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Capt. Rawlings Takes Questions From Iraq

Three months ago Capt. Nate Rawlings, 26, returned to Iraq for his second tour of duty. Throughout the next few months, he will be answering questions about his experience as well as sending us updates on his life. (Send your inquiries through this form).

Question One: My wife is giving birth around my deployment date. What do I do?

Question Two: How do you justify your job, when innocent civilians are killed?

Question Three: How does an Ivy League reputation fare in Iraq?

Question One: My wife is giving birth around my deployment date. What do I do?

Dear Capt. Rawlings,

I am starting a family. When I found out that doing so cost more than I made, I decided to go back into the military after 11 years away. My wife is going to have a baby in November/December. My deployment date is in November, but there's a lot I don't know because it is only my 13th week in the Army. I came from the Navy. I want to be around for my kid's birth. Who do I talk to?

Roger Vogan, Oberlin, Ohio

Dear Roger,

First, congratulations on your upcoming baby. Many of my soldiers and friends have had children while on active duty, and my sisters and I were all born in Army hospitals. As your wife's due date is very close to your deployment date, you will need to speak to your chain of command and see if you can deploy late to be there for the birth of your child. In my battalion, we had about a dozen soldiers whose wives were due near our deployment date. My brigade commander's policy was that anyone whose wife had a due date within 60 days of the deployment date was allowed to remain behind and deploy late; however, each decision was handled on a case-by-case basis. When soldiers' wives have a baby after we deploy, we try to send them home on midtour leave at the projected due date.

For your situation, you'll need to talk to your 1st sergeant, and the decision will need the approval of your company and battalion commander first. Good luck and stay safe.

Question Two: How do you justify your job?

Capt. Rawlings,

When you and your fellow Marines kill children, women and other innocent civilians, how do you justify your "job"? As a follow-up, do you ever think about the fact that we went to Iraq based upon false information, exaggerations and outright lies by this administration? I question how anyone serving in Iraq doesn't ask themselves these questions every day. I think that you and they are either not aware of how we manufactured a rationale for starting this war or just don't give a damn as you pursue your careers.

Michael Kelly, Westerly, R.I.

Dear Mr. Kelly,

To begin, I am an officer in the Army, not a Marine, although I have many friends and family who are Marines and they are all wonderful, honorable people. I take extreme exception to your unjust characterization of the service of those who fight daily for your right to say such things; however, that is your right, and it is among the many things I fight for too.

I entered the Army knowing that I would only serve four to five years and then leave the service, so I have tried to do nothing in the pursuit of a "career." My only goal in entering the service was to lead a platoon in combat and bring all my soldiers home. I had that honor in 2006. I have been given another wonderful honor — to lead the Adviser Team I am with now. That said, most of the committed career officers and noncommissioned officers I have met serve with honor and weigh the ethical sides of an issue when making decisions in combat.

Your question does raise an important issue that needs to be considered carefully by everyone who advocates military action: Do innocent civilians die? The answer is yes. In every action we take, we do everything we can to avoid hurting or killing innocent bystanders who are caught up in this conflict. I have seen young soldiers, who were completely justified to take lethal action against a threat, avoid action because it put an innocent civilian in danger. Hundreds of soldiers and Marines make similar decisions every day. Yet, in every war there have been innocent civilians killed, and this one is unfortunately no exception. This is extremely important to remember when we consider military action in the future.

Question Three: How does an Ivy League reputation fare in Iraq?

Dear Capt. Rawlings,

What was it like making the transition from the military program at Princeton to leading a group of men in Iraq? Did your reputation as an Ivy Leaguer precede you? Did that mean anything to them?

I hope things are well. All the best.

Zachary Gall, Kansas City, Mo.

Dear Zachary,

Thanks so much for the question. I did get a bit of friendly ribbing when I first came to my unit and my troops found out where I went to school, but I try to keep this Irish proverb in mind: Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused. I probably made fun of myself as much as they did and learned that it's all part of becoming a large family of soldiers.

I was truly blessed because the Princeton Army ROTC cadre taught me that when you are a leader, you are essentially a servant of those you lead. I learned from amazing, patriotic and professional noncommissioned officers that accomplishing the mission is our most important duty, followed closely by taking care of those in our charge. I tried to use my status as an officer to help with the nagging problems soldiers face, from pushing paperwork through the red tape to finding the person who could help make something happen. I hope that any feelings they might have had that I was a snot-nosed kid from an Ivy League school went away pretty quickly.

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