Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb is the former Director of UK Special Forces and the ex-Deputy Commander of US-led forces in Iraq.
Here, he explains why he believes America’s decision to pull troops from Syria and abandon the Kurds who helped fight IS is shameful
I met Captain Lewis ‘Bucky’ or ‘Buckshot’ Burruss Jnr from the United States in the autumn of 1977, in an old wooden building which passed for an officers’ mess at Bradbury Lines.
Both of us were in the midst of SAS selection, but the contrast could not have been starker, whether in age or experience. He was a highly decorated Special Forces officer and I was not. Yet as I got to know my American brother in arms, our outlook, it turned out, could not have been more similar.
Four decades on those shared values that underpinned our outlook then and that have for more than a century nobly served the US and British Armed Forces’ collective purpose is today in question, not among those in uniform, but under this current US administration.
Of course, America must do what America believes to be right.
But all that it stands for – a beacon for so many other like-minded nations and alliances – is part of its own and our wider collective defence; it is who we are.
Such questioning was unimaginable in 1977 as Bucky and I attempted selection into the Special Air Service (SAS).
The gap in operational experience was significant. He had been commissioned in 1966, completed two long tours in Vietnam and had been awarded the Silver Star, four Bronze Stars, the Air Medal and three Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry.
I, on the other hand, had turned up in a blazer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst straight from school in 1971.
Bucky retired from Delta Force in 1987, while I went on to serve in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces for 38 years – striving to emulate, though never coming even close, his formidable military courage and outstanding leadership.
One particular place where we did meet as equals, however, and from day one, was the moral battlefield – where values are tested and character is built. There, we were like two peas in a pod.
We fiercely believed in duty, honour and sacrifice. We appreciated that freedom was not – nor ever had been – free, and considered that what one did and what one stood for in life ultimately constituted the measure of one’s worth.
Such unconditional willingness to fight for something greater than self matters immensely in a world that too often rewards greed, vanity and shallowness.
Bucky and I operated under the simple – yet liberating – understanding that luck, opportunity and at times unfairness would impact every decision, every action, and every outcome in our military lives.
We did not seek recognition by any other than our own, and we did not serve for riches or prestige. Soldiering was a vocation, a calling.
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, delivered during one of America’s darkest hours, best encapsulates the obligation for any nation to become one and live up to its ideals.
It also reminds us of the singular importance of personal devotion: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal (…)
“It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
With the end of the Civil War, America witnessed a nation reuniting – a slow and imperfect process that would see former enemies later defend, side-by-side, what the country stood for.
These individuals are no different than the men and women who, today, compose the United States Armed Forces.
These soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines represent the soul of America. They have chosen to serve others far beyond their country’s borders and to fight for and alongside those who share similar values.
As with most old soldiers, Bucky and I aren’t very good at keeping in touch or spending much time looking in the rear-view mirror. But I know that the old dog is still thriving – despite his legendary drinking habits, appalling golf etiquette, and dogged determination to live a full life and one of his own choosing.
He defended and exemplified a nation I thought I knew and understood. Indeed in my time, I had the distinct honour and privilege to fight alongside so many great Americans – determined, dutiful, and courageous doers, much like Bucky.
Hence my struggle to comprehend, at this moment, who and what America is fighting for. Has the US lost its way, forgotten its past, embraced the superficial, and renounced the essence of what once made this country “A City Upon a Hill”?
America led the free world, went to the moon, and defeated communism not because it was easy, but because it was hard. It stood for something that we all recognised and cherished, offering a firm foundation in an ocean of constant change and colossal challenges.
The US also built alliances based on trust and common interests with vastly different people, who all shared a belief in America’s democratic promise.
So many of them today are bewildered, stranded, and in harm’s way because they chose to stand by the United States.
Of course there is no clearer and more egregious example of such disgrace than the fate reserved to the Kurdish people, who took 11,000 casualties as they checked Islamic State, bore the brunt of the fighting, secured thousands of square miles and millions of people from the grip of barbarians, while saving hundreds of American lives.
Our comrades deserve far better than the shameful treatment they have received by those they once called friend. This is not Bucky’s America.