Sam Dean | The Roanoke Times
'Do something great'
Early 2006 is a crucial time in Iraq, where secular civil war looms. The Bush administration says security is improving, but a Pentagon-commissioned report finds U.S. forces are stretched thin and that troop deployments can't be sustained long enough to defeat the insurgency.
American troop levels have dropped from about 160,000 to 138,000 and may decrease further this year, but it's not soon enough for many Marines and soldiers who are weary of the war.
Jordan, who joined the Marines both for patriotism and practical benefits, has never thought deeply about the war, about its causes and effects. He's never paid much attention to the news coverage, never had a righteous belief in the mission. But now he concludes that it's a worthwhile fight, which so far has killed or wounded nearly 20,000 U.S. troops, mostly young men of his generation.
He knows he probably won't see Iraq a third time, but he's mentally prepared for that possibility now that he can handle his rifle and camera again and may soon return to full duty.
"They wouldn't think twice about sending me back if they needed to -- I know that,' he says. "When I first went to Iraq, I had no expectations, only that we'd fight it on our turf if we didn't fight it there.
"But after a while, I realized how important it is to stop a dictatorship. The insurgents don't want to empower the Iraqi people like America does. Iraq's been a Third World country for centuries and the people don't know any better. The United States should be there."
SOURCES: Department of Defense, Associated Press, Columbia University
Jordan's mother is saddened he'll leave the Marines on a down note, but she's glad his military experience has matured him, helped him meet his wife, given him the chance to serve his country and get a free college education. She's relieved he won't have to "return to that horrible place," that he never had to kill anyone.
"In the last three years, he's been through more than most people have in a lifetime," Ginger says.
"I want him to take everything he's learned and do something great with his life. I've always said he would."
At 23, Jordan is more reflective than a year ago. He still believes in God, or rather some undefinable higher power, not some cardboard version of Jesus or Allah or Buddha.
And he still believes in fate, although he's confused by what he's seen in Iraq, where he came to bitterly believe that randomness, not predestination, determines who lives and dies.
He's especially troubled by a fellow Marine whom he knew only briefly but who impressed him as a good soul -- Cpl. Nicanor Alvarez of San Bernadino, Calif., who like Jordan was 22 years old and married, who unlike Jordan didn't survive the roadside bomb that exploded beneath him just before he was scheduled to board a plane for home.
"Before Iraq, I was a big believer in fate, but there's something about fighting a war that pushes your belief in fate aside," Jordan says. "I still can't understand why Cpl. Alvarez would die. There's no lesson in his death."
"But because of the war, of being wounded, I did end up meeting Randi and falling in love, so maybe in the big picture, there could be fate."
He pauses again: "I guess I'm torn. I guess I don't really know what to believe." He's sure of one thing, though.
"We have to be persistent in doing what makes us happy," he says. "Being wounded, it's simplified everything for me, just being here and being alive and sharing time with people you love. There's always something to look forward to."
He's outside his barracks now, a hopeful young man, walking along, putting one foot in front of the other, his bad one laced up tightly in a dusty camouflage boot. He limps no more than a man with a pebble in his shoe.
It's sunset, the cool night coming on, helicopter gunships thumping in the distance. He smiles broadly in the darkness.
"Like the Marines say, adapt and overcome. That's what I'm going to do for the rest of my life."