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GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

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PERSONAL EFFECTS |

October 12, 2006

PERSONAL EFFECTS
Name: A CPT in Ft. Hood
Posting Date: 10/12/2006
Stationed in: Texas
Hometown: Texas

A few days ago, Vice President Cheney came to Ft. Hood and addressed members of the community and the post, on the eve of the 1st Cavalry Division's return to Iraq. The Vice President was surrounded by purple heart winners and those who had earned bronze stars with valor or higher medals. That was, at least, the initial qualification given to be able to stand behind the Vice President. The cameras were all there, and I have no doubt that the public will see the Vice President and the soldiers. However, I was not there to hear the Vice President's speech, whatever it was. Instead, a fellow captain buddy of mine and I were across post, at the rear detachment headquarters of a 4th ID brigade. I helped him in his duties as the summary court martial officer as he inventoried and loaded up a 23-year-old soldier's personal effects for shipment to her family. As we stood there, looking at three cardboard boxes and a metal futon that comprised the totality of what she owned, many things struck us.

It was a sad experience for us. While we both lost soldiers during our first tour in Iraq, we did not know this soldier, but felt as if we did. It seemed somehow wrong, to be packing up a stranger's goods, not because of anything extraordinary we found, but because of how extremely ordinary everything was. She had a cheap television, a small microwave, some DVDs bought from the PX, a paperback book or two, a few pairs of shoes, a clock radio, and a plastic-drawered dresser full of clothes. We wondered, as we watched the movers photocopy my buddy's inventory of her meager possessions before taping shut the boxes that the soldier’s father and mother would have to open in a few days, whether it would scare or reassure Americans to see this. 

We wondered if it would make people a little less easy about glibly "supporting our troops" if they knew that this 23-year-old woman didn't leave behind copies of the Constitution, books on warfare, or even an American flag. She didn't have any pictures of her standing in front of Old Glory or even any inspirational posters extolling patriotism, valor, and the like. She left behind shoes and a television. She was a normal American, or could have been, had she not been killed in Iraq. She didn't drape herself in the flag in life; we have draped her in death. She could have been anything; she was a soldier, but she never got the chance to be a wife or a mother, never got the chance to pursue whatever interests she may have wanted to when she returned from the Middle East. She loved and laughed just like the rest of us, but she is gone from us now. It is too easy to say "She was a soldier and gave her life doing what soldiers do," but it is a hard thing to say when you stand there and watch what little she left packed up for a grieving family.

I fear too many Americans think of soldiers without truly thinking of them as people -- they may be soldiers, but they are so much more. They are soldiers now, but may not always be -- they will become musicians, and teachers, and businessmen, and journalists, and car salesmen. The difference is, they are willing to die to protect those other Americans who are musicians, teachers, businessmen, journalists, and car salesmen before they go and join their ranks.    

As my buddy and I thought and talked about all of this, we wondered if the press would come away from the politics of it all, and perhaps come to the quiet rear detachment where senior NCOs and soldiers soberly watched yet another young American's effects be quietly packed and shipped to yet another grieving family. We wondered if the Vice President would step away from the podium and see soldiers doing their duty, trying to help one of their own who died doing her duty as best they knew how.

Most of all, though, we wondered about our society at large. We wondered if they could grasp that this 23-year-old soldier who had given her life for them left behind only shoes and a television. It got us thinking about what separates a soldier and society. Finally, we figured it out. What is a soldier? A soldier is someone who leaves behind in death the very things most of us spend our entire lives trying to acquire.

Comments

What a powerful, vivid message. Unless they have a loved one who is serving, the "support your troops" folks aren't often exposed to the human side of war. We're bombarded with numbers of dead per day/week/month/year, the ongoing debate of withdrawing or "staying the course", the implications to politicians who lead these debates. If we were reminded daily, as poignantly as you have presented, it would force elected officials and voters alike to think long and hard before engaging in a war.

Thank you, and yours, for your sacrifices. I know the parents of our fallen soldiers would be comforted to know there are humans like you and your captain friend taking care of their loved ones.

I too have had the duty you performed, only in the Navy. After retiring, and reflection, I now know the difference between a service member and a civilian funeral. The civilian service is noted by a few handful of family and friends. A military members service is felt by a few thousand of us who have been there, and know it could have been any one of us. We understand that he/she too, was family. We understand that the things we hold dearest, won't be placed in a box after we are gone, but shared by the remaining.

