The Leader’s Lesson
by Clint Goodwin
The first thing I think of about war is how a man discovers his ability to lead under deadly circumstances. No reasonable thinking, mature adult can truly understand war nor their ability to cope until they experience the last breath taken by themselves or their brothers in arms. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was ordered to a leadership role in-country. I willingly accepted the assignment with no break in thought, while living in a place that combat brethren in-country called “Sanctuary Ops.” A term not meant to be disrespectful to those serving countless hours in agency cubicles and offices supporting the war, however, there is a huge difference when one can’t take a federal holiday off from their weapon and boots in the sandbox.
How does one know if they can lead in war? You don’t know until you are there. The books talk to the decisions, but not to the person’s DNA. I can attest that one does not know how they will react when presented with multi-dimensional situations where the bullets, shrapnel, smell, and fear are real to the senses. For me, I had legitimate insights. My brother and I had the benefit of growing up with two “men” who fought during two wars; WWI and WWII. I always complained about the Viet Cong during the ‘60s. I told my father I wanted to go to Vietnam. Using a stern voice and serious piercing blues eyes, that man looked at me and said, “Son, you have no idea what you are talking about.” Thirty years later, I experienced what he was talking about. While in Iraq, I witnessed the horrific, insane, unpredictable nature of a mankind that rears its ugly head when life and death is at stake.
One death of many came. The poignant moment I will never forget, amongst the countless unwanted memories stuck in the recesses of my mind, is the day my friend did not show up for lunch. I appreciated the friendship, camaraderie, and trust I had with Colonel L. One late morning, I asked Colonel T, with a smile of my face, “Where is my battle buddie?” His eyes changed to sorrow as he calmly said, “Clint, he is dead.” Three days later we were having a closed circuit video feed with my friend’s wife and two teenage sons. I can’t count the tears that fell that day. My heart hardened. I walked in the desert searching for an answer. I looked up and said to my father, “Why? I now understand you.” I did not know what I was talking about then, but now I know one thing, there is no damn good reason for one drop of American blood to fall on foreign soil not willing to sustain the soles of our boots. No one wants war. I have known death and wish to never see war again. I leave with one comment. A young sailor crossed my path in Norfolk. He saluted me and said, “Excuse me, sir. Did you just get back from Iraq?” I said, “I did son.” In a higher pitched voice, the young sailor said, “I just got back from Kuwait, I had a great tour.” I looked down at him and denied the anger welling up in my chest. I calmly replied, “There is no damn good thing about Americans dying over there. None. Remember that son.” The sailor went his way and I went mine.
Clint Goodwin served in United States Navy, both active and reserve, for over thirty years. He enlisted in the navy as Seaman Recruit; he retired as a Commander. Clint served during the Cold War, Desert Storm, Balkans, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, with one tour in Iraq as senior naval officer. Clint served in both operational and intelligence capacities in the Navy, and now with the US Department of Homeland Security, and is a writer and published author. He lives in Virginia with his wife Karen and two dogs, Yank and Dixie.