Pete Hegseth: I’m with the warfighters — Count me out of second-guessing our heroes

The target was an “Al Qaeda cell” in a Baghdad house in the dead of night—with an unknown number of military-aged males inside. The intelligence was good, but not great.

That night, we landed via Blackhawk helicopters with night vision goggles and raided the house. Not much went as planned.

The BOLO (“Be On The Lookout”) suicide vehicle that day was a white Toyota—the most common vehicle in our area.

TRUMP PAYS RESPECT TO MILITARY DEAD AT ARLINGTON AHEAD OF MEMORIAL DAY

We left the gates of our base in a column of Humvees, with our heads on a swivel. Every passing car a possible threat.

We scanned the road for roadside bombs. Sometimes bombs went off, sometimes they didn’t.

Sometimes we made the right call, sometimes not.

FILE -- June 19, 2008: A U.S. soldier secures the road while Major-General Mark Hertling, the commander of the U.S. forces in northern Iraq, holds a joint battlefield circulation patrol with U.S. and Iraqi soldiers on the streets in Mosul. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz 

FILE -- June 19, 2008: A U.S. soldier secures the road while Major-General Mark Hertling, the commander of the U.S. forces in northern Iraq, holds a joint battlefield circulation patrol with U.S. and Iraqi soldiers on the streets in Mosul. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz 

The masked Iraqi informant knew way too much about the enemy to be friendly—but we followed him anyway.

House to house we hunted bomb-makers and insurgent leaders. We captured some, missed others, interrogated many, and chased those who fled.

Men jumping walls, Humvees ramming gates.

Images, sounds, and smells I will never forget.

Just another day in Iraq.

I led an infantry platoon in combat and later worked with Iraqi leaders—good and bad.

We send men to fight on our behalf, and too often second guess the manner in which they fight. Count me out on the Monday morning quarterbacking—I’m with the American warfighter, all the way.

Modern war is defined by ambiguity. The enemy never wears uniforms. And those wearing uniforms could be friend or foe.

The enemy uses women and children as shields—daily. And decisions of life and death are made at a moment’s notice—impacting lives forever.

Ask any combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

I watched an Al Qaeda fighter bleed out after a firefight. Should we render aid? Or get real-time intelligence before he breathes his last breath?

We did both. As he was whisked away in the back of a pickup truck, he was an afterthought.

Did he live or die? I don’t care, and I never thought twice about it. He was shooting at us, and our Iraqi allies.

My platoon arrived on many scenes of devastation. Confusion and fear on all sides.

But when my guys shot, they did so for a reason. We were in a war, with a mission to fight a shadowy enemy. Second guessing was deadly.

I was tasked with releasing Iraqi men who we knew had American blood on their hands. The lawyers told us we had to.

Did we think about taking justice into our own hands? Sure we did.

The only thing that keeps me up at night is wondering whether those jihadists went on to kill Americans.

These are just a few of my experiences. Many more have seen much more. Much more. More violence, more chaos, more death.

You cannot judge their decisions, and neither can I.

We send men to fight on our behalf, and too often second guess the manner in which they fight. Count me out on the Monday morning quarterbacking—I’m with the American warfighter, all the way.

I’ve been on the battlefield and that’s why I feel so passionately about this issue.

I’m not talking about massacres or sheer recklessness.

None of us ever contemplated the killing of women and children for sport. We didn’t shoot innocent civilians for fun.

There may be a few deranged combat troops, and they will get their due.

Yet, too often, when warfighters come home they are second-guessed. Prosecuted by lawyers who never left their air-conditioned offices or politicians with ulterior motives.

Lives ruined, reputations destroyed, families broken—all because they were willing to do things other Americans can barely fathom. They are heroes, every one of them.

If any of us had been captured, our heads would be chopped off.

We play fair, they play dirty.

We safeguard life, they expend it.

We tell the truth, they lie.

We play by old, conventional rules—and they exploit them. And then we wonder why wars take decades, ISIS re-emerges, and we end up negotiating with the Taliban.

From Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher to Green Beret Matt Golstyen to 1st Lieutenant Clint Lorrence. We presume these men guilty before trial, or lock them up and throw away the key.

Since my tours, I’ve thought a great deal about rules of engagement, “war crimes,” and the way we fight wars.

I’ve lived it and talked about it. My experience is that—if we want to win this long war—we need to back our warfighters, to include rewriting our rules.

The enemy laughs at us when we trade killers for traitors, release the “American Taliban” early, and lock up our own.

Our boys did their job, it’s time for us to have their backs.