I'm not really the type of person to get hung up on dates but January 3rd is difficult. On January 3rd, 2008, after already spending 28 years on this planet, I became a very different person. I watched my best friend and battle buddy, Tom Casey, fall down to a sniper bullet.
I was in a vehicle with a mounted machine gun. The team leader, Major Olmsted, was lying motionless in the field in front of us. Will Beaver was above me on the gun bleeding from a bullet wound to his face. He still managed to keep the snipers' heads down with sustained fire.
I passed him up a gauze pack to hold against his cheek. He jumped down quickly to get on our communication computer and called for medical evacuation.
Our interpreter was pinned down outside. He ran under sniper fire to the Iraqi Army vehicle we had been escorting and moved them to pick up Andy Olmsted. It was one of the bravest things I've ever witnessed. We circled our gun trucks around Tom. Tom was a tall and strong man. He was not easy to load into the truck.
I had tunnel vision as we drove away from the battlefield. After traveling a few miles, a helicopter got to us and picked up Andy. Will got out and jumped in the bird. Another teammate replaced Will in my truck and told me that Andy's body was cold when they loaded him.
That night a helicopter landed in the middle of a base-wide ceremony. I escorted Tom on a stretcher underneath an American flag. The ride to Balad was maudlin and long. When we landed I saluted Tom one last time and hitchhiked to the field hospital to see Will.
Will smiled when I came in. His face was swollen and wrapped in foam tape. We joked around a little bit until I knew he was in good spirits. I then thanked him for keeping us alive and told him he is the bravest man I've ever met. I left his room and wouldn't see him again until months later when we returned to Fort Riley and the division pinned a Silver Star to his chest.
I am glad we live in a country where those experiences are rare. Before that day I had been an affable young military officer looking to prove myself in combat. After that day I wanted nothing more than to ensure my son would never have to experience the same thing. I became mortal. I became serious. I had watched my friends give their lives for something greater than themselves. I was proud to have known them and I was sad to have lost them.
I don't think about Iraq every day but it's changed who I am everyday. It made it more important to me to follow the campsite rule. "Leave it better than you found it."
I am very worried about the direction of our county. In one month, Iowa has a very important duty to this nation. We will select the finalists that will lead our nation for the next decade. Please participate. Don't just caucus. Do your homework. Find the bold leader that will actually make a difference. Recruit supporters and help them get elected.
On January 20, 2017 a new president will take the oath of office. Let's elect one that we know honors and understands the sacrifices of our nation. One who has the forethought to actually prioritize our children against the political expediency of right now. One who will leave our nation better than they found it. Find your caucus location at www.iowagop.org
--John Thompson of Jefferson is a graduate of West Point and Harvard University. He serves on the State Central Committee for the Republican Party of Iowa. Opinions are his own. John_kurt_thompson@yahoo.com or FB at John Thompson for Iowa