The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

IN MY ARMY |

January 31, 2008

IN MY ARMY
Name: LT G
Posting date: 1/31/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Reno, NV
Milblog url: kaboomwarjournal.blogspot.com

The gripe: A military tradition as time-honored as dehumanizing the enemy, as expected as giving your rifle a feminine name and persona, and as innate in the soldier’s soul as feeling abandoned by the kinsmen they fight for. After all, you don’t worry about the soldiers who bitch, you worry about the ones who aren’t bitching. Such comprehension doesn’t change the fact that bullshit always rolls downhill -- or that at the platoon level, said bullshit rolls in like a crashing avalanche, steadily progressing in size and strength, arriving with a reeking stench of mundane regulations and asinine humorlessness.

With that analogy in mind, I bring to light a sampling of the current gripes of the Gravediggers. Stoicism certainly has its time and its place, and that is usually out of the wire. In the wire, though, venting catapults itself into even the hardiest of hearts in this man’s Army. Let’s just say that if LT G were Lord Protectorate G of the Desert Cavalry of Pure Raw Awesomeness, things would be a little different. Gathered over the course of assorted grievance councils, usually held in the post-mission unwinding that occurs on the combat outpost’s front stoop over some cigarettes and profanity-laced jokes, this is how things should be –- and would be -- in my Army...

-- I’d be able to be a scout platoon leader for the next 20 years.

-- The electronic leash commonly referred to as a radio would only work once every hour, for only one minute, and CPT Whiteback and Headquarters would be cool with such.

-- SSG Bulldog’s poker games with some of the other NCOs would end just before I burst through their door with the latest Frago, instead of having just begun.

-- Not everything that ever occurred in the entire country of Iraq would be an immediate emergency. Mesopotamia has been at war with itself for at least two millennia. Seriously, what’s the big deal if I need another 20 minutes to finish dispatching my vehicles? What’s the freakin’ rush?

-- The meat-eaters would outnumber the leaf-eaters 16:1, instead of the way it is, which has leaf-eaters outnumbering the meat-eaters 16:1. (Think dinosaurs and evolution if you’re failing to grasp the awe-inspiring depth of this analogy. Then relate to the military branches, and you’ll be golden.)

-- Garrison regulations would’ve stayed back in Hawaii; combat regulations would only exist here. As a result, I wouldn’t have to live in a world of cafeteria combat, where a manatee pushing a lottery ball with its nose randomly chooses when and where soldiers should’ve employed kinetic force, and when and where they shouldn’t have (i.e. abusing all that is hindsight and retrospective from behind a desk, where the only thing to fear is carpal tunnel syndrome and great joy occurs in crushing the occasional cheeky junior officer who thinks he knows everything).

-- (Some) staff officers would have a little comprehension of history, and realize that “winning over hearts and minds” is more than just a poor choice of words when discussing the local population’s temperament towards American military forces in their country. I sarcastically suggested they watch Platoon during one of their meetings instead of arguing about the color scheme and numbers on a PowerPoint slide. No word yet as to whether my proposal gained any support.

-- CPT Whiteback’s computer conference calls with Squadron wouldn’t be the most unintentionally hilarious thing this side of SPC Doc’s propensity for rummaging through trash. I like to laugh, but listening to one of those things caused me to laugh for all the wrong reasons.

-- The punkass pogue warrant officer who barked at my soldiers at the chow hall on the FOB for not having haircuts, needing showers, and wearing their Army-issued fleeces over their uniforms after we rolled back after fifteen straight days of patrolling would still be eating mud, three days later after it happened. If I hadn’t stayed back with SFC Big Country to check on the maintenance of our vehicles, such would’ve occurred. Seriously, when I find out who you are, Fuckstick, I will systematically destroy everything you hold dear, and do so rockin’ my fleece and eating a bowl of mint ice cream while my Joes giggle hysterically as they watch in the distance.

-- (Some) Field grade officers would have more serious things to worry about during a war than the size of PV2 Van Wilder’s moustache, or LT G’s wear of the Army-issued fleece cap during the day while off-duty. (Hey, I’m a skinny guy. I get cold easily.) Like, oh I don’t know, ensuring that the Iraqi Police have an equal balance of Sunnis and Shi’as on their force to avoid allegations of corruption. That might a good place to start.

-- Other units would stick to their own showers, and not take our hot water when we finally do get back to the FOB. However, if this changed, I wouldn’t have had the pleasure to witness SFC Big Country turn off the hot water heater while four Grunts showered in our stalls, so perhaps this was worth it. Check that. The high-pitched shrills that resulted definitely were worth the sacrifice.

-- I wouldn’t see the same brain-dead “source” walk into the combat outpost every day, feeding us the same crap over and over again, just so he can get some snack food and a warm place to stay for a few hours. Actually, I can sympathize with the source, living in a third world country clearly sucks. My ire lies with our intel geeks who continually fall for his ploys, and end up convincing higher to send us out pursuing wild, unsubstantiated rumors, instead of building up rapport with the locals in our AO like we’re supposed to.

-- I could sleep for more than two hours in a row without waking up in a panicked frenzy, checking to ensure that the batteries to my radio haven’t died.

-- The dog and pony shows that inevitably occur whenever anyone with any rank whatsoever swings by (always during the day, and never too early in the morning, by the way) wouldn’t be painful, nor uncomfortable, nor throw a monkey wrench the size of an orangutan into current operations. (And yes, the simile zoo of animal analogies in this gripe is intentional, and being abused to illustrate the cattle-car nature of the military bureaucracy.)

-- Twelve hours of a bureaucratic trail of tears and papercuts would not be what sends a detainee to jail; finding a freakin’ Soviet-era sniper rifle in his backyard in a water pipe would be enough.

-- Instead of a Stryker, I’d be able to drive around Anu al-Verona in an up-armored version of Rufus, my 1974 baby blue Volkswagen Bus, defiantly blaring the hippie proclamations of Bob Marley and giving the Hawaiian shaka’ to the local populace. Talk about legit.

-- I would never go to bed weary and sore and drained, absolutely convinced that the details of me and my men’s lives were nothing more than a PowerPoint slide being passed up the chain-of-command on memory drives. Not even our own presentation. Just one little slide. This happens at least once a week.

Whew. I feel better. See? Venting can be therapeutic. We all have our outlets. Rock stars have heroin, soccer moms have Oprah, even my golden retriever back home barks at ducks to relieve stress. All I need is a warm cup of coffee, a computer to vomit my raving brain into, and fifteen minutes of freedom. I’m good now, thanks for making it this far. I appreciate it, and certainly hope you aren’t one of the individuals I railed against above. That would be...awkward.

Just so you know, I’m still going to castrate that warrant officer when we return to the FOB.

SUSPECT'S CREED |

January 30, 2008

SUSPECT'S CREED
Name: The Usual Suspect
Posting date: 1/30/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: theunlikelysoldier.blogspot.com

You won't see me kissing ass. You won't see me putting on a show bitching at other Joes to impress higher-up. You won't see me at an NCO board, because I've definitely scrapped the idea of shooting for Sergeant. That ain't me.

I won't be a Yes-Man. I won't take shit and smile about it. I will do what I can to keep myself out of trouble, generally. I won't fuck my buddies. I will always look out for my own. I will never take menial Garrison Bullshit seriously. I will do what I have to in order to scrape past said bullshit. I will take it all a day at a time.

I will hang on to my anger and my bitterness. I will not re-enlist. My deal with Uncle Sam was four years and I will do everything in my power to ensure that it stays that way. I will suffer assholes and idiots and leaders who know what's best but still piss me off. I will take it all with a grain of salt and will laugh on the inside because I know I'm being paid to endure this, and because I know that I will be out of the army in a year and a half (Godwilling).

I will bask in my disdain for the entire experience but will not take my buddies for granted. I'll enjoy my time with the greatest band of miscreants I will ever meet, and will be thoroughly bummed out when its time to bounce out for good.

I will party hard, I will blast metal at high volume. I will keep up a steady flow of my antics, unapologetically. I will maintain my degenerate character throughout all. I will continue to walk the thin line between Overall Good Guy and Shit Bag.

I will do what makes me proud. I will own up to my mistakes and embrace them because they will make the best memories. It'll all be over soon enough and no matter what, upon looking back I will regret not causing more chaos.

I will stick to what I feel is important and will humor the rest, in my own good humor. I will not be here forever, and will act accordingly.

But most importantly of all, I will take this strange life of mine and squeeze every last drop out of it, ravenously. It's mine and no one else's. I will not forget that. No one will break my spirit. An abrasive and defiant Fuck You, in whatever form, awaits anyone who suggests otherwise.

I will not lie down for anyone.

Wherever you are, in whatever situation you're in, maybe you need to throw a subtle or not-so-subtle Fuck You out there. No matter how big or small. A win is still a win. So that boss, that teacher, that neighbor, that stranger who cut you off or took your parking spot, that service provider that fucked you, that paperboy that smashed your window, that co-worker that undermined you, whoever or whatever it is that's getting you down, maybe they need a cold can of Fuck You. After all, Fuck You makes the world go round. It's the American Way, the last prevailing remnant of the Great American Dream. The people deserving your Fuck You have Fuck You's for someone else.

I've never been without someone or something deserving this treatment. So fuck you, and fuck me, and fuck him and her and this and that and everything in between. It always feels better afterwards. Small victories are still victories.

JINGLE CULTURE |

January 29, 2008

JINGLE CULTURE
Name: SPC Beaird
Posting date: 1/29/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog url: allexpensespaidafghanvacation

On the streets we’ve come to know almost as well as our own hometowns you see a few types of vehicles on the road more prominently than any other kind. First you have rickshaw taxis, kind of a three-wheeled motorcycle with a carriage on the back for the passengers. These are probably a cheaper alternative to the regular taxis, though they don’t hold up in car accidents very well, as I’ve seen. Then you have the red motorcycles and white Toyota Corollas, often hatchback. I think 90% of people who have their own personal car own a Corolla; it’s almost a pure monopoly here.

