Monday, November 14, 2011

A thank you note

2LT Peter Haskell Burks was KIA in Baghdad, Iraq on November 14, 2007.

In May of 2008, we sent the following letter to thousands that had so honored Pete and so touched our family. It seems fitting to share it again as the circle of support has continued to grow.

To the thousands of you that have sent your love, support, letters, hugs, time, cards, boxes for the troops, phone calls, donations, flowers, blogs and emails,

Thank you.

You have encouraged us. You have reminded us of the strength of love, friendship and love of country. You have honored Peter’s life and his sacrifice. You have continued Peter’s legacy of service and giving. We have been in the middle of a circle of love that has amazed us. “It is the most beautiful experience we hope no one else has to go through.”

Peter inspired us all because he talked the talk and walked the walk. If you will indulge me, let me expound.

Peter was a solid athlete, but not the greatest athlete ever to walk the earth. He knew that.

But he had as good a heart as any competitor could have. He valued a team win more than anything. And he would work until he puked his guts out to make it happen. That is why he was awarded the “Unsung Hero” award by his high school football coaches.

And that is why we created the “Peter Burks Unsung Hero Fund” in his honor. The fund was created because immediately after learning of his death, we were confronted by the questions of “flowers or donations”. Nothing wrong with flowers, because they are remembered and they do comfort. But with no better idea, we created the “Peter Burks Unsung Hero Fund” with the purpose of carrying on Peter’s legacy.

He told us time and again that his job was to get his men home safe. Peter also felt a bit guilty because he had a strong support network that many of his soldiers did not have. His guys were excited when mail call came because Pete seemed to always be receiving some goodies from home that he would share. Just before he was killed, Peter had sent an email to Missy asking for help in gathering supplies of goodies that his men didn’t get from home or couldn’t get from the PX.

Since then, thru the fund and on your own, you have shown Peter and the other soldiers that we support them unconditionally. We have sent over three tons of love in the form of snacks, videogames, toothbrushes, etc. We have sent so much love that the Chaplain for Peter’s unit has set up a store where the troops can come in and “shop” for free. There stands now in the Green Zone in Baghdad something called the “Burks Country Store”. It opened on Christmas Eve. Hundreds of soldiers have been the beneficiaries of your love and support, and the store will continue to be restocked and expanded as we continue to be able to support it.

Peter joined the Army of his own choice. Peter had felt a calling to serve his country via the military since he was a very young man. Peter had choices amongst the branches of the military, and he chose the Army.

Peter was a student of world history. He understood the current global conflict because he understood its roots from ancient times.

In America today, we have a professional military. In other words, the men and women that serve do so of their own choosing. Their reasons vary: love of country, money for college, a taste for violence, the camaraderie, avoiding the lifeless soul of corporate work or a thousand other reasons. Peter was a professional soldier. He knew going in that one of the truisms was that, “the country will send you where it needs you and you die if necessary”. Peter understood that. He told us that. He wrote us that. Do not feel sorry for Peter Burks. He died doing what he believed in and doing a job that he loved.

And, he is not alone. As of this writing, over 4000 American soldiers have died in Iraq.

Also, do not feel sorry for Peter because he lived a life fulfilled. At 26, he accomplished what he wanted. He loved unconditionally and was loved unconditionally. He met his life mate. He fought for what he believed in. He had fun. He had convictions, he lived them, and he is at peace knowing that he never compromised.

Not surprisingly, Peter died with no debt. Specifically, no financial debt. So far as I can tell, Peter owed no other debts either. He had told the people he loved that he loved them. He told the people he disagreed with that he disagreed with them. He lived his passions. He wasn’t looking over his shoulder when death came to meet him.

Peter’s life was one of selflessness. He lived for others. He died for others. His role model was Jesus of Nazareth. Whether or not you believe that Jesus was the Christ, the life history of Jesus is not disputed. Peter, as Jesus, was a net giver. He gave much more than he took.

