Our Service to Country and to Each Other

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By Matt Oberdorfer

During five combat deployments across Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya I spent some of my time leading and some of my time following, but I spent my entire time serving. But my fellow Marines and I didn't just serve our country, we served each other, not just our superiors, nor our equals, but those below us in rank as well.

Marines serve our general, and we serve the Lance Corporal on the front lines. We fight through the fog of war and bravely advance in the most challenging of conditions. We will be damned if we are going to let our general down, and we will be damned if we are going to let down a 19-year-old Marine. We take our service to each other seriously, and we can be fierce in our effort to do well for one another. That spirit holds true forever. It extends to all those who served alongside us, to all my fellow Americans at home, and to those who are denied the fundamental freedoms I fought to protect.

On this Veterans Day, I want to especially call attention to the Iraqi and Afghan men and women that fought alongside the U.S. military as interpreters. These brave individuals brought critical skills and key local knowledge that kept me and my fellow servicemembers safe and made our efforts fruitful. Because they fought for democracy and aided U.S. efforts against terrorism, they are seen as traitors in the eyes of terrorist organizations. In acknowledgement of the risk they took to serve our nation, the United States created the Special Immigrant Visa program to bring these interpreters and their families safely to our shores. But they are still being left behind.

In September, President Trump’s Administration set the cap on U.S. refugee admissions at 45,000, a historically low level. In October, it issued a new executive order that effectively torpedoed the refugee resettlement program through a series of unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles. These changes will delay the process for thousands of refugees and their families, including some of the men and women who risked everything for us because they believed in our mission and because we promised that we would take care of them. It will delay or prevent some from reuniting with their families. And it is not hyperbole to suggest that for some, these delays could be a death sentence.

Denying refuge to the world’s most vulnerable people is a gross moral and strategic failure. This is especially true when the people we’re turning our back on are those who advanced shoulder-to-shoulder with us, looking out for the men and women by their side as well as any Marine would. We have abandoned interpreters before in Vietnam, and the moral stain was left for our servicemembers to bear. We should not repeat that mistake.

We should also bear in mind that we are a decade and a half into war in Afghanistan. With the fight continuing, the safety of our troops and success of our missions depend on the willingness of local interpreters to work alongside us. What kind of message are we sending by abandoning them? By abandoning their families? We are signaling that the United States does not make good on its word, and we are feeding into terrorist propaganda. These are messages that make us less safe, not more.

On this Veterans Day, I ask that we honor veterans by not forgetting these men and women. Let’s be fierce in our service to our country, to each other, and to all the men and women who share our American ideals. Start by calling on our political leaders to increase the refugee cap to ensure that we do not leave our Iraqi and Afghan interpreters behind.

 

Matt Oberdorfer is a U.S. Marine veteran who served combat deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. He is leader with Veterans for American Ideals and lives in Tampa, FL.

 

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