The oversaturation of the red motorcycles and white Corollas is what makes us laugh sometimes when we get warnings or reports of suicide bombers in our area and the only description is “red motorcycle or white Corolla with a dent on the side.” Like the dent in the door or broken window makes a difference. Every vehicle has some kind of rough scar on it since auto body repair shops are almost non-existent around here. Or, after reports of female suicide bombers hiding their explosive vests underneath their covering burqas, “Be on the lookout for suicide bombers wearing burqas -- and oh it should be a blue burqa." Just about every single woman we see in the city wears a burqa. That type of intel is about as useful as saying, "Be on the lookout for possible attacks and ambushes from mud huts, one or two stories tall, with naked babies standing out front, in neighborhoods that smell like sewage."

Framed_beaird_jingle1_4 But, I digress. The most interesting vehicle we see in large supply is the jingle truck. Jingle trucks are the construction or transport trucks used by just about everyone who needs to haul any type of cargo or goods or supplies. The cargo, which is often overflowing, will vary, and some of the jingle trucks are even contracted to the US military to transport items for us. But what they all have in common is the elaborate and ornate decorations that cover them.

Framed_beaird_jingle2_4 These colorful decorations are what give the trucks their name, as a lot of the “jewelry”, as I call it, hangs down from the sides and bumpers of the vehicle and makes a “jingle” noise as it moves back and forth, like chimes in the wind. On the sides of the trucks there are usually murals with picturesque landscapes, and maybe a set of large eyes staring at you. The front end of the truck can look like a bomb went off in a box full of Christmas decorations; they are covered with colorful tassles, pom-pom looking things, streamers, and flowers, plus the metallic chimes that give them the jingle.

We’ve been told some of the jingle trucks are actually from Pakistan, but jingle truck culture seems to have spread into other forms of life here in Afghanistan, with people putting all sorts of ornamentation on their jingle cars, jingle vans, jingle rickshaws, jingle bikes, jingle motorcycles, and jingle ANP trucks. I've even seen jingle AK-47s, with green or pink saran-wrap like material wrapped around the handle and buttstock. We sometimes call the civilian Afghan helicopter that we use to transport cargo “jingle air.” 

Part of the reason the jingle trucks stick out so much is the utter lack of any color in the rest of the scenery here. Perhaps that is why they choose to add so much “flair” to items of daily life, as a way to make up for the lack of color or luxuries in the mud hut villages that dot the pale greyish-brown landscape.

Framed_beaird_jingle4

Framed_beaird_jingle6

Framed_beaird_jingle7_2
 

Framed_beaird_jingle10_2

Framed_beaird_jingle9_2

Framed_beaird_jingle11

Jingle AK-47 on the right, with green wrapping.


THE FACES |

January 28, 2008

THE FACES
Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 1/28/08
Stationed in: a military hospital in the U.S.
Milblog url: www.mcneillysperspective.blogspot.com
Email
: clarahart2@yahoo.com

Asked to see and evaluate an OEF patient in the trauma ICU, I wandered into the bay only to stop short at the sight before me. The wounded patient lay motionless with wires and tubes, dressings and splints all entangling each other. Ventilator high-pressure alarms shrieked off-cadence with the beeps of the heart monitor. Intubated on a vent, multiple IV lines and specialty dressings all around, this patient lay in drug-induced slumber.

Keeping a bedside vigil was his wife, not an uncommon site on any of the nursing units temporarily housing our wounded warriors. What caught me off guard and stopped me stock-still were the small bodies occupying the chairs that flanked her. Two beautiful young children sat beside her, alternating between coloring pictures with dry erase markers given to them by the nurses and staring silently at their father.

As I introduced myself to Sarah, I also introduced myself to the children. Victoria, who is seven, and Jacob, who is five, shook my hand gravely as I held it out to them. I learned Victoria had been eating blue candy, as evidenced by her blue tongue, lips and teeth. I learned Jacob loved the Transformers and wanted his dad to teach him how to ride an ATV, “when he gets better."  I learned Sarah had arrived on Saturday, the day after her husband had been flown in, and alone at the hospital had no one to watch the children. She told me, with tears in her eyes, that they came with her every day and sat in the ICU room, coloring pictures, playing games, and watching their dad.

As we talked I looked at the children. I could see the fear and uncertainty crowding their small faces. I asked if I could bring in a DVD player so they could watch movies. Eyes filling once again with tears, Sarah thanked me, telling me over and over how much she appreciated the help. I asked her to forget it, as it was such an easy thing for me to do. It’s not hard to take a portable DVD player off the closet shelf where it is gathering dust and loan it to two children so they could forget where they are if only for a couple of hours.

That was four days ago, and this patient has been extubated. Yesterday I watched joy instead of sorrow fill this family’s faces. I watched a wife and mother hold her children up to the bed so a little boy and girl could say, “Hi Daddy!”  I smiled in delight at the looks of pure happiness as their father opened his eyes and smiled at them. I choked back tears as Sarah laid her head on his chest and sobbed, “Welcome home, Baby.”

Today as I walked down the hall I heard a tiny voice call out, “Ms. Clara!” Turning, I saw Jacob and Victoria dragging their mom toward me. “Ms. Clara!” they eagerly exclaimed. “We watched the Transformers in the hotel room last night!" And so they rumbled on, anxious to tell me about their day. While listening I felt a little hand encircle mine and tug. “Ms. Clara, want to come see our daddy with us?” Victoria asked. “I’d love to come see your daddy with you." And off we went, off to exchange smiles and laughter with a soldier on the long road to recovery.

HOPE IS NOT A METHOD |

January 25, 2008

HOPE IS NOT A METHOD
Name: 1SG Troy Steward
Posting date: 1/25/08
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog url: bouhammer.com

HATE….ANGER….PRIDE….SADNESS….PRIDE…..SORROW…..FEAR…..PRIDE… These are the emotions that have been swirling through me like a f***ing tornado as my family took my oldest son to the airport and put him on a plane to start the journey that will take him into war. With every bad feeling came pride. How could I not be proud of this awesome young man? I watched him grow up, from playing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to GI-Joes, to now being a GI Joe himself. I am the rock for my family, just as I am the rock for my soldiers that work for me. Being the “rock” is an honorable thing, but it also means not being able to waiver or always show the emotion that I have inside.

I have been on multiple sides of the deployment fence. I have been on the one where I am deploying, of course. I have watched my soldiers deploy without me. And now I am bidding my son goodbye as he gets ready to deploy into the horrors of war. It would be different if he was just deploying to a war that I had no knowledge of, and I could only relate the common things that are seen in all wars, but instead I am seeing him walk into the very place I just left. I know the good, bad and ugly of that place. Not just from when I was there, but from very recent experiences of a few weeks ago, as I am in constant communication with guys that are there fighting right now.

Being able to come back from Afghanistan and tell him the most recent lessons learned has been an invaluable asset for him as he gets ready, but it is hell on earth for me because there is nobody that can blow smoke up my butt and tell me things like “It isn’t that bad there,” or “He will be safe,” or any of that other bullshit. I have seen the laziness of the ANA soldiers, I have seen the gross corruption of the ANA and ANP leadership, and I have seen the ineptitude of many American service-members in leadership positions. I will go day in and day out knowing what he is seeing and dealing with, and let me just say that is true torture. Being blind as most Americans are to the true facts is not such a bad thing.

It is an honorable thing he is doing, and that is another reason why I am so proud. However it still hurts when you ship your children off to face the horrors of war. I have said before in blog entries that I am going to hate it that he will lose any innocence that he has left, but such is the sacrifice of serving. However I am sure he will do great things, maintain his head and perform with professionalism and excellence.

I am sure the Army sees those traits in him also, as they felt strong enough to promote him yesterday. This was just the start of the up and down roller coaster our family has been on. Yesterday they held a formation for him at the armory so his one wish could be honored; that if he were to be promoted to (E5) Sergeant, it would happen before he left, so I could pin it on him. So yesterday I had the great honor as a Senior First Sergeant and a father -- to be able to pin Sergeant stripes on my son. I am sure it was something my own father wished he could have done when I had my Sergeant stripes pinned on me in Korea back in 1990.

Now 18 years after making Sergeant, I had the chance to put the same rank on my own son, welcoming him into the NCO corps. And so lives on the great NCO tradition of our family, three generations worth now.

Many friends and family have said they will keep him in their prayers just like they said that for me. I truly hope with all of my heart that they are being honest and not just paying me lip service, because I don’t have time for lip service. I know there were lots of prayers said for me when I was over there, and I am convinced that it was because of those that I am still alive today with all my parts and pieces. It is worse now than it ever was when I was there. Yes, hopefully the ANA are a little better trained and hopefully the American leadership is a little more tactically smart and accountable. But as an old battalion commander and friend of mine used to say, “Hope is not a method."

THE GOLDEN RULES OF CARE PACKAGES |

January 24, 2008

THE GOLDEN RULES OF CARE PACKAGES
Name: JP
Posting date: 1/24/08
Stationed in: Kuwait / Iraq
Hometown: Burke, Virginia
Milblog url
: milblogging.com
Email: milblogging@gmail.com

The only real point to this list is to have a laugh, so keep that in mind. Personally, I love each and every care package I receive. Hopefully you have a sense of humor if you choose to read on. Or a tall glass of wine...

1.  Do not send party invitations for weddings or Independence Day or any other festivities while we are deployed. Because we can't attend. Anybody who sends a party invitation to a deployed soldier is clearly retarded.

2.  Do not continue to write a soldier when the soldier never writes you back. If you really want attention that bad, jump off a building.

3.  The meanest thing you can do to a soldier is to send generic, not name brand, goods. Hey, I like to save money too, but sending generic brand goods is worse than taking a dump in a cardboard box and shipping it over.

4.  No more magazines dated back to 1980. It's not like anybody is actually going to read them. I know vacuum cleaners with better care package sense than you.

5.  Don't ever send school supplies unless we ask. Most soldiers don't like to criticize care packages, but you could send over a box of deadly scorpions and that would be a better package. Yes, seriously.

