And he decided that joining the Army was the best way to do that.
One thing is certain, as disagreeable or as confusing as my decision to enter the fray may be, consider what peace vigils against genocide have accomplished lately. Consider that there are 19-year-old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics. Oftentimes it is less about how clean your actions are and more about how pure your intentions are.
Daily had read historian Stephen Ambrose's writings on World War II and the generation of soldiers who fought for freedom from the forces of fascism. If not Iraq, Daily thought, he wanted to help save those being slaughtered in Sudan.
In the fall of 2003, he entered the UCLA ROTC program. The UCLA military science faculty selected Daily as cadet of the year for 2005. He was named a Distinguished Military Graduate, an honor given to 20% of cadets nationwide.
Lt. Col. Shawn Buck, who headed the UCLA military science department at the time, said Daily was a deep thinker and natural leader who persuaded many cadets to stick with the program. "Once he made the decision to join, he jumped in with both feet and gave it everything he had," Buck said.
In a 2005 videotape of his officers' commissioning ceremony, Daily told the crowd that the U.S. Army is one of the few militaries in the world that teach not only tactics but also ethics. "I genuinely believe the United States Army is a force of good in this world," he said.
He was not blind to military transgressions and fumed to his father that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib was a failure of leadership. But that was exactly why he needed to get over there, he said. He was going to make sure that his men upheld Army values of integrity and honor.
So that is why I joined. In the time it took you to read this explanation, innocent people your age have suffered under the crushing misery of tyranny.
Don't forget that human beings have a responsibility to one another and that Americans have a responsibility to the oppressed. Assisting a formerly oppressed population in converting their torn society into a plural, democratic one is dangerous and difficult business, especially when being attacked and sabotaged from literally every direction.
So if you have anything to say to me at the end of this reading, let it at least include "Good Luck."
Daily touched down in Iraq on Nov. 19 and was sent to the northern city of Mosul. In calls and e-mails home, he began asking for presents for his new Iraqi friends: cigars for the soldiers, candy and soccer balls for the children. He vividly described his adventures with them: a Thanksgiving Day game of musical chairs, a rooftop cigar session; his first Kurdish meal, his first local haircut.
In one video he sent, Iraqi soldiers surround him with grins, crowning him with a turban as a gesture of friendship.
In typical fashion, he sought out new points of view. In one discussion, he wrote that he asked a Kurdish man whether the insurgents could be viewed as freedom fighters. The man cut him off. "The difference between insurgents and American soldiers," Daily said the man told him, "is that they get paid to take life — to murder — and you get paid to save lives."
"That Kurdish man's assessment of our presence means more to me than all of the naysayers and makeshift humanists that monopolize our interpretation of this war," Daily wrote in a Dec. 31 e-mail.
He was equally expansive with his troops. His wife, Janet, says he was constantly asking for tea bags so he could invite his soldiers to his room for tea and talk. They asked him for advice about careers, finances and family problems, discussed politics and philosophy. His troops jokingly posted a sign on his door: "Mark's Tea Hour."
In January, Daily was transferred from a support operation to a security one. He told his family that if he should die, he would never regret a thing.
In an e-mail to his brother, Eric, Daily wrote: "I know it is hard for you knowing that I am over here in danger, but never forget that I came here on behalf of the countless brothers who were torn apart by the savage exploits of this region's tyrants."
On Jan. 14, the family received another e-mail:
"All is well. More war stories then I can fit in this e-mail. Having the time of my life!"