Incredible events, incredible writing. Thank you.

Yes, we're losing that sense of soldiers with lives beyond their current role, and it's likely to diminish even more as the last of the WWII vets die off.

Reading your post reminded me of this: a childhood friend and I were planning a trip from Chicago to California between college semesters in the late ’60s. We told my friend's father that we planned to camp on the way out.

"I'll never sleep on the ground again," he said. My friend later reminded me his dad had fought in the Italian campaign. He was a cartoonist, a colleague and friend of Bill Mauldin's, and the overwhelming sense I had from looking at collections of Mauldin's work was that while Willie and Joe were caught up in this enormous, global calamity, they remained civilians at heart.

My uncle was a B-17 tailgunner. Shot down several times. Never suffered a wound that was outwardly noticeable, he was nonetheless never the same after the war. Like a lot of combat vets, he's never talked much about it, but he did tell me he thought "Memphis Belle" was the best of the bomber films.

There's a scene in which the plane's captain gets an idea that the crew will come to work at his family's furniture company after the war. The co-pilot and a few crewmen gently explain to him that staying together after the war is the last thing any of them want.

The sacrifices are no longer shared. Many of us don't even know someone personally who knows someone who is serving. And of course, consumer goods like tires and meat aren't rationed. We somehow take pride that our economy is growing while political leaders compare this conflict to WWII.

But at least I know that the military is an honorable calling. That whatever their life plans were, the loss of a soldier's life is incalculable..

I thank you for your service. May you keep your head down and come back safely from your next deployment.

Wow! That touched me. My thoughts are certainly for her and her family. It is tragic she did not get to become.....

I will be picturing shoes and a television for quite some time.

I too, thank you - all our soldiers - for being there. And yes, I "support our troops" in the way that I wish the best for all of you, but I disagree with why we are there. However, our troops have no choice and have to go, or be court-martialed and punished instead. I cry when I see the memorials - boots and pictures against a wall of names...My heart goes out to all the soldiers going there, whether or not they in their hearts support the reasoning behind it. My niece is enlisting in the Navy - God bless her. And I am truly terrified for her.

Thanks to all who have not forgotten the humanity involved in this. It is truly saddening to understand the REAL gravity of this whole theatre!

I have a friend at Fort Hood who has or will be deploying to Iraq soon for his third tour. Unfortunately, I did not get his last name and have been unable to contact him though I have tried everything...and I do mean everything. He is definitely human, a divorced father of two who had to give up a summer with his sons because of his current deployment. He says he doesn't mind but I find that hard to believe when he has to give up time with his family. I still hope to find a way to support him in his current trip to hell...I am posting messages wherever he may find them and I have a friend on the lookout at the USO in Kuwait. This man is a master sergeant, a sniper and a nice guy. His name is Chaz and he is with the Blackjack Brigade out of Fort Hood. I met him on a train and we had a wonderful trip together. He comes from a large Greek family and we talked about many things. Meeting a service member has made all the difference in my life and my heart goes out to all of our troops far from home. May they all return safely to the families and friends who love them.

"A soldier is someone who leaves behind in death the very things most of us spend our entire lives trying to acquire."
I have no words, just tears.

Thank you for reminding us, ultimately, of our humanity. And as humans, we need to re-aquaint ourselves with the concept of our shared mortality, especially in the face of so much carnage and destruction. Both sides of this war (for and against) need to understand and strive for better solutions.

The number of people in the U.S. who KNOW someone in uniform is apallingly low. Even in a town like San Antonio, Tx, a "military" town, only people who really go out of their way know the service members around them.

I thank you, and your fellow captain, for taking care of your soldier, even if she wasn't "yours." It cannot be at all easy to know that your soldier was one of many, even if you didn't have to see her in the bag. Before I retired, I sent several of my Airmen to SWA, and worried every moment that something would happen to them. I am enormously grateful that I never had to do anything like what you two did.

When it's really personal, when something happens to someone you know, this war takes on an entirely different image and meaning. To close, I thank you, and everyone on active duty who rotates into Iraq and Afghanistan, for your courage, your fortitude, and your hornorable performance of your duty. I hope that your missions there are soon completed, and that we can all go back to worrying about spending too much for GI hammers, not how many aluminum caskets we'll need next month.