6.  Do not send a typewritten letter about your personal life to a soldier. It doesn't matter if you're Elvis Presley back from the dead, or the first person to ride a unicorn. Receiving a typed letter about your personal life is the lowest form of support known to a soldier.

7.  Don't shop at the Dollar Store for your soldier. I'm sure it sounds great when you tell your family and friends that you support the troops by sending care packages, but if you're shopping at the Dollar Store you're probably worse off than we are. Please, send us the mailing address to the bridge you live under, and we'll try and help.

8.  If it's not electronic, sometimes (okay, almost always) it's not worth sending. I'm convinced 99% of what people send us is garbage. I haven't seen a soldier yet complain about receiving an iPod in the mail. I'm just saying.

9.  Do not send crossword puzzles. Or word finds. It's a sure way to disappoint a soldier when they open the care package. I've seen people who were punched in the face repeatedly look much happier than soldiers who opened care packages with crossword puzzles.

10.  Don't tell a soldier that you understand what he or she is going through because your neighbor's cousin has a sister who has a brother who knows somebody who was deployed. It's a sure way of having your care package transformed into a kicking ball. Or a smoking pile of ash.

 

LUCKY 7 |

January 23, 2008

LUCKY 7
Name: Old Blue
Posting date: 1/23/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog url: billandbobsexcellentafghanadventure

2007 was all about Afghanistan. It was training to do this job, getting here, and being here. I spent one day in 2007 not on active duty in the service of my country; the first day. A year ago today, I enjoyed New Year's Day with an elephant in my head. The day that I was to arrive in Ft Riley was looming large in front of me, the symbolic beginning of the kinetic part of this journey.

I had no idea whatsoever what the coming year would bring, and as I look back on all the places I've been, people I've met, things that I have done, things that I've seen, and what I've learned, "Days Are Numbers (The Traveler)" by The Alan Parsons Project begins playing on my iPod. Perfect. Somehow this device has performed the iPod mind meld and knew exactly what I needed.

It's amazing how we can look at our preconceived ideas of what to expect from an event and find our naivety in retrospect. There was some of that; trust me. If I could go back in time, I'd tell myself a few things on January 1, 2007.

I'd tell myself to relax, to be more forgiving, to feel secure in what I know to be true. I'd tell myself to sleep through commo class that first night at Camp Funston, because I was going to have to learn it all over again. I'd tell myself to start studying Pashto again. I'd tell myself to read more about counterinsurgency. I'd tell myself not to sweat most of the stuff that we did at Ft Riley, because it had nothing to do with reality.

I'd tell myself not to worry about the treadmill and to spend more time on the stair climber -- with weights on. I'd tell myself to look into Chantix. I'd tell myself that the thicker socks would never be worn. I'd tell myself that tea with the Taliban isn't all that unusual. I had tea with one this morning. Start off your year with a civilized sit-down with an enemy; it's good for the soul.

I'd tell myself that when it all came down, I was going to be fine. I'd tell myself that at the end of the year, I would feel good about what I had done and how I had done it.

I would tell myself to be more accepting. I would tell myself to expect to be left hanging out on a limb in precarious positions, but that it would be fine anyway.

I'd tell myself to just have faith.

I'd tell myself to spend more time writing.

Last year was a year that was given to my country. It was a year taken from my children, taken from everything that I had thought important; and, through my country, given to Afghanistan. I have come to care about this country. I have come to see the people here as worthy. I have come to hope for this country, for the children of this country. I have seen my own children standing by the road with no shoes on their feet. I have seen my daughter in a blue burqa trying to shield herself from the view of these strangers who seem almost from outer space, peeking under the strain of unbearable curiosity. I have felt the concern of a father carrying a sick child to be seen by these strangers because no one else could help.

I have seen unfathomable sacrifice. I have seen young men torn asunder in their service. I never understood the word "asunder" until September 10th. Now I will never forget.

I have had people try to take my life because of who I am and what I am doing. I am not the Lone Ranger. A lot of people have had it a lot worse.

I have been in the company of heroes. I have seen the very best that our country has to offer the world; and we are offering them up. There are some amazing young Americans over here.

I am simply a witness to all the greatness that surrounds me. Not all of us are great. Some of us deserve to be shot. I have witnessed greatness, heroism, unbelievable selfishness, sacrifice, cowardice, triumph, loss, dereliction, and quiet courage. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. We all have to live with where we fall on that scale. Times like these tend to follow us through our lives, and like the line from the movie: "What we do here echoes in eternity."

There will be echoes. Most I've seen have passed the test. Their echoes will bring pride to their families.

I have come to believe that we are winning; not because of our wonderful plans, but because of a few who truly have a tremendous impact and because the Afghans themselves really do want to be free.

2007 was a year of incredible experiences. It was a culmination, a definition, and a regeneration. I am grateful for all of it.

I know what it means to be the sheepdog on the far hill, and there are wolves out here. Soon it will be time to run back to the flock and raise the alarm, to bark about the wolves beyond the far hill until someone says, "What? Timmy fell in a well and he needs our help?"

In 2008, I will be near my children for most of the year. I will see them again, and I hope that I never forget how very hard this was to be away from them. It's the worst pain that I've ever felt. 2008 will carry me home, one way or the other. Others will come and continue the work that was continued this year.

There will be a lot of challenges in the coming year, but I think that if I look to the top of this page, I can find some advice to give myself. As I finish this, once again the mind-melding iPod works its magic and produces U-2's "New Year's Day." Perfect.

INSTANT VACATION |

January 22, 2008

INSTANT VACATION
Name: Eddie
Stationed in: Iraq
Posting date: 1/22/08
Milblog url: EightyDeuceOnTheLoose
Email: airborneparainf82@gmail.com

"Laughter is an instant vacation."
                                        -- Milton Berle


There are many things that we have experienced here, some of them good, some of them bad, and some of them, well, just there. But there's one thing about being with a group of guys that have become like brothers, and that's the ability to just have a good time despite whatever situation you find yourself in. That is one of the greatest things I've noticed during this deployment -- that we can be in a horrible situation (combat-related or not) and just make the best of it. I can honestly say that the last two days I have had some of the best times here in Iraq, not because of anything we have done mission-wise, but just having a good laugh at the expense of myself and others in our platoon.

It all started on the last patrol I went on. We had our First Sergeant and his driver, a mortar guy who used to go out with our platoon a lot back in the day. He's a great guy and a part of me misses the good times we had when he was along (**tear**).  Hahaha. Anyways, he's a smoker and normally smokes Marlboro #27 cigarettes. I smoke Marlboro Lights, and while we were smoking he gave me a pack, saying he didn't like lights. I thought it was an awesome gesture, and of course I took the free pack.

I lit one up and immediately there was a semi-loud SNAP as the end of the cigarette exploded. I'm not going to lie, it scared the piss out of me, and for some stupid reason the first thought in my head was "Sniper!" I know, it's dumb, but that's what I thought, though it passed quickly. After everyone got their laugh, he proceeded to tell me that every single cigarette in there had been rigged to explode. Alright, well now I'm going to have some fun with this.

It became my personal mission to get as many people as I could with one of the exploding cigarettes. I managed to get a few people while we were still at the outpost, but eventually everyone knew I had them. That's when I decided to give one to one of the Iraqi Army guys. It was pretty funny, and he refused to smoke the rest of it. It was in good fun, so don't worry -- we both were having a good laugh from it.

Later, while out on a dismounted patrol, we had finished and were waiting around for the trucks to come back and pick us up. One of the guys in my squad wanted a smoke, but had left his in the truck. Here ya go, I've got one for ya! He totally forgot I had those, and when he lit it up, he was startled by the POP like everyone else. The best part was there were about 15 Iraqi kids around us. We started laughing and pointing and all the kids started doing the same. He must have felt like an ass! It's always great to see others suffer.

I can't recall how many people I got, but it was pretty close to one for every cigarette in the pack. And just now as I'm writing this, my grenadier finally smoked the one I snuck into his pack on the cigarette break we just took. GOOD TIMES!!

A while back I was viewing a video sent to me, and it was one of those where suddenly, out of nowhere, this Exorcist-looking chick pops out and there's a loud screeching and it scares the piss out of you. I showed it to my good buddy, but before doing so cranked up my sound system. Let 's just say it scared the piss out of him too. He yelled and jumped up, punching in front of him.

Another guy introduced me to a maze game. As you go through it, it gets hard and you really have to concentrate, and then out of nowhere that Exorcist creature scares you. Well, we then began tricking everyone, telling them that we'd give them $20 if they could beat this level in the maze, and we'd talk it up. It was just hilarious. We ended up getting four or five people good, and the last one was the grenadier in my team and there were probably about 15 people around him watching. Again, another great laugh at someone else's expense! I can honestly say I haven't laughed that hard in a long while.

Another bit of fun has come from something we now refer to as the "Cornbread Challenge." It started off as a punishment from my grenadier to my automatic rifleman, who had secretly ashed a whole cigarette on my grenadier's head. To make up for it, he had to eat five pieces of cornbread from the chow hall. I figured that he couldn't do it, and he bet me $20 he could. We gave him 20 minutes, and he couldn't throw up until it was all down. He could drink or do whatever he wanted to the pieces, though. He made another $20 bet with another guy.

He almost made it -- four and a half pieces -- but ended up running out of the chowhall, puking as he barely made it out of the door! After that, people began saying they could do it, and the Cornbread Challenge was born.

For the next contestant we changed the rules a little. If he could do it in 10 minutes my grenadier would give him $60. This was a big guy and I actually thought he'd do it, but at four and a quarter the cornbread got the best of him, and he went to the trash can and began regurgitating it through his mouth and nose! He had done it on a non-empty stomach, so we amended a final change to the Challenge: six pieces in 11 minutes, $60. We wrote the Challenge up on our platoon board, listed the failures so far and posted a signup list. We had our first taker that night.

Given the popularity of the Challenge now, people were beginning to want to watch, in hopes of seeing someone fail and puke their guts out. Our in-house video guru was around for the next challenger, along with eight of us that were not out on patrol. We were now going to videorecord each attempt in hopes of catching more and more destructive failures.

