I'm proud to be an American. I'm proud of my country: its government, its ideals, its military--especially its military.
I grew up with a love for the armed forces. I loved G.I. Joe, watching F-16 fighter jets take off from an air force base near my home and reading Black Hawk Down while my classmates were into Harry Potter. It's difficult to say whether that was just a boyish fascination or a deeper sense of patriotism and national pride.
As I got older and more capable of understanding something abstract as patriotism, I didn't lose my affinity for our nation's armed forces. The boyish fascination transformed to the idealistic support for and devotion to our government and military. As a self-described patriotic American, it became easy to justify the costs of our ongoing War on Terror from the safety of my Ohio high school, and, later, university.
But as I found out early on in my time in Iraq with PLC, it's much more difficult to view every inhabitant of this ancient land as potential terrorists when each man you meet is nicer than the last. It's much more difficult to think you understand a culture when it continually defies your expectations. And it's much more difficult to justify the costs of war while sitting face to face with a young boy with a deadly heart defect which- if not directly related to chemical weapons used during Desert Storm or the Iraq War - cannot get surgery as a result of years of infrastructure damage and nationwide sanctions.
Don't expect me to say I've abandoned my love for America or my support for our military. My blood still boils when someone questions the motives of our military or insists our leaders use lies to justify their foreign policy. But I would say the time I've spent here in Iraq has completely destroyed any sense of a black-and-white answer to patriotism. My time living shoulder-to-shoulder with Kurds and Arabs has probably left me with more questions than answers. But that's a good thing.