I may not know alot about politics and the war. But I know it takes a very strong and determined person to do what you do. I cannot thank you and the rest of the soldiers enough, for being so brave and fighting for our country. You all will be in my thoughts and prayers.

God Bless.

At the county fair this year I saw the list of stuff that they were collecting to send to soldiers in harm's way and it made me stop and think.

In wars past, the most guys had to look forward to was stale cookies, crushed cakes, Dear John letters and news from the homefront. These days, it is possible to get you guys who are far, far away from those you love pieces of home.

Politics doesn't send care packages, people do. No matter what folks' ideas are about what is currently going on, sending pieces of America to OUR military is important.

I'm proud of every care package that I have donated either money or goods to. I am glad that we are able to do this thanks to the soldiers and sailors that have gone before.

I also weep like a child when I see or hear the thanks that comes back. My willingness to send a box of poptarts is nothing compared to those that are willing to give up their future with their friends and family so that someone else may not have to.

Life's a crapshoot. Most of us do not choose to walk into the line of fire willingly to keep other's safe. "Thank you" seems empty taking this into consideration, but I do thank you.

It makes me sad to think there are those feeling just because we are not fighting, not there, that we are somehow oblivious to the lives forever changed and lost. Nothing could be farther from the truth. My daughters are well educated in the sacrifices of the American soldier. I make sure they are. I want them to understand every time they see a soldier or a veteran that this is someone who gave up time, family, sanity to protect the freedom and the liberty we so enjoy -- the foundation of our everyday lives. I want them to understand that what they make of their lives is what they owe the American soldier for his selflessness. That is why we thank and shake the hand of every soldier and veteran we meet. I have a deep respect for what you have given. I have an uncle who was killed in WWII. I never knew him and I often wonder what I missed by not knowing him, but I know the legacy he left me -- freedom. I may have never known him, but I will never forget him.
God bless you and keep you safe...Jennifer

Your opinion is well stated, but it is your opinion and not that of the soldier you describe. Her shoes and TV notwithstanding you can pack her belongings into a box but you can't pack her life there. To use her as a way to suggest the Vice President doesn't care puts her in the undesirable spot of helping you make your case while having no voice of her own. As a soldier, I don't mind a nation's grief at my death, but I don't want to be a political tool. Yet if I'm killed and I'm being boxed up by a couple of guys back in the states, I have little say in what they think about my sacrifice. I joined for my reasons, I fought for my reasons, and I want to finish the mission without being the reason someone decided to pull out. I go to war because I'm ordered, I live because I'm lucky, but I'll be damned if I want anyone from Capitol Hill to Fort Hood to use me as the reason. Make the decision based on what is right or wrong, not on the emotional impact of a soldier's death. If we quit because people died in war, we would lose every time.

So that's what poignant means. I've not well understood that until this (of all things) blog entry. Well done you. I ask one thing as we vicariously mourn her passing. That thing is to hold in mind the hundreds of thousands of murders committed by the regime we toppled in Iraq. This isn't a Bush commercial, and though I'm a Soldier I'm not a mindless hawk. My point? That this time in history we collective agreed that there is something worth dying for: to preserve freedom, not just for ourselves, but others who are dying from incredible oppression. That was all said so that, as we are sad and we examine whether we agree with current Iraq policies (and even as we contemplate voting in the next elections), we hold in mind that neither she nor any other Soldier has died for nothing over there. They died so others could, and do, live. Thank you for reading.

All I can say is that was wonderful, even if it was sad and upsetting at the same time.

A life lost, another young soldier killed, and I fear that the general public is oblivious to these deaths. I'm amazed at how people go about their daily lives without thinking once of what is happening in Iraq.

I'm sorry, but none of this can be justified any longer. It's time to end this madness. If we cared about our troops we would not sacrifice them at the altar of political recklessness and ignorance.

My father died in WWII, shortly after I was born. My mother told me of having a black banner in her window to indicate she had a war loss. Everyone was aware of the family's sacrifice.

So many in this blog have mentioned the general public isn't aware of the losses. Well, how can they know, when their sacrifice is not allowed to be viewed?

Why are the flag draped coffins hidden from view? The sacrifice happened, the public is kept at a distance so they don't see it. Of course we aren't aware.