The next participant was someone that was going to give this challenge a run for its money (literally...$60) and we were a little worried he might do it. He went to town, but again, like the rest -- just after finishing the fifth piece and with one minute left on the clock -- he couldn't handle it and the cornbread came back up. The best part was another guy made a $10 bet with me that he would do it, and of course he lost. So this is now $30 I've made off side bets on the Cornbread Challenge. As it stands, three men have entered and none have come out a victor. The Challenge still stands, and we may have contestant number four tomorrow. Hopefully loser number four!

The last bit of hilarity came while we were eating at the chow hall. Just as we were about to finish up, the warning sirens came on for incoming mortar rounds/rockets. Well, we have this new unit that is here in large numbers, and I don't know if it's what they've been told or trained on, but when that siren went off half the chow hall dove for the ground and were hiding under tables. The rest of us just kind of sat there.

This was my cue to get up and casually walk over to where the to-go boxes were, and grab one to put the rest of my food up so I could take it back with me. As I'm walking there, people are diving in the front door, hitting the ground as I'm trying to step over and around those huddled on the floor. I got a good kick out of it. Afterwards we headed out and back to our rooms, laughing most of the way at what we had just experienced.

TBI |

January 21, 2008

TBI
Name: J.R. Salzman
Posting date: 1/21/08
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Menomenie, WI
Milblog url: LumberjackInADesert

Something that is incredibly lacking at Walter Reed Army Medical Center is a traumatic brain injury (TBI) care facility. I have TBI.

I didn't know I had TBI until my Nar-Sum (narrative summary) was composed and ready to be turned in for my med board, seven months after I arrived. Not once during my 8.5 month stay at Walter Reed did I have a doctor tell me I had TBI, or where I had to go to get help. Most of the memory loss problems I have been suffering were written off to the hundreds of oral medications I've taken. So were the other symptoms.

It wasn’t until I returned home and kicked most of the medications that I realized I have a very serious problem for which I need medical help. Since I've been home I have been unable to sleep. I might sleep for three, four, maybe five hours if I’m lucky. I have trouble keeping things organized. Saying I have memory problems is an understatement.

Since school started, I feel completely overwhelmed. I feel tired and exhausted all the time. I cannot keep simple tasks straight, and I cannot focus on any one task long enough to make progress. I spent this weekend seriously contemplating dropping half my classes. I’ve never felt more lost and confused in tasks that I know so well (I already have over 90 college credits).

While doing research for a paper for my Students With Disabilities class, I came upon a report listing the symptoms of TBI and was quite surprised to read them. They include:

Headaches or ringing in the ears
Feeling sad, anxious or listless
Easily irritated or angered
Feeling tired all the time
Trouble with memory, attention or concentration
More sensitive to sounds, lights or distractions
Impaired decision-making or problem-solving
Difficulty inhibiting behavior –- impulsive
Slowed thinking, moving, speaking or reading
Easily confused, feeling easily overwhelmed


There is not a symptom on this list I don’t have.

I remember being tested shortly after I got to Walter Reed in December, 2006, but my wife and I were never told any results. And since I had many surgeries to undergo, it quickly escaped my mind as thoughts of losing more limbs took priority. It's one thing for your therapist to tell you, “Yeah, you probably have TBI”. It's another thing altogether for a doctor to tell you, “Yes, we tested you and you have TBI. Here’s what you have to do to get help.” I was never told I tested positive. If I hadn’t stumbled upon it in my paperwork seven months later I might not have any written documentation to support it.

My question is, if the doctors at Walter Reed knew I have TBI, why wasn’t I given any help? If a doctor does a blood test and discovers you have a disease, he tells you and helps you find a cure. Why did I fall through the cracks? How many other unfortunate soldiers there are experiencing the same thing?

NEW AND OLD THOUGHTS |

January 18, 2008

NEW AND OLD THOUGHTS
Name: Zachary Scott-Singley
Posting date: 1/18/08
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url: A Soldier's Thoughts

Slowly I assessed the situation; my gun was near and I know that it can feel so nice having that cold lethal steel pressed against your body, reminiscent of war in desolate sorrowful places where things seem to only become broken. In that place my body was perfect. My mind was not, however. It was bitter and un-amused with the daily carnage of "peace keeping operations". Money is nice but the purity of thought can become even more addicting, especially when you know you could die in the next instant.

That rare rain becomes so beautiful to you because of its simplicity as it brings life to such a dead place. The sun both harsh and incredible shines unrelenting on you and your bristling weapons as you ride under it with the thoughts rattling around your head of your own death or that of another.

There are times when I feel broken from my experiences, times when I can’t conveniently sweep them into that black hole inside me where I send memories to be buried for a while. For some reason they always resurface, and with them my retrospection brings both immaculate recreations of war, as well as regret and a sick longing for a place where people like me can be. A place where you could die and where it would be so far away that even the land you live and walk on feels like it wants your blood.

Sometimes I remember only colors. Then there are things like a night with another soldier who I have long forgotten. We sit and drink a beer we bought on the black market during a trip to Baghdad from our home in Fallujah. I talk about my family and children as he talks of his. This soldier whom I have forgotten, I make him a promise that we will get our families together. He is from another unit, but in war we are brothers. As we get home I hug my children and he searches the crowd of family members for his wife and kids. His kids he sees, they are with his mother. His wife has left him and his kids as well. We never have that promised barbeque and we are no longer brothers because his loss reminds him of that hot Iraqi night drinking Egyptian beer with me.

Those empty promises add up, and in my head I find myself remembering them and tallying them up as defeats of my soul. Maybe I could have been a better friend, maybe I could have remembered his name, and maybe we could have kept our promise. Everything revolves around that phrase, "When we get back we will..."  Perhaps we will be better dads, or we won’t ever argue with our wives, or perhaps we will simply cherish every moment.

I haven’t kept those promises I made in my heart. I have had fights with my wife, I have been short with my kids, and I haven’t cherished every moment with my family. In fact I have at times become just like everyone else. Iraq is a land far away and home is here and now. Home is stressful, home is bills, home is work, and home is uneventful as we forget all we learned on the foreign soils of war, and her spiteful malice which was such a harsh teacher. I am sorry, not only do I try to bury those thoughts; I failed to completely learn from them...

THE FIGHTING 69TH |

January 17, 2008

THE FIGHTING 69TH
Name: Eric Coulson
Posting date: 1/17/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: badgersforward.blogspot.com

Writing about the military experience in general and combat specifically is a tricky matter. Write too cynically and the piece will make the experience appear to be a nihilistic drive into dark; write too heroically and war is falsely painted as glamorous. The good combat writer portrays both the horror of combat and the nobility of ordinary Soldiers in extraordinary circumstances. Fortunately for the reader, author Sean Michael Flynn delivers the goods in The Fighting 69th.

The Fighting 69th tells the story of 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, a unit of the New York Army National Guard and the 42nd Infantry Division. The unit has a distinguished lineage, as a proud Regiment of Irish immigrants that fought in the Civil War, served under the 42nd Infantry Division commanded by then-Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur during World War I, and fought in the Pacific Theater of World War II, where the unit built an impressive history of combat experience. By the late 1990s though, it was a Tier IV National Guard unit that was underfunded, underresourced, and undermanned. The expectation of the Soldiers and the Army was the unit would never deploy to a combat situation. When I spoke with Mr. Flynn about the state of the National Guard at that time, he commented on how unaware most Americans were about the lack of readiness of the Guard. “Big Army” always envisioned the Guard as a strategic reserve for one-time use. On September 11, 2001 that changed.

Flynn chronicles the deployment of this Manhattan-based unit to downtown Manhattan during the chaos of that day. It happened not because of a grand plan or foresight of the leaders of the New York Army National Guard, but because, under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Geoff Slack, Soldiers at all levels took the initiative to move to their unit armories and then down to assist first responders at what we would all know soon as Ground Zero. Looking back, one might assume the U.S. organizations dedicated to the nation’s protection might have moved forward in concert, but Flynn documents Slack’s disregard of State Headquarters directives to stand down and allow local authorities to handle the matter. Slack disregarded those orders and exercised the initiative expected of Army officers and moved toward the “sound of the guns.”

In early 2002, following many weeks working at Ground Zero, part of the battalion was mobilized to stand the guard mount at the United States Military Academy at West Point. This portion of the story explores the challenges of military leadership when given a dull and static assignment. Flynn writes about the trials and tribulation the unit experienced during this time, professionally, matter of factly, and without pulling any punches.

One of the largest morale problems leaders of the mobilized Fighting 69th Soldiers had at West Point was dealing with the fact that while they stood watch in the Hudson River Valley, other Soldiers, including their fellow Guardsman, were preparing to do battle in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002 and 2003. Rumors circulated that they would be trained for special strikes in Afghanistan as avenging New York angels, but of course that was not the case. The experienced military reader will both recognize the plausibility of the rumor in the barracks and the implausibility of transforming a regular infantry battalion into a Special Operations Force.

Mobilized finally in 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Fighting 69th mobilized out of Fort Hood, Texas as part of the Louisiana Army National Guard’s 256th Separate Infantry Brigade, the Tiger Brigade, and then deployed to Iraq. Even though the Tigers were a Tier III unit, one step above the Fighting 69th, the difference in equipment and training was apparent. The story of the mobilization and training of the unit for deployment to Iraq is one most Soldiers who have been through the process will recognize, and gives civilians some insight into what has been a long and painful process for many units during the Global War on Terror.

Finally arriving in Iraq in 2004, the Fighting 69th dealt with numerous changes of mission; the unit moved from securing previously unsecured areas to protecting Special Operations compounds. They were also forced to reorganize numerous times, not always easy in the middle of combat. Their tour ended, fittingly enough, protecting Route Irish, the famous road from Baghdad International Airport to the Green Zone.The Fighting 69th was also involved in one of the more famous incidents of the war, the accidental shooting of Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari. The incident once again put the battalion under the microscope and subjected not only the Soldier who pulled the trigger, but the entire chain of command, to interminable second guessing by “Big Army” and the world at large.