Peter was a young man raised on Southern cooking, Christian principles and the love of a good fair fight. Like football. He was not the least bit concerned that the possibility of winning or losing might hurt someone’s feelings. He believed in the concept of “iron sharpening iron”. Competing with and against the best could only make one better.

Upon graduation from Officer Candidate School, Peter was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant and went on to Field Artillery School and Ranger School. He was then assigned to the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. Once, the Cavalry rode horses. Today, the Cavalry rides Strykers. One of the Army’s newest vehicles, it is both an armed personnel carrier and a lethal strike weapon equipped with a number of powerful guns.

Peter was sent first to Taji and then to Baghdad and was the leader of Thunder Platoon, Palehorse Troop, 4th Squadron, 2nd Stryker Brigade. He was put in charge of 17 soldiers including veteran Sergeants and fresh graduates of basic training, 3 Stryker vehicles, and two Iraqi interpreters. Peter told us time and again that his job was to deal with the enemy, complete his missions, but above all, get his men home safe.

Their mission was to patrol and keep safe a sector of Baghdad that had been previously cleared out of insurgents by other Stryker units. They believed their sector to be one of the safest in Baghdad.

On November 14, Peter was leading his platoon back to their base in the Green Zone in Baghdad after a night out on patrol. The three Strykers were within a few yards of entering the gate to the Green Zone. They were literally getting ready to turn into their driveway. They were directly in front of the Iraqi police station there that is intended to ensure safety for military, local Iraqis, and the media in the area.

At about 8am, an EFMP (explosively formed penetrator) was detonated just to the right of Peter’s vehicle. The EFMP was a cluster of 5 bombs hidden in a light pole. The bombs sent white hot liquefied copper into and around the Stryker. Peter was standing in the right rear hatch with his shoulders outside the vehicle looking out for his platoon. There were five soldiers in Peter’s vehicle. Almost all were knocked unconscious by the power of the explosion. The shrapnel hit three soldiers. One was blinded in at least one eye. One has hit in the leg. And Peter took a chunk of the shrapnel into the right side of his head which penetrated his brain, and caused his death.

We know that the soldier blinded is doing ok and is back in the U.S. getting treatment at Walter Reed. The soldier with the leg injury is in Germany. The rest of the soldiers were back on patrol within a few days.

The EFMP was made in Iran. This was no coffee can of nuts and bolts. This was a sophisticated device that the enemy has learned to make that now trumps our technology. The Stryker was built to be impenetrable. It isn’t.

Who placed the EFMP? Well, certainly the police in that station were involved. We will probably never know for sure, but the only group to claim responsibility is JAMI. You can look them up on the internet. They are an Islamic group vowed to kill any occupiers of Iraq by non-Muslims. They are not directly owned by al Qaeda, but they are inspired by al Qaeda. They are Iraqi nationalists that are bound to fight to the death to protect Iraq, the second most holy country in all of Islam, from foreign occupation. There have also been fingers pointed at Shiite militias. We will probably never know and never understand the exact motive.

Peter understood the madness that exists in Iraq and the Middle East. He had read the script provided by the book that he encouraged us all to read, “Imperial Hubris” by Michael Scheuer. He considered Mr. Scheuer and Col. Ralph Peters as heroes because they dared to speak the truth about the world war that “radical Islam” has ordered against the United States and what we must do to survive and win this war.

Peter died a soldier’s death. He was on his mission as directed by his commanders and was doing his best to protect his men.

So, what? What do we all learn from this? What should we do?

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but here are some thoughts on “what”:

-That we are at war. That there are soldiers that have volunteered to fight the fight. Real men and women with families fighting a strange war in a scary place. Show them you appreciate them in any way you can.

-That the war in Iraq is being mismanaged as it has been since its outset. We went to war over WMDs. Then we were about regime change. Then we were into spreading democracy. Now it is a fight with al Qaeda.

-That our government, our military leaders, and our soldiers on the ground cannot say clearly what the mission in Iraq is.