Sir, this record of that day is really powerful. There are so many parts to the experience of war that the civilian population has no idea of. I am a Marine OIF vet who came home on a CCAT flight - I am lucky since my family did not have to have an old TV and some bs stuff sent back to them in boxes as keepsakes.

The more people know about the total experience -- our successes and setbacks -- can only be good for our country. The more people UNDERSTAND that we are more than a number, the less removed they will be from what is going on. WE ARE AT WAR, AMERICA - we are fighting for you and no one is really focusing on it.

I am not bitter or even against the war because of my injuries -- I am a warrior. Politicians will spin things each way and some will look at sacrifice as either something to be proof against the war or for the war.

I just want people to honor and remember those who have fallen and given their blood. It is ok to hear about it -- it does not threaten support for our mission.

Thank you for this bit of what goes on in your day. I am the daughter of a WWII Navy Chief who served 20 years. My husband is a Vietnam vet with a mental disability. I have uncles and cousins who are, or have served, in various branches of the service. Some of us civilians don't forget about those who are in harm's way, we just keep you in our thoughts and prayers.

I sadly agree with the message your post coveys.

I strongly believe that the nation's leaders sons, daughters and loved ones should lead our troops into battle.

Just because we have an All volunteer military doesn't mean they wish to throw their lives away on the mis-direction of a ...
Well you know where this was heading.

As an old Vet of the 70s I have a very deep respect for you people.

Thank you for your dedication and service.

I hope as a citizen of this country we can do you justice.

Any time one of our HEROES has fallen all "the public" hears is that another life has been taken. They say their name rank and base location. I don't recall EVER seeing a picture with that name or information. Obviously we know they have a face... so why won't they show us? That would make it too real for the public. Then everyone would have to say "Hey, wait a minute. That almost looks like my son, daughter, sister, brother, etc."...You are all risking your lives for us. The least the media could do is give you the respect of letting us know YOU!!! Thank you so much for what you do every day. Keep up the good work.

Greetings; Thank U Capt.

This is what a lot of people don't see. The behind-the-scenes things that really mean the most. It's like in the press we hear only the bad of all that is going on in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We don't hear of any of the good. We don't hear about everything, and we don't see all I believe we should. Would he have come to the place where these things were being packed up? I have to believe no, because it wouldn't have looked good for him.

I have come to the realization that much of the world has no idea of what it feels like to be a part of this war, and wouldn't unless they have a loved one directly affected by it. I have five family members that are in the service and four on deployments and pending deployments. I hear a lot of both the good and bad. I understand a lot of why we are there and why we have to remain, but every day I wake up hoping to hear that they will come home real soon, knowing it's just a hope. I also pray that I don't become a spouse, grieving sister, or aunt before it's all done, having to receive a box full of personal affects. God bless.

HOW DO I THANK YOU FOR SHARING WITH US, AND THE THINGS WE CAN NOT COMPREHEND. BECAUSE WE HAVE NEVER EXPERIENCED THEM.. MY SON'S LAST LETTER SAID HE DOESN'T KNOW WHERE HE BELONGS AND THAT HE FEELS LOST. HE FEARS HIS FAMILY WON'T UNDERSTAND HIS FEELING AND EVEN HIS REACTIONS TO WHAT WE HERE AT HOME EXPERIENCE. AT FIRST I HAD TROUBLE EVEN UNDERSTANDING WHAT HE WAS TRYING TO TELL ME. BUT THROUGH YOUR SHARING WITH US , I THINK I NOW DO UNDERSTAND, OR AT LEAST SEE AN OPENING TO HIS FEELING THAT MAYBE HE CAN SHARE WITH US, I ONLY PRAY AS A MOTHER I WILL DO THE RIGHT THINGS BY HIM. CAN YOU GIVE US HERE ANY INSIGHT THAT YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED AND HOPEFULLY HELP US ALL? THANK YOU . GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL IN THE ARMED FORCES.

Thanks for expressing your feelings and taking care of your fellow soldiers like family. I will continue to keep all the soldiers, who are in the sandbox and all over, in my prayers every day.

Your letter has brought back some very powerful memories. I too had the responsibility of acting as a Summary Court officer. A young US infantryman I had never met was killed in Sinai. As I inventoried and packed his belongings, I had very similar thoughts as to how this was the remainder of a young man's life I was sending home to his Mom. Every time I talked to her on the phone was an exercise in anguish. It was all that much harder, because my brother had been killed in Southeast Asia, so I knew precisely what it was like to be on her end of the line. And now I was learning what it was like to be the man that talked to my Mom, and that packed up my brother's belongings (which I still have to this day). That was a very hard job, and to this day I wish that I could have done more for that soldier's Mom.