This incident, though, stands in marked contrast to the Fighting 69th’s everyday experience on Route Irish. The Soldiers of one company patrolled the road with no major incident during a seven-month period. One of the experiences of Soldiers in Iraq is the time when nothing happens. Many of us that have done this mission believe instinctively that our presence on the roads of Iraq have had a deterrent effect. It will probably take the publication of a history from the other side before we have a full view of our effect on those missions when "nothing happened".

Sean Michael Flynn sets all this among the backdrop of the unit’s history; participation in the annual New York City Saint Patrick’s Day parade is a recurring theme throughout the book. It flows well and is one of the better written books about US Forces involved in the Global War on Terror. This last observation may seem banal, but if you have read a great deal of the Iraq and Afghanistan literature you have certainly read some poorly written books. Happily this book does not suffer from that defect.

Writing as the ultimate embed, Sean Michael Flynn chose to eschew the memoir format of most Soldiers and wrote this story about the central character, the Fighting 69th. When I spoke with Mr. Flynn, he commented that most publishers insisted that he write a memoir, but he held out for a publisher who would support his vision for the book. In this way the story is told by the unit and not just one member. The reader also receives valuable insight from the writer who was there. Using the vernacular of the unit, such as their admonition to each other to “stay frosty”, puts the reader at home with these Soldiers.

One aspect of the story that is not explored is the home front. Nineteen Soldiers from the Fighting 69th died in Iraq. They left 16 children and mothers. Additionally numerous Soldiers suffered life-changing wounds. Mr. Flynn chose not to address these stories because he believed that he could not do them justice.

If you read one book this year about American Soldiers on the ground in the Global War on Terrorism, make it this book. An entertaining and informative read, you will meet everyday Americans like Lieutenant Colonel Geoff Slack, Captain Chris Daniels, Sergeant Jay Olmo, and indirectly Captain Sean Michael Flynn. These ordinary men have a remarkable story, one that should become familiar to all Americans.

Sean Michael Flynn will be making the following bookstore appearances:

        US Military Academy:West Point, NY January 23
        Book House: Albany, NY January 25
 

THE NEW NORMAL |

January 16, 2008

THE NEW NORMAL
Name: CAPT Mike Dunn
Posting date: 1/16/08
En route to: Afghanistan
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Milblog url
: TheNewNormal

8:00 AM - Tuesday, September 11th, 2001: Having just completed my civic duty by casting my ballot in the NYC primary elections, I'm sitting on the X28 express bus working its way up Church Street towards my job in midtown Manhattan. As I had done countless times before, I gazed at the usual street scene of the throngs coming and going around the World Trade Center, paying attention to nothing in particular. Although I didn't know it, I would never, ever see this scene again.

8:00 AM - Wednesday, September 12th, 2001*: I am walking up Church Street in battle dress uniform, full combat gear, and armed with an Army issue 9mm Berreta pistol loaded with hollow point bullets on loan from the NYPD. Before me is a scene of horror beyond my ability to express with words. I am numbed by the sur-realness of it all. Although I didn't know it, this would now be my life, this would be the new normal.

110300RJAN08/111230DJAN08: Six years and four months later I am with my wife and children in Brooklyn for as much precious time I can hoard away from Big Army. I am a week away from getting on a bus to begin a journey which will take me to Afghanistan. Just in time for the Taliban's Spring Offensive. I sense this story is heading towards some sort of denouement. I dread what I don't know.

*
Or, using the DateTime Group (DTG) format used by the military: 120800RSEP01. The format reads as: the day's date, the time in 24-hour-clock format, the time zone designation, the month, the year. Time Zone Romeo (R) is Eastern Standard Time. Time Zone Delta (D) plus 30 minutes is the time in Afghanistan. Time Zone Zulu (Z), is Greenwhich Mean Time.

A SONIC VOLUME OF AWESOME |

January 15, 2008

A SONIC VOLUME OF AWESOME
Name: The Usual Suspect
Posting date: 1/15/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: theunlikelysoldier.blogspot.com

Hello readers. I'd like to give you a moment to adjust your ass, as it's about to be rocked off, with a sonic volume of awesome.

Unless your internet is as slow as mine (or you have your sound off), it's probably too late. Enjoy.

[Note: The sonically awesome audio tracks that originally accompanied this post are now only available at Suspect's site. The "Enjoy" link will take you there.]

The reason I bring this up, is that I feel that you all deserve the same caring treatment that anyone riding in a Stryker with me receives. IPods, etc are a must in any Stryker. And more importantly, media players loaded with fuckin' METAL.

Metal that reaches through the speakers and whips your pansy ass into a puddle of goo, attacks you with sheer masculine animosity, and melts the face off of your bitch-ass friends, especially the hip-hop enthusiast types.

We got one of our old medics back, and he's on the truck for the first time. I'm driving, and I feel it's my job to brief him.

"Heya, sergeant. I just wanted to let you know, your face is about to be rocked off, and your ears are going to receive a merciless ass-kicking courtesy of old school Metallica."

He laughs. Good man.

On that note, I would like to include a short letter that I would like to extend to Metallica:


Dearest Metallicats,

In eager anticipation of your new album, I would like to point out a few things I expect from you, with the hopes that it gets you further pumped to thoroughly rock out.

Y'see, being pretty much the Godfathers of modern metal, it is your sworn duty to fix the state of affairs that our music industry is in, and breathe some life into GOOD metal, because Slipknot can't do it ALL on their own, and besides, you need to remind all them bands that you are the dominant one. It's like living in a primitive culture of gorillas, and that's why you must use your guitars and whatnot to beat those sad bitches into a pile of shit. And rock the entire time you do it.

I expect you to bitch slap me with sonic fury, and never once apologize when you neatly package my candy ass and hand it to me. I expect my balls to be stomped, figuratively, and for my mother to cry because you're kicking too much ass.

You will know when you have succeeded when the faces have been wiped off of Mount Rushmore and replaced with visages of you guys growling at people. Even better if there's a sculpture of a giant fist crushing some dweeb for sucking too badly.

Let's put it this way, if your new album has to be packaged with a pack of Depends because it's so unbelievably shit-your-pants-awesome, I will be most pleased. I require major hearing loss, a numb feeling in parts of my body, and whiplash from banging my fucking head until my eyeballs bleed.

I want an album that makes poodles explode when you play it. An album that makes bands like Nickelback give up and go back to pumping gas. An album that gives Courtney Love a sex change. A colossal wall of sound that is equivalent to the carnage one might witness when an army of cougars, wolverines, grizzly bears, pissed off pandas on PCP, cracked out steroid squirrels and ten foot tall gorillas is let loose versus a room full of Backstreet groupies.

This album should be so devastatingly awesome that when we blare it in the Stryker and drop ramp to step out into sector, children run in complete terror, the elderly crawl away in abject fear, and Ali Baba realizes that his music is complete shit, and comes over to the dark side where us kickass American types rock out. This of course will upset the "war profiteers" or whatever, but fuck them if they can't rock.

Please put me in a coma with your thrashing badassery.

Thank you.

                                                                        Your Pal,
                                                                        The Usual Suspect


I think it's a pretty damn good letter, personally. Good metal is very important for an infantryman. You have to get up early, something I respond to by blaring ear-bleed music much to the dismay of some. You have to drive off-road, something that just isn't the same without thrashing chaos stabbing its way out of the speakers. If you have to run around with a gun in your hands, you better have METAL reverberating in your skull, not some bullshit rap song about gold chains and women of questionable morals.

Metal is about being pissed off and aggressive, something we are very familiar with. Rap doesn't make you want to kick in doors and smash things in abandoned houses (something that is unnecessary to the uninitiated and those of rank above E4, who just don't understand that things NEED to be broken. In fact, back in Baghdad, that was how my squad leader kept track of me:

"Suspect! Where are you?"

*SHATTER*

"Oh, OK!")

Kids, I just can't stress enough how important metal is to your development as a human being. If you don't get a ten billion megawatt charge and an ear to ear grin/scowl from ass-bashing music at high volume, you might not have a soul. Or you may have an excessively high estrogen count, in which case I refer you to www.moby.com.

You want us to win the War On TERRRRRORRRRR? Then crank up some crazy insane metal and let us out of our cages. Or else learn to be more diplomatic, whichever. Regardless, metal is the path to all things awesome.

Note: If this post left you feeling all sorts of motivated to rock out, please scroll down to the bottom of the playlist and listen to some Slipknot, to make sure that your punk ass can handle true mayhem.

 

ATEQUELLAH |

January 14, 2008

ATEQUELLAH
Name: MAJ Gian P. Hernandez
Posting date: 1/14/08
Stationed in: Kabul, Afghanistan
Milblog url: shazdoc.blogspot.com

Don't let people drive you crazy when you know it's in walking distance.
     -- Unknown

Part of being sane, is being a little bit crazy.
     -- Janet Long

It was snowing really hard today. The streets were wet and muddy. When we arrived at the clinic my Afghan colleagues were starting their morning report. I sat close to the interpreter so he could whisper what was being said. They were kind enough to pause during their report so that all of the information could get translated.

During the day I spent most of my my time up in the ER, where most of the activity usually is. The on-call doctor was the Neurosurgeon, and I asked him about the patient who was sitting on one of the exam tables. This doctor usually complains that I never visit with him, so I wanted to spend some time discussing his patient. I was not buying his diagnosis of inguinal hernia on an older lady with right lower quadrant abdominal pain and painful urination.

A little later I approached a surgeon who was applying betadine over a patient's calf. I asked him what he was about to do, and he said he was going to take fluid out of the calf. I gave him one of my "you have got to be kidding" looks. I thought to myself that there was no way that he could be serious. But he proceeded to insert a needle into the patient's calf and actually drew up about 40ml of cloudy amber fluid. I was quite surprised. I looked at the paperwork on the desk, and saw that not only did the surgeon get an ultrasound that confirmed a large cyst, but he had also sent part of the fluid to be analyzed and also did blood work. The assistant that was there looked at me and said, "What, did you think that we did not know what we were doing?" I felt somewhat guilty for having my doubts.

