Friday, February 02, 2007

Sgt. Michael M. Kashkoush, USMC


Sgt Michael M. Kashkoush (a Marine) was killed in Iraq on the 23rd of January. He was one of my brightest students. His enlistment in the Marines would have ended this June or July, I believe. A memorial ceremony was held in his honor at the Presidio of Monterey, California this afternoon. Much of what I share here was related in that memorial service held to honor him. Mike is the second man that I've known personally to get killed over there in just a little over a month.

Mike wanted to go into politics to try to make the world a better place. He decided that in order to move his life in that general direction, he would not reenlist in the service. Instead of being dishonest with the military, and waiting until his training at DLI was finished before telling the Marine Corps about his intention to leave, he chose to let them know as soon as he made the decision. He told his superiors at the time that if he were to try to avoid going to Iraq by hiding the truth of his convictions, that would mean that somebody else would be sent over there in his place, and he wasn't going to have somebody else's blood on his hands.

He told people that asked why he was planning to leave the military that he wanted to go into politics to try to help fix the situation in the Middle East. He said that he thought the reasons for most of the problems were simply a great misunderstanding and ignorance. He traveled to Jordan on his class break to try to get a better understanding of the culture. He was known as "the stalker" by some of the Arabic instructors because of the way that he would always follow them around to get an opportunity to speak in Arabic or to learn more about the culture. His speaking was more like that of a native speaker than any of the other students that we had.

Michael was the one student out of 60 that stayed after class several times a week to speak Arabic with the instructors. He was a big-brother to several of the folks in the class and always had the right joke or the right thing to say to bring them around when the going got tough. He used to put me to shame at the gym. We spotted for each other there a few times and he would challenge me to catch up to him with the weights. He was a good guy.

Though he was considered by some to be a man of few words, he was extremely articulate, quick-witted, and obviously very intelligent. The few times that we spoke at length, he was filling me in on information that he thought that I should know about things that were going on with his classmates or his teachers, things that helped me to help them. When he did speak to me, he spoke to me out of his concern for and desire to help others. He never asked me for anything for himself.

There is a requirement in the military for personnel who are receiving any kind of training to have a certain, preset amount of time left in to serve when they graduate from their training program; that is how the military ensures that it will get a return out of the training investment that it's making. Mike chose not to reenlist, which would have left him with only about 8 months to serve upon graduation from his Arabic class. This decision basically forced the military (if it was going to follow its own long standing policies and retainability requirements) to remove him from his Arabic training early. About 3 quarters of the way through the class, he was pulled so that he could be sent to the fleet. He was already very fluent in the language. He knew that this would be the result of his decision, and he decided to go.

He was stationed to Japan, and the last I heard about him, that is where he was. Apparently he was deployed to Iraq in mid-January. He had only been there 10 days when he was killed by a sniper.

What on the surface seems to be the irony and the tragedy of his story is more complex than that. If Mike had decided to reenlist, he would probably still be in training now. Many of his classmates are still in other locations learning dialects and various language skills that they will need to do their jobs well in the future. The fact of the matter is that Mike knew that he would very likely end up in Iraq by deciding not to reenlist, and he made the decision anyway, because, in his mind, it was the right thing for him to do on multiple levels. Firstly, for himself, it was right to head in the true direction that he wanted to go in life. Secondly, for his commitment to the Corps, it was right to be honest and open about his intentions. Thirdly, for his country and for his fellow Marines, it was right for him to go to Iraq if called upon to do so, in order to carry out the duty that he had sworn to perform, so as not to leave his share of the burden for some other Marine to carry in his place.

It was indeed an honor to know Michael Kashkoush, or "Shukri" as those of us in his Arabic class will always remember him. He challenged me in so many ways to be a better person. He led by example and his character was absolutely beyond reproach. He strove for excellence, and attained it in every facet of his life that I could see. The military lost a good man last month. The United States lost a true patriot. The world lost a wonderful, smart human being. Many folks lost a true friend. All of us are left Mike's legacy with the challenge that his life presents to us: to be the best that we can be in everything that we do, to be true to ourselves even when doing so might seem more dangerous than going with the flow, to stand by the commitments that we believe in, and to avoid abandoning our fellow human beings, even if standing up for another might mean endangering our own life.

A friend of Mike's said today that when it came to the different races of mankind, Mike believed that there was only one race, the human race, and that he thought it was possible that someday we would all learn to live together, as free people, respecting one another and our differences. He wanted to try to make that happen, and I think that we should help keep his spirit alive by working together towards that goal.

A picture of Mike: Tribute: