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Remembering Ramadi

9:14 AM, May 17, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Lawrence Kaplan writes in the Wall Street Journal:

When death came to Ramadi, it came, as any unwanted guest, to stay. It took a bleached, sand-blown landscape and flooded it red. It seized one Army brigade after another, gutting the ranks so deeply that, between my embeds with the First Armored Division's First Brigade Combat Team (1/1) in Iraq, it carved in granite a quarter of the names in my email inbox. It claimed so many lives and mangled so many others that, even now, on what ought to be the eve of the team's fifth anniversary reunion, the brigade's commander, then-Col. Sean MacFarland, cannot tote them up.

So, no, Brig. Gen. MacFarland's decision to call off the reunion celebration did not astound me. With nearly 100 of his soldiers killed and 500 wounded in eight months, I didn't know how many would (or could) summon the will for a jamboree to cast a glance backward. Instead, from his living room on the bank of the Missouri River, Brig. Gen. MacFarland and I—soldier and civilian, the neatly-ordered student of logic and the disheveled embodiment of what he defends—hold a micro-reunion.

Vacations, kids, work: Brig Gen. MacFarland credits his bare list of RSVPs to the routines that saddle us all. I pin the blame on what is being celebrated. That is, we pick up our argument where we left it five years ago. Not even the 7,000 miles that separate America and Iraq can measure the distance between us, or between the officer corps and the country it serves. In Iraq, the U.S. mission entailed complex operational schemes and thorny moral dilemmas. In the journalist's notebook, the U.S. mission required easy certainties and narrative simplicity.

Where I saw only mayhem in Ramadi, Col. MacFarland saw method and a path forward. One day, as we visited a local sheikh, the sheikh's radio crackled with panicked tribesmen under siege. "We'll bring in air," Col. MacFarland assured the sheikh, who was so busy shouting and being shouted at that it wasn't clear he actually heard the lanky, soft-spoken colonel. "So, um, get your men inside."

Whole thing here

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