On the way home we encountered a very sad scene -- a homeless family, beggars, who sit down in the middle of the street, between passing cars. Some of them even have young children that help them out. They were there like always, but today the street was filled with slush and mud and the snow was coming down really hard. The conditions could not have been worse. It is very cold outside, and it is not like they can go home to a warm house and take a shower afterwards.

I previously blogged about a little kid with a heart defect. After learning about Operation Outreach and Baby Heart and how they help children with heart defects, I decided to write to them to see if there is anything they can do to help him out. I have kept his phone number, and have thought about him on a regular basis. I just did not even know where to begin to help him. I will keep you posted on any info that I get back. Here is his pic.
Framed_hernandez_ateq1
In the meantime I thought that I would give another plug to the Camp Phoenix Operation Outreach program:

Our humanitarian-assistance group at Camp Phoenix, Operation Outreach, has already sent two children, Bas Mar Jan and Welyat, for heart surgeries, and both have had excellent outcomes. We’re now raising funds to send a three-year-old boy, Atequellah, for surgery. He suffers from ventricular-septal defect (VSD), a congenital heart defect that will result in death if left untreated. Outreach has raised just over $7,500 to date; we have another $9,000 to raise before we reach our goal.

If you would like to support us in our efforts to help these two little boys, please visit http://www.babyheart.org , the International Children's Heart Foundation web site, and click on "Operation Outreach in Kabul".  There you'll see a picture of Bas Mar Jan, the little girl mentioned above, and some information about Operation Outreach. Click on "Make a Donation", and when you get to the "Comments" box on the secure donation page, type in “Operation Outreach, Afghanistan.” ICHF will designate the funds for our use.

Operation Outreach continues to accept new and gently-used clothes and shoes, as well as school supplies. Though children are our primary focus, we accept donations of women’s and men’s clothing as well; there’s an active “market” here in which families can trade one needed item for another. We also request liquid or powdered baby formula for the many mothers who lack enough milk to feed their infants, as well as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap.

Our address is:
Operation Outreach
C Company 163rd LTF
Camp Phoenix
APO AE 09320

Here is Atequellah, who needs your help:
Framed_hernandez_ateq2

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE |

January 11, 2008

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE
Name: LTC Robert Bateman
Posting date: 1/11/08
Returned from: Iraq
Stationed in: Washington, D.C.
Hometown: Cleveland, "We never win anything" Ohio
Email: R_Bateman_LTC@hotmail.com

I thought I might lighten the mood with a fairly current observation from my world. It is an observation that puzzled me at first. I think I have a handle on it now. I recently noticed a change that took place between 2004 and the present. There is, you see, a lot more hugging going on nowadays where I work.

I work in the Pentagon.

Yeah, I know.

The realization of a definite shift in behavior did not really hit me until late October this year. But in hindsight, as is normal with an epiphany, I could look into my mental rear-view mirror and see the outlines. What precipitated my thoughts was that inside of the space of a single week I received (and I must admit, somewhat awkwardly returned) three hugs from brother officers. One of them was a full colonel.

The other two were generals.

Yeah, I know.

After the third of these hugs I felt a little disoriented. Reeling through my mind was the scene from the movie A League of Their Own in which, after making one of his female baseball players cry, the coach (Tom Hanks) is flabbergasted, then exasperated, finally shouting, “There’s no crying in baseball! There’s no crying in BASEBALL!!” But in my head the words were swapped. “There’s no hugging in the Pentagon! There’s no hugging in the PENTAGON!!” But, quite obviously, there is now.

I seem to notice things like this. Anomalies. Outliers. Whatever you want to call them. And then, sometimes, I figure them out. This one took a while.

During my first tour of duty in the Pentagon, from the middle of 2002 through the end of 2004, there was no such phenomenon. That is easy enough to understand, because although the “guy hug” had become fairly common in the civilian world (I suspect it leaked over from professional sports) by the late '80s and early '90s, mine is a somewhat more restrained sub-culture. Indeed, there are aspects of Army culture that are clear throw-backs to the 1950s.

For example, when you move in to “quarters” on a military post, even as the moving trucks are unloading all of your worldly possessions into the cramped government-constructed housing and your children are running hither and yon exploring their new environment, your neighbors arrive. They will, all of them, bring food. Traditionally this will be casseroles of some sort, with baking directions and their name and address taped to the bottom of the dish. Casseroles are the norm because they can feed the whole family, need only be warmed, and can be served on paper plates -- essential since you will not yet have unpacked your own plates. Within hours you have sufficient food to sustain the family for the week it will take you to get unpacked without the need for major grocery shopping, and a convenient reason to visit all of your neighbors in return. (Usually with beer in hand.) It is, in other words, the essence of life in 1955. That is what I mean about us being a tad retro in our sub-cultural changes.

So why the sudden change in the Pentagon? Why has our culture made this leap? As I said, it took me a little while to puzzle this one out. I think I have it now. There are certain rules that seem to apply, and I should note that I am speaking only of what I have seen, and that is only within the Army.

Rule #1: A hug is only appropriate between two men who have not seen each other in at least a year. It only occurs on the first meeting of those two after such a gap.

Rule #2: During that period one or both of them have been to combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. Neither has died or was crippled beyond repair. Both now know too many who have been so.

Rule #3: The hug occurs in conjunction with a forearm gripped handshake. It is brief. Right arm in shake, left arm over the other man’s shoulder, two or three hearty slaps or punches to the back. No more. Release. The sentiment is as direct as the action, "I am glad you are not dead."

In other words, what changed us was war.

That seems to make sense.

Note: This piece first appeared on Eric Alterman's website, MediaMatters.

DOC LIKES TO PARTY |

January 10, 2008

DOC LIKES TO PARTY
Name: Adrian B.
Posting date: 1/10/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog url: TheSatiristAtWar

Whenever there's a dispute between Afghans we go for our best interpreter, a guy I'll call "Doc." Doc does a good job of translating, is awesome at telling us what's going on between the lines, and is eager to work no matter the time or circumstances (this has been tested on many occasions).

So Saturday rolls around and there's a huge blow-up between two sets of Afghans. Each wants to do whatever emotional harm they can to the other, to provoke them into some physical attack which will blow all their credibility with the Coalition Forces.

We have a sit down with the two sides; myself, the CO, and -- of course -- Doc. The talk is long, the stakes are high, and after an hour of back-and-forth, due mainly to my keeping my own counsel (I am in a particularly bad mood due to being awoken after three hours of sleep) and the CO's quick-thinking mediation skills, we have a compromise in sight that looks good for everyone.

It is at this stage in the negotiations -- the final stretch, when everything is coming together -- that Doc gives in to a weird impulse, one which he obeys whenever it arises. We'll call it the "party" impulse.

Keep in mind that the meeting is still very much in progress. Everyone's still at the table, no agreement has been reached about anything (though agreement appears inevitable, perhaps within the next 5-10 minutes).

Doc stops translating for one of the sides in mid sentence, is silent for a couple seconds, then looks at me.

"Sir, what do you think about a party?"

I'm a little confused. "Uh... What?"

"I would like to have a party tonight. You and the Commander, and LT R , and LT D, must come to the party."

"OK...."

"When would be a good time for the party?"

The Afghans sitting at the table are not really understanding what's going on. Fortunately. I've seen this happen on two other occasions. When Doc gets the idea to throw a party, nothing stands in his way. It's almost enough to counterbalance his other great qualities as a terp -- good knowledge of English and Pashtun, honesty, dedication -- the chance that, at any given moment, no matter what the setting, he will suddenly think: "Hey, I should throw a party."

One time it happened in the middle of a synch meeting between us and the ANA, and he wouldn't shut up about parties until we'd promised to attend and hashed out the particulars. So it was on this day. It didn't matter that we were in the middle of negotiating an important settlement between two factions that would otherwise be shooting at each other. What we thought of parties was similarly not taken into consideration. The only thing that mattered to Doc at that moment was that we make a solid plan to have a party, that night, and that we commit to attending the party at a specific time.

That agreement reached, we got back to resolving a dispute that, untended, would certainly have boiled over into violence, and ten minutes later everyone was shaking hands.

Doc knows how to negotiate. He holds the two disputants over the fire until they both promise to respect one another (using, I imagine, the same techniques of social hostage-taking he had employed with myself and the CO moments before). Before everyone went their separate ways, though, Doc had one more thing he wanted to say.

"Sir, if you could invite CPT L to the party, it would be better."

"Sure, Doc, I'll do that, no problem."

"It will be the best party!"

"We'll be there."

Out of this insanely inappropriate talk of parties I suddenly had a flash of insight. Before leaving, I invited the disputing factions to the party. It ended up being a good move.

Afghans love a good party, like anyone, even if there's no booze or women there (my understanding of a "party" is understandably different from theirs -- I've made my peace with that). And nobody knows parties like Doc.

FOREVER CHANGED |

January 09, 2008

FOREVER CHANGED
Name: Citizen Soldier Sojack
Posting date: 1/9/08
Returned from: Kuwait and Iraq
Hometown: Benton, Arkansas
Milblog url: sojack.blogspot.com

I am an American Soldier and I was in a combat zone; and while I have no visible injuries, I am nonetheless forever changed. This is my reality.

Serving my country has always given me an incredible sense of pride. It still does. But this most recent deployment experience also opened my eyes to the effects that deployments, particularly those to hostile, unsympathetic environments, really have on service members and their families.

I worked in a very "no nonsense" environment overseas -- and with slightly dysfunctional people, made this way from too many deployments. Deploying and returning home time and time again over the course of many years left some more than just a little unpredictable in their behavior, and considerably idiosyncratic. They earned their mental scars, their divorces, their quirks, doing what they love the most. Serving their country.