I am not advocating that we not fight. I am not trying to use our losses as justification for any decision, nor do I believe that should be done. I do ask that we always and keenly remember the price that we as a people must pay for our decisions and for our freedom. That price is very very dear. So before we pay that price, we must know that what we are buying is also very very dear, and that we are certain of attaining it.

"She didn't drape herself in the flag in life; we have draped her in death." That just says it all. Thank you.

I want to thank you for your words about your very sad duty.

Here in Canada, when a fallen soldier arrives home there is a repatriation ceremony that is shown on TV. We can witness the flag-draped coffin being brought out of the plane by the soldier's comrades at his/her home base. The ceremony is not easy to watch as family members come forward to lay a flower on the coffin, but it is an important reminder of what our troops face everyday - and the sacrifices they are making in our name.

I wish that Americans could witness this as well as this helps us all remember that the fallen soldier was also a parent,a child, a sibling,and a friend - had a life and ambitions.

I am grateful for the sacrifices that soldiers make in leaving their families and friends to fight in our name and we cannot ever be allowed to forget that soldiers are also people with lives and loves.

Thanks again for a reminder that is both sad and uplifting.

Kim Palmer
Ontario, Canada

This article is about grief. No more, no less. Sure it talks about the life of a person who has lived and died in military service. We are not told why the person died. Yhat reason was not important to the writer. I am not even sure the TV or shoes are that important to the writer. The article was the best way to talk about grief and grieving a person who has died.

I'm at a loss for words, but I don't think I will ever forget your words.

i may not be right by your side and i may not realize all that you see but i can tell you my prayers and thoughts are with all of you each and everyday as well with your family members who i am sure deal with the fear of receiving these packages. i do see you as courageous humans not just soldiers and i appriciate each and everyone of you.

I, too, many times over my career wondered why in the heck certain people came by for their "photo op with the military." It was always a reminder that I, as an airman in the Air Force, was willing to give my life for my country, but was prevented from speaking my mind to this esteemed person through fear of reprisal from them or my chain of command. It was always a contrived situation, with a specific end message in mind for the VIP. I never felt anyone of them cared about us (=any military person) individually or as a whole. If they did, why would it be such a crime to ask some astute questions? Only because they were afraid of their image. It always made me feel deceived or patronized, that my government wasn‘t being open with us. But isn’t a secretive government inherently tended towards less than stellar motives?

I spent 25 years in the military, and the hypocrisy of it never went away. I don't think it's something my forefather, who fought for freedom in the American Revolution, had in mind AT ALL. I think he had in mind that we would be free, free to speak, free to act, free to understand that we may disagree, but we stand united. Free to understand that loyalty and duty prevail. That as in a family, I can punch my brother, but no outsider can. I think that my forefather would have completely understood that open discourse enhances society. I think my forefather would have also said that asking for a show of loyalty to make a point goes a lot further than forcing a show of loyalty through the threat of punitive measures. I don't think maintaining the image of VIP's through inhibition of freedom of speech was ever on his list. And for those of you who will write and talk about appropriateness, I'm sure he didn't have that in mind either. I'm betting King George thought it was inappropriate for a soldier to speak his mind to His Majesty, but somehow I doubt that Washington ever treated his soldiers that way.

Over the years the military that I knew and loved seemed to devolve into a corporation mindset, so that by the time I left in 2000, it was as if I had never served. Yet I am the one who originated the name G.I. Jane, which I invented for my crew rest name tag on my flight suit back in 1985. I invented it because I wanted to impart that, although I was a woman, I was a nameless warrior for my country, just as G.I. Joe.

But nameless should not mean voiceless, and warriors always fight, no matter what questions they ask.

And if a President can motivate warriors to fight their best, they can also demoralize them, by making them feel separate from the very thing they are fighting for: their citizenry, and the principles of their country.

In the end what this does is allow this very situation that you are writing about to occur.

A woman, who was not yet a woman, lost her life in a contrived war, which she was not allowed to question in the presence of the very people who had the power to affect the war. Shame on us.

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