- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 2, 2010

My memories of Operation Iraqi Freedom are vivid and laced with contrasts. I remember on March 22, 2003, crossing into Iraq as a young captain with gas mask in hand as Tomahawk missiles screamed above our heads en route to their targets. Since that night, I have witnessed acts of destruction and reconstruction, acts of violence and acts that have improved peace and stability. I have seen evil and have been humbled by genuine human compassion.

I have served in many capacities during this seven-year campaign: battery commander, congressional liaison officer to the U.S. Senate, operational planner, and now as a task force executive officer transitioning authority to the Iraqis. I have fought and conducted numerous patrols in Najaf, Al Hilla, Karbala, Tal Afar and Mosul. I have served in Tikrit with the 25th Infantry Division as part of Multinational Division-North Headquarters and now at Joint Base Balad.

I recall a wise senior officer making a statement that continues to have a profound impact on my life. He said: “Everyone encounters a walk in the desert at some point in his life. … It is what you do in that time that will define who you are.”

Can you put a price on time away from one’s family; on years of missed holidays; post-traumatic stress disorder or loss of limbs, eyesight or loved ones? Most would agree that it will take decades to truly know how history will measure our success.

I humbly submit that I will always be proud of my “walks in the desert.” The relationships I have forged with the Iraqi Security Forces and Iraqi citizens are invaluable. And knowing that I have made my family proud and have been able to lead more than 800 men over multiple tours without a casualty has made my experiences in Iraq worth every moment.

MAJ. MARK B. SHERKEY

Executive officer, Task Force 2-11, U.S. Army

Balad, Iraq