A reminder that voting is a privilege, from one who knows

Published 9:00 am Friday, October 23, 2020

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I would say great minds run in pairs, but when it comes to my friend and Great American, Stewart Rodeheaver, that does him a disservice. Simply put, his mind is a couple of laps ahead of mine.

For those of you recent to this space, Stewart Rodeheaver is retired Brigadier General Rodeheaver, who commanded Georgia’s 48th Brigade Combat Team in Iraq when I had the opportunity to visit with him and his troops back in October 2005.

Today, Stewart Rodeheaver lives in Eatonton and is president of Vizitech USA, an education and training company specializing in 3D technology. He is also one of the most able leaders I have had the opportunity to know in my long life.

The 48th BCT was and is composed of some of Georgia’s finest citizen-soldiers. Members of the Georgia National Guard, these were the men and women with whom I spent a couple of dangerous and inspiring weeks in a hellhole part of Iraq aptly named the “Triangle of Death.” They came from all parts of our state and from all kinds of backgrounds — doctors, truck drivers, schoolteachers, mechanics, hospital technicians, correction officers — all under the command of Gen. Rodeheaver, himself a former regional economic development manager at Georgia Power Company.

They were formidable warriors who more than held their own in an area where terrorism was a daily challenge. As one told me while I was there, “What we do is find out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys and then we get rid of the bad guys.” That works for me.

Members of the 48th BCT also helped teach the locals how to build and repair infrastructure, operated medical clinics and supported the efforts of the local military and tribal chieftains to establish some stability after madman dictator Saddam Hussein had been deposed.

I guess this is one of those “you had to be there” reflections but you could literally feel the evil that Saddam and his equally evil sons had inflicted on the country and on its people. To me, it hung in the air like the ever-present dust and dirt.

With Saddam out of the way, Iraq held its first free election. Being sure that some dirtbag didn’t sabotage the effort was also a part of the 48th’s job. Happily, the election did occur, including a first-time opportunity for Iraqi women to cast a vote. Knowing what it took to make that historic occasion happen reminded me of our own current elections and the yang-yanging about long lines, inadequate staffing, balky machines, absentee ballots, miffed voters and ponderous political pundits pontificating on all the above. Not once have I heard anyone mention what a sacred privilege we have in this country to freely vote and how we take it for granted.

That brings me to the great minds part. Just as I was about to tee off on why we should be showing gratitude for having the right to vote instead of a bad attitude about the process, up pops a Facebook posting from Stewart Rodeheaver on the same subject. As is his wont, he tells it like it is.

“I hear a lot of whining from people about going and voting,” Rodeheaver says. “I want to remind you that when I commanded in Iraq, the first elections were held in that country. Our soldiers protected each polling place, and we banned all moving vehicles for 12 hours to stop the insurgents from attacking.

“The Iraqis walked for hours just to get a chance to vote. As they voted, they dipped their right thumb in an inkwell to mark them as ‘voted.’ When they walked out of the voting place they cheered and cried and celebrated their first ever vote, and then they walked hours back to where they were from.

“I remember it was 115 degrees that day, and I went from polling place to polling place to help maintain safety and control. I don’t remember a single complaint from any Iraq citizen that day, but I did see lots of smiles. And tears of joy.

“Don’t fuss about voting, don’t complain about the conditions and do not pass on this amazing right that you have been given by this wonderful Nation. Don’t whine to me. My soldiers and I don’t want to hear it.” Amen and amen.

Thank you, Gen. Rodeheaver, for putting it all in proper perspective. As for me, I’m just glad that occasionally I get paired with a great mind.