We wrote the orders, policies and procedures for those Soldiers who performed the dangerous work of delivering goods and supplies along the roads of Kuwait and Iraq. The orders we gave and the plans we made sent them into harm's way on a daily basis. Most of what we asked the Soldiers to do, and what we oversaw, was "routine" to us and to the Soldiers. We were all desensitized to the reality of how unsafe our work really was.

After reading about 50 or so "Serious Incident Reports" every day for weeks at a time -- reports of shootings, injuries, IEDS -- you become immune to your own emotions. It's a job requirement. You cannot become histrionic every time something bad happens, or else we would be ineffective leaders. Those under us would be in greater danger than they already were if our emotions took over every time something distasteful happened, or the stress level rose a notch or two. While these are effective survival tactics in a combat zone, they are qualities that are not necessary at home in the United States. What is considered calm and rational in a hazardous duty area often comes off as cold, callous and uncaring to family and friends.

The majority of Kuwait and Iraq that I visited was a horribly austere, dirty and noisy environment. There were smells and tastes lingering in the air that were quite nauseous and sickening. Upon first arriving in Kuwait, most people experience some type of upper respiratory distress from unavoidably breathing in all the filth and dust that is a constant in that operating environment. What will the long term effects of this exposure be? I don't know.

I made it home, safe and sound. But it didn't take long for me to realize that my mind was still overseas conducting business as usual. It became apparent to me that I was wound a little too tight -- as taut as a piano string, to be exact. Unwinding, or turning it off, however, proved to take more effort than I assumed it would. "They" say this is normal.

I now find that I am more sensitive to noise, have demands for more personal space, and obsess a little more about cleanliness. I'm astute enough to realize that my new idiosyncratic behavior is directly related to my experiences while overseas. Now I am more like those who I served with, those who have endured more than one deployment.

And so I have changed. It is difficult for others to understand why I have changed. After all, I wasn't wounded. Or was I?

There is a child in my life who thinks I am a hero, a point which is certainly debatable. He was simply happy that I returned home in one piece -- at least he thought I was in one piece -- and ready to start our lives over from the point at which we left off. However, it fast became apparent to him that I am not the same person he knew before I left, and he is confused by that. He wants the "old me" back and so do I. It is painful and disappointing for both of us.

It is also disheartening to me that there are so many who served in Desert Storm who became ill as a result of their exposure to dirt, dust, burning oil, chemicals, drugs the military gave them to protect them, and God knows what else. Some are still waiting on a diagnosis and treatment after all these years. And the reality of the Vietnam Veterans, scorned for their participation in a war that had little public support, scarred by their experiences and denied treatment, is painfully sad. Will the Veterans of this war suffer the same mistreatments? Will we be diagnosed later in life with some unnameable disease, the source of which cannot be identified? Again, I don't know.

I see homeless people on the street, some of them obviously Veterans, and now I understand why they are in the situation they are in. They were wounded, physically and mentally, and society has cast them aside. Has the War on Terrorism created another generation of people who will suffer the same plight? We are already seeing the answer to this question being unveiled in the press. Think of Walter Reed when you read this.

Still, I am lucky. Health care for Vets has vastly improved over the course of the United States' involvement in world conflicts. PTSD wasn't even recognized as a valid medical condition until well after the Vietnam War had concluded and thousands of Vets were wandering the streets with undiagnosed medical and psychological conditions. Thankfully Vets now have access to free medical screenings and counseling following deployments. I just hope that those who need it take advantage of it.

While visiting a local Vet Center, a counselor told me that he had just recently spoken with a WWII Vet who confided in him, after 60 years of holding it in, all the horrible things he witnessed during the war. Sixty years. That's a long time to repress something like that, but thank God that man finally had the opportunity to unload it on someone. Some never have that opportunity. Some never readjust.

It has taken longer to "demobilize" myself and readjust than I originally thought it would. I have lots of memories from my deployments, both good and bad. They will always be with me and they have shaped me into the person I am today. And from that I gain my new reality.

My new reality is that this is what happens to service members who are willing to pack up their bags and deploy to some faraway, unfriendly region of the world, enduring the hardships of life away from family and friends and the uncertainty of what the next day will bring. Some do it over and over. My deployment was easier than most and yet it affected me in a lasting way. I can only imagine what issues other service members and their families are facing.

All who have served, including their families, have sacrificed a portion of themselves for what they believe in the most. Service. Freedom. Religious tolerance. And many other things that our society cherishes. Please don't forget what they have sacrificed for you. Please don't forget them.

GROUNDHOG YEAR |

January 08, 2008

GROUNDHOG YEAR
Name: Alex Horton
Posting date: 1/8/08
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Frisco, TX
Milblog url: armyofdude.blogspot.com
Email: hortonhearsit@hotmail.com

After a year in Iraq, the days began to melt together. Notable firefights, deaths and strange happenings were the only vivid memories used to recall particular dates. June 12 was for us symbolic throughout the winter and early spring. It was the day the worn and battered would escape. The day that would mark a new beginning of our lives. The day we would return home.

With a clear conscience, Secretary Gates had us extended for three months. June 12 went from a daydream to just the Tuesday between June 11 and June 13.

We set out in the early morning toward Chibernot, a small neighborhood in northern Baqubah bristling with mud huts and dense palms. We arrived a little past dawn and already felt the terrible strain of the weight we carried. Instead of driving on roads crammed with IEDs, we walked a good ways through the night, tripping in holes and stepping into streams tainted with septic waste. At one in particular, I heard the guy in front of me miss the jump across a tiny creek, sliding his foot deep into the mud. I put my night vision goggles up and leapt with all my might. With a thud I landed off-balance, my backpack pushing me forward almost onto my face. You know you're miserable when falling knee deep into diluted human shit is marginally worse than the morning you spent walking across open fields in the dark, twisting your ankle and reflecting on how your early 20s were working out.

At nearly seven in the morning we walked down a neighborhood street flanked by the occasional house. Someone spotted spent shell casings from an AK47 along the road. We spread out in the ruins of a destroyed building, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Walking along the wall, I noticed a groove cut out with bright splatters of blood covered on both sides and running down the back into the grass. It looked as if someone was bent over the groove and executed. A few more shell casings were cluttered next to the bricks.

Framed_dude_groundhog_1
Not a good day for some of us.


After this find, we decided to look at the area more thoroughly. We headed for the one-room cinderblock house across the street. Nothing seemed suspicious until Dozer began to kick around the dirt floor. Sending a cloud of rocks and soil into the air, he exposed a flap of buried plastic. He dropped down on his hands and knees and began to shovel dirt. We quickly realized it was a huge bag full of homemade explosives, a simple powder mix used to amplify air tanks and landmines in the deep-buried IEDs that had been destroying our Strykers with ease.

More digging found another bag, at least twenty pounds. Then another. Then some landmines wired together to form a daisy chain explosion. Bags just kept on coming out of the ground. Binoculars. RPG sights. Grenade fuses. Even more bags of homemade explosives. Hundreds of feet of wire. Batteries. AK magazines. Ammo boxes. A Motorola radio. An American 40mm grenade. Mortars. Dishwashing machine timers. Every insurgent weapon under the sun.

Framed_dude_groundhog_2

Showing off my organizational skills.

Framed_dude_groundhog_3
From left to right: Cache gumshoe, a lot of boom, sweaty Dude.

After destroying the stockpile we moved on, searching for others like it. We had with us a source from the 1920s Brigade, attempting to find Al Qaeda safehouses in the neighborhood. We stopped at a house while another cache was being sorted through and prepared for detonation. Slumping on the floor of the living room, we made jokes and laughed, waiting for the explosion to rock the house. I was sitting to the left of the window with four or five people in between. We got the call: one minute until controlled detonation, everyone inside. We put our fingers in our ears. 30 seconds. Ten. Five. Then, BOOM! A sliver of glass burst from the window, taking a magic bullet route past the other dudes, completely missing my right arm and striking me in the left wrist.

Once I saw blood I said with a laugh, "Man, I'm fucked up!" My medic gave me a routine bandage after I dripped a bit of blood onto the ground. I pointed to the red spots on the floor in the house and said "sorry" to the owner of the house, with a shrug of my shoulders. While we waited for the extraction plan, I sat down and watched the 1920s dude pore over the documents belonging to the people in the house. They weren't supposed to carry weapons, but eh! If we don't arm Sunni insurgents, who will?

Framed_dude_groundhog_4
Not pictured: Bloody wound.

After more than ten hours on the scene, we decided to skedaddle. We were told the trucks were closer than the drop off point, a relief after walking all day in the June desert heat. Helicopters buzzed above us as we snaked through the outskirts of the town.

The heat proved to be a formidable enemy and we had to halt in a house for a moment. I finished the last drops of water and tossed my bottle into a garbage pile. Walking into the courtyard I quickly found a few friends gathered around a car in the shade. We talked about how far the Strykers were in actuality. The Apaches continued to fly low above us, close enough to see the pilots and their hand gestures. Several people came to the same conclusion at the same time: we have to moon them.

Framed_dude_groundhog_5
In a straight line in the yard, the guys dropped their pants with their asses facing the approaching helicopter, waving and hollering. The pilots waved back and shot flares up into the air in acknowledgment.

Fun in combat is a fleeting moment, and quickly the mooners buttoned their pants to continue on the path, about to trade a summer breeze grazing their asses for a hard Stryker bench. Just another couple hundred meters to go!

About a half mile later, we heard the distinct whine of the trucks. Getting in, sweaty, dirty, dehydrated and exhausted; we had done some good by taking bomb making material off the streets. But for what was supposed to be a special day, it ended like the hundreds before and after it: speeding toward our base, our enemies watching our every move.

