This past Sunday, the Marine Unit that I was embedded with in November of last year in Fallujah, Alpha Company 1/24, returned home to the Midwest. An overwhelming crowd of 6000 people met them at the DeltaPlex Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Friends, family and patriotic Americans turned out to show their appreciation for the Marines. I was not able to attend the homecoming, but got this description from their Commanding Officer Major Dan Whisnant:

It was way beyond what any of us would have expected! The procession of vehicles and motorcycles was over 6 miles long when we left the airport for the DeltaPlex! Just simply amazing!

Their unit like so many others exemplify the very best of what our nation has to offer. I have written on numerous occasions here of their courage, determination and accomplishments. And it would take far too long to list them all here now – not to mention the countless acts of bravery and self-sacrifice that have occurred in the months since I left them.

I’ve been thinking of them the last few days as I long to see many of them again to thank them in person and see how they are doing. It cannot be easy to return at time when the nation, or at least Washington, is so divided over the issue of the war in Iraq.

One need only look at today’s news to see how great the divide has become.

First, the major news is that we may or may not have stood up Sunni tribal leaders to take down the Al Qaeda leader in Iraq – Abu Ayyub Al-Masri. Second, it is the fourth anniversary of President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech on an aircraft carrier. Few Democrats in Washington failed to take the opportunity to highlight that publicity blunder given the current state of security in Iraq. And third, the news by the end of the day appears to be a veto by the President of the Democrats’ Iraq supplemental bill which effectively would initiate the first steps in ending the war by setting a timeline for withdrawal.

In the war of words, compare the audio caught on C-SPAN of Sen. Joe Biden at a campaign stop in SC telling people that he intends to “shove it (the Iraq bill) down his (Bush’s) throat,” with an Op-Ed in the NYT by a Reserve Marine Major Owen West who writes, “It’s time for those who are against the war in Iraq to consider the probable consequences of withdrawal.”

Maj West also writes, “It’s hard for a soldier like me to reconcile a political jab like Sen. Harry Reid’s ‘this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything’ when it’s made in front of a banner that reads ‘Support Our Troops.’”

Major West served in the Anbar province from where the men and women of Alpha Company 1/24 have just returned. And I am sure that they have their own opinions of what they think about a possible withdrawal and what effect it would have on the situation there. I suspect too that some may be disheartened to see the fruits of their hard work and sacrifice so quickly jeopardized by uncertainty if a withdrawal is to begin soon.

I read today that three WWII Veterans in Colorado were boarding a flight to Normandy to return to the scene when they had stormed the beaches. Europe is, of course, a flourishing democracy today, and I imagine for these aging warriors it may be their last opportunity for closure. I imagine too that for them it will be a very emotional moment and a reflective time of pride – and loss.

I hope that unlike the recent comparisons to Vietnam, the end result of the war in Iraq will someday be compared to WWII. And the Middle East will be a region of peace, stability and freedom. But the history books are still being written as we are living in interesting and dangerous times.

Regardless, I hope that we will always look with great admiration to the many brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and marines like the men of Alpha Company 1/24 – and say “thank you for your service.” Undoubtedly, were it not for them, we would have little hope for securing our nation’s future.

Welcome Home, Alpha Company.