The following is a letter written by Marine Sergeant Josh Mandel, who served with the 1st LAR in Iraq, to his parents on the eve of his return from the Middle East. 

Dear Mom and Dad,
I've been looking forward to the day when I could tell you that this is the last letter I'll be writing you from Iraq. Well, this is the last letter I'll be writing you from Iraq!!! Ahhhhhhh...that felt good.




I hope all's well at home and by the time this arrives you'll be packing up for, or en route to, Camp Pendleton. I can't wait to see you and hug and hug and hug you and then get some real food!  It's been an eye-opening seven months and a time in my life that will undoubtedly affect who I am the rest of my life. Someone who wrote me put it well by saying, "The person you become will always be shaped by your experience now." He was a Marine in Vietnam and his words have stuck in my head.

Iraq has changed the way I see the world and painted a clearer picture of how the world sees me as an American. Even though I didn't think it was possible, my love for our country and pride to wear this uniform is even greater today than it was when we boarded those birds seven months ago yesterday. Serving here, under the same flag that Papa Harold fought for and that Papa Joe yearned for, has been an incredible honor and privilege. I'm not sure when this fight will be over, but I am sure that it's just and for a good cause. As I wrote you earlier, I hope the American people will be able to stomach the sacrifice required to accomplish this complicated mission of destroying terrorism and developing democracy. Both of those tasks will take time, but I remain confident that at the end of the day, America will once again succeed. Living out here hasn't bee the epitome of pleasantness (understatement), but it's all been made easier to endure by the incredible and very generous support from home. Along those lines and on behalf of my entire Platoon, I'd appreciate you telling our family and friends how much their love, words, and goodies have impacted us.

I've tried my best to thank people who've supported us in so many different ways. Given our limited free time, I haven't been able to respond to much of the mail that's come in. However, I want everyone to know that whatever they sent, be it a postcard with a New York hot dog vendor on the front (Mara Leventhal) or a bottomless box of spirit boosters, they contributed to our mission and morale in a very important way. This past week the battalion chaplain gave us a talk called the "warrior transition brief." It was about adjusting back to life in the states and all the things that come along with interacting with civilians, vs. Marines 24/7. As you might imagine, many of the Devil Dogs in the audience were rolling eyes, but it actually gave me a good feeling that he was giving this brief.

I don't foresee myself having any trouble adjusting back, but who knows? Some of my fellow Marines who are not too far out of high school have been pretty shaken up out here, and it's good to know that the Corps is being proactive about keeping them from whacking out when we reach the land of fast cars, alcohol, girlfriends, family, and most of all, freedom.

But just to give you a heads up, if I tell you I have to make a head call and you see me going out to the back yard with a shovel, you have my permission to smack me around. Or if we sit down for a nice meal and I'm done with dessert before the rest of the table has finished their soup, you have my permission to give me a sharp under-the-table kick (to the shin, not groin). Or if we're driving down the street and I stop the car to inspect every garbage bag on a tree lawn, you have my permission to place me in the trunk. Well, you get the picture. But don't worry, I'm coming back just fine upstairs (or as my beloved Corps calls it, my "brain housing group").

A while back I wrote you about one of my fellow Marines who played us a recording of his baby's heartbeat sent from his pregnant wife. That Marine is about to become a dad any day now and we're all pretty excited for him. In a way, it's situations like that that remind us who and what we're fighting for.

My who and what is made up of many memories of home and many hopes for America. Within that is you and the way in which you've always been there for me as parents. You've taught me to treat people with kindness and respect and have instilled me with an appreciation and love for family. You raised me to want to serve my country and for that I'll always be grateful.

I have to end this letter now, so farewell from the other side of the globe. Please travel safe out to California and tell Rachel the same coming from Chicago. I love you and miss you and can't wait to see you.  Signing off from the big sandbox and looking forward to the big reunion at Camp Pendleton.

Your loving son,

Josh

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