-That our enemy does not respect the Geneva Convention or any other convention of war. They fight to achieve their objectives, just as the Japanese did in the South Pacific in World War II. They observe no rules. They wear no uniforms. Our military is required to fight as if they did. How does one separate a jihadist from the other populace?

One of the issues that Peter was concerned about are our Rules of Engagement. That is a fancy way of saying how our military must fight. For example, if our military sees an enemy sniper shooting at U.S. soldiers, we can shoot him if he is behind his gun with his finger on the trigger. But, if the sniper gets up and starts running, we cannot shoot him. We have to try to arrest him. Make sense to you?

We are playing into our enemy’s hands. They know our rules, and they take advantage. They kill our soldiers with barbaric ferocity. Yet, our soldiers are restricted in their response. The enemy knows of our political correctness, and takes advantage of it. They know our freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and they are taking advantage of those. They know how to use the internet and the media to spread terror. They show beheadings on their websites. Our media doesn’t show us the burned U.S. soldiers’ bodies hanging from a bridge over the Tigris for concern it will upset us. WE SHOULD BE UPSET. AND WE WOULD BE IF WE SAW WHAT WAS REALLY HAPPENING.

They can behead our soldiers. They can behead an entire group that does not agree with them.

Yet, if one of our soldiers in the heat of battle puts a bullet in the head of an enemy soldier, he can be called out for a criminal act.

We are in a world war called by radical Islam, as directed by Osama bin Laden. We didn’t declare it. Islam, under the call of Osama bin Laden, declared it. If you will read books such as “Imperial Hubris” and “The Looming Tower”, you will understand why bin Laden has declared war on us. Radical Islam has also attacked on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. Apparently the penguins haven’t offended them. Yet.

As Americans, we need to come to grips with this.

Peter disagreed with our strategies in dealing with the Global War on Terror, but he signed up and went nevertheless.

This letter is a call to you to get informed and get involved. Support our troops. Support our politicians, but challenge their policies and strategies. Why do we have such a presence in Iraq if we believe that the real issue is in Afghanistan? Could it be that Iraq has lots of oil and Afghanistan has none?

Those who have studied this conflict with Islam predict that it is going to eventually be fought on U.S. soil unless we change our strategies.

Peter is dead. If he were alive, he would be saying this. Take the battle to the enemy. Kill them. Punish them until they give. Let us as Americans be so smart and brave as to be totally independent of foreign soil for anything. Including, but specifically, oil.

Peter wanted to live the American dream. He wanted to marry his love, Melissa “Missy” Haddad. He wanted a house with a white picket fence, kids and dogs running around the yard.

Well, as much as he deserved it, he didn’t get to live out his dream.

Was it his fault? Was it the fault of a poorly executed mission? Was it the fault of a poorly thought out American strategy? Was it the result of our laziness and dependence on cheap oil?

What we know is that Peter was killed by shrapnel from an Iranian made explosive device detonated by Iraqi police outside the Green Zone in Baghdad.

How and why did he and that bomb get into that place at the same time? That is a question we must ask on behalf of our soldiers and for America in this world conflict. Was it worth it? What did this gain us as a country? Are we safer because of this sacrifice?

Friends, we are at a precipice.

We are at war because radical Islam under the banner of Osama bin Laden has declared it.

Until the United States has a strategy and the willpower to deal with this as a military conflict rather than a police action, we will continue to lose soldiers while the enemy gains strength.

In our attempt to continue Peter’s legacy, we urge you to get educated on the issues that have created this conflict. We encourage you to continue to support the troops in any way you can. We stress that this is not the military’s issue alone, it is your issue as well.

We urge you to get educated, get involved, and take a stand.

For all that you have done and continue to do for Peter and for us, thank you. Your prayers bring peace. Your thoughts bring strength. Your voices bring comfort.

God is with us. Peter is with us. Love is with us.

“No matter the circumstance, we must remember that we are under the control of a good God who loves us very much.”

-email from Pete to Missy in November, 2007

With love and gratitude,

The Burks Family

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