for those that call me son, brother, cousin, grandchild, nephew, godfather, friend, soldier, brother in arms, Specialist Rider, and some names that can't be repeated in polite company.

I served for the sailors who perished at Pearl Harbor; the Marines who were attacked in Beirut; the soldiers betrayed at Fort Hood; and the police officers, firemen and civilians who laid down their lives on Sept. 11.

I served for those who came before me and served by my side and those who will be privileged enough to join the best military in the world in the future.

I served to see the smile on the faces of Iraqi families as we removed insurgent strongholds from their homes and returned commerce to their communities.

I served for those who call me a hero, even though I know I'm not.

I served for Staff Sgt. Donnie Dixon, a great soldier who failed to return to his family while protecting the country he loved.

I served for those who made the ultimate sacrifice and those they left behind to pick up the pieces and attempt to rebuild their lives.

I served to protect my family, my fellow service members, my president, my country and my God.

Why did I volunteer to wear the uniform of the United States of America, knowing I was going to war?

Easy: I did it for everyone who benefits from the freedom granted by this great nation.

Kirby Rider, a former journalist with the Oregon Army National Guard, served in Iraq from 2007 to 2008 during the height of the surge. He is the case manager at the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program through Easter Seals Oregon in Medford.

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