FINAL POST |

January 07, 2008

FINAL POST
Name: MAJ Andrew Olmsted (via hilzoy)
Posting date: 1/7/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: andyolmsted.com

Framed_olmsted( Longtime blogger Andrew Olmsted was killed on January 3rd in Iraq. Andy gave me this post to publish in the event of his death; the last revisions to it were made in July.  -- hilzoy)

"I am leaving this message for you because it appears I must leave sooner than I intended. I would have preferred to say this in person, but since I cannot, let me say it here."
     -- G'Kar, Babylon 5

"Only the dead have seen the end of war."
      -- Plato

This is an entry I would have preferred not to have published, but there are limits to what we can control in life, and apparently I have passed one of those limits. And so, like G'Kar, I must say here what I would much prefer to say in person. I want to thank hilzoy for putting it up for me. It's not easy asking anyone to do something for you in the event of your death, and it is a testament to her quality that she didn't hesitate to accept the charge. As with many bloggers, I have a disgustingly large ego, and so I just couldn't bear the thought of not being able to have the last word if the need arose. Perhaps I take that further than most, I don't know. I hope so. It's frightening to think there are many people as neurotic as I am in the world. In any case, since I won't get another chance to say what I think, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity.

Such as it is.

"When some people die, it's time to be sad. But when other people die, like really evil people, or the Irish, it's time to celebrate."
     -- Jimmy Bender, "Greg the Bunny"

"And maybe now it's your turn
To die kicking some ass."
     -- Freedom Isn't Free, Team America

What I don't want this to be is a chance for me, or anyone else, to be maudlin. I'm dead. That sucks, at least for me and my family and friends. But all the tears in the world aren't going to bring me back, so I would prefer that people remember the good things about me rather than mourning my loss. (If it turns out a specific number of tears will, in fact, bring me back to life, then by all means, break out the onions.) I had a pretty good life, as I noted above. Sure, all things being equal I would have preferred to have more time, but I have no business complaining with all the good fortune I've enjoyed in my life. So if you're up for that, put on a little 80s music (preferably vintage 1980-1984), grab a Coke and have a drink with me. If you have it, throw 'Freedom Isn't Free' from the Team America soundtrack in; if you can't laugh at that song, I think you need to lighten up a little. I'm dead, but if you're reading this, you're not, so take a moment to enjoy that happy fact.

"Our thoughts form the universe. They always matter."
     -- Citizen G'Kar, Babylon 5

Believe it or not, one of the things I will miss most is not being able to blog any longer. The ability to put my thoughts on (virtual) paper and put them where people can read and respond to them has been marvelous, even if most people who have read my writings haven't agreed with them. If there is any hope for the long term success of democracy, it will be if people agree to listen to and try to understand their political opponents rather than simply seeking to crush them. While the blogosphere has its share of partisans, there are some awfully smart people making excellent arguments out there as well, and I know I have learned quite a bit since I began blogging. I flatter myself I may have made a good argument or two as well; if I didn't, please don't tell me. It has been a great five-plus years. I got to meet a lot of people who are way smarter than me, including such luminaries as Virginia Postrel and her husband Stephen (speaking strictly from a 'improving the species' perspective, it's tragic those two don't have kids, because they're both scary smart.), the estimable hilzoy and Sebastian of Obsidian Wings, Jeff Goldstein and Stephen Green, the men who consistently frustrated me with their mix of wit and wisdom I could never match, and I've no doubt left out a number of people to whom I apologize. Bottom line: if I got the chance to meet you through blogging, I enjoyed it. I'm only sorry I couldn't meet more of you. In particular I'd like to thank Jim Henley, who while we've never met has been a true comrade, whose words have taught me and whose support has been of great personal value to me. I would very much have enjoyed meeting Jim.

Blogging put me in touch with an inordinate number of smart people, an exhilarating if humbling experience. When I was young, I was smart, but the older I got, the more I realized just how dumb I was in comparison to truly smart people. But, to my credit, I think, I was at least smart enough to pay attention to the people with real brains and even occasionally learn something from them. It has been joy and a pleasure having the opportunity to do this.

"It's not fair."
"No. It's not. Death never is."
     -- Captain John Sheridan and Dr. Stephen Franklin, Babylon 5

"They didn't even dig him a decent grave."
"Well, it's not how you're buried. It's how you're remembered."
     -- Cimarron and Wil Andersen, The Cowboys


I suppose I should speak to the circumstances of my death. It would be nice to believe that I died leading men in battle, preferably saving their lives at the cost of my own. More likely I was caught by a marksman or an IED. But if there is an afterlife, I'm telling anyone who asks that I went down surrounded by hundreds of insurgents defending a village composed solely of innocent women and children. It'll be our little secret, ok?

I do ask (not that I'm in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn't a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side. If you think the U.S. should stay in Iraq, don't drag me into it by claiming that somehow my death demands us staying in Iraq. If you think the U.S. ought to get out tomorrow, don't cite my name as an example of someone's life who was wasted by our mission in Iraq. I have my own opinions about what we should do about Iraq, but since I'm not around to expound on them I'd prefer others not try and use me as some kind of moral capital to support a position I probably didn't support. Further, this is tough enough on my family without their having to see my picture being used in some rally or my name being cited for some political purpose. You can fight political battles without hurting my family, and I'd prefer that you did so.

On a similar note, while you're free to think whatever you like about my life and death, if you think I wasted my life, I'll tell you you're wrong. We're all going to die of something. I died doing a job I loved. When your time comes, I hope you are as fortunate as I was.

"What an idiot! What a loser!"
     -- Chaz Reingold, Wedding Crashers

"Oh and I don't want to die for you, but if dying's asked of me;
I'll bear that cross with honor, 'cause freedom don't come free."
     -- American Soldier, Toby Keith


Those who know me through my writings on the Internet over the past five-plus years probably have wondered at times about my chosen profession. While I am not a Libertarian, I certainly hold strongly individualistic beliefs. Yet I have spent my life in a profession that is not generally known for rugged individualism. Worse, I volunteered to return to active duty knowing that the choice would almost certainly lead me to Iraq. The simple explanation might be that I was simply stupid, and certainly I make no bones about having done some dumb things in my life, but I don't think this can be chalked up to stupidity. Maybe I was inconsistent in my beliefs; there are few people who adhere religiously to the doctrines of their chosen philosophy, whatever that may be. But I don't think that was the case in this instance either.

As passionate as I am about personal freedom, I don't buy the claims of anarchists that humanity would be just fine without any government at all. There are too many people in the world who believe that they know best how people should live their lives, and many of them are more than willing to use force to impose those beliefs on others. A world without government simply wouldn't last very long; as soon as it was established, strongmen would immediately spring up to establish their fiefdoms. So there is a need for government to protect the people's rights. And one of the fundamental tools to do that is an army that can prevent outside agencies from imposing their rules on a society. A lot of people will protest that argument by noting that the people we are fighting in Iraq are unlikely to threaten the rights of the average American. That's certainly true; while our enemies would certainly like to wreak great levels of havoc on our society, the fact is they're not likely to succeed. But that doesn't mean there isn't still a need for an army (setting aside debates regarding whether ours is the right size at the moment). Americans are fortunate that we don't have to worry too much about people coming to try and overthrow us, but part of the reason we don't have to worry about that is because we have an army that is stopping anyone who would try.

Soldiers cannot have the option of opting out of missions because they don't agree with them: that violates the social contract. The duly-elected American government decided to go to war in Iraq. (Even if you maintain President Bush was not properly elected, Congress voted for war as well.) As a soldier, I have a duty to obey the orders of the President of the United States as long as they are Constitutional. I can no more opt out of missions I disagree with than I can ignore laws I think are improper. I do not consider it a violation of my individual rights to have gone to Iraq on orders because I raised my right hand and volunteered to join the army. Whether or not this mission was a good one, my participation in it was an affirmation of something I consider quite necessary to society. So if nothing else, I gave my life for a pretty important principle; I can (if you'll pardon the pun) live with that.

"It's all so brief, isn't it? A typical human lifespan is almost a hundred years. But it's barely a second compared to what's out there. It wouldn't be so bad if life didn't take so long to figure out. Seems you just start to get it right, and then...it's over."
     -- Dr. Stephen Franklin, Babylon 5


I wish I could say I'd at least started to get it right. Although, in my defense, I think I batted a solid .250 or so. Not a superstar, but at least able to play in the big leagues. I'm afraid I can't really offer any deep secrets or wisdom. I lived my life better than some, worse than others, and I like to think that the world was a little better off for my having been here. Not very much, but then, few of us are destined to make more than a tiny dent in history's Green Monster. I would be lying if I didn't admit I would have liked to have done more, but it's a bit too late for that now, eh? The bottom line, for me, is that I think I can look back at my life and at least see a few areas where I may have made a tiny difference, and massive ego aside, that's probably not too bad.

"The flame also reminds us that life is precious. As each flame is unique; when it goes out, it's gone forever. There will never be another quite like it."
     -- Ambassador Delenn, Babylon 5


I write this in part, admittedly, because I would like to think that there's at least a little something out there to remember me by. Granted, this site will eventually vanish, being ephemeral in a very real sense of the word, but at least for a time it can serve as a tiny record of my contributions to the world. But on a larger scale, for those who knew me well enough to be saddened by my death, especially for those who haven't known anyone else lost to this war, perhaps my death can serve as a small reminder of the costs of war. Regardless of the merits of this war, or of any war, I think that many of us in America have forgotten that war means death and suffering in wholesale lots. A decision that for most of us in America was academic, whether or not to go to war in Iraq, had very real consequences for hundreds of thousands of people. Yet I was as guilty as anyone of minimizing those very real consequences in lieu of a cold discussion of theoretical merits of war and peace. Now I'm facing some very real consequences of that decision; who says life doesn't have a sense of humor?

But for those who knew me and feel this pain, I think it's a good thing to realize that this pain has been felt by thousands and thousands (probably millions, actually) of other people all over the world. That is part of the cost of war, any war, no matter how justified. If everyone who feels this pain keeps that in mind the next time we have to decide whether or not war is a good idea, perhaps it will help us to make a more informed decision. Because it is pretty clear that the average American would not have supported the Iraq War had they known the costs going in. I am far too cynical to believe that any future debate over war will be any less vitriolic or emotional, but perhaps a few more people will realize just what those costs can be the next time.

This may be a contradiction of my above call to keep politics out of my death, but I hope not. Sometimes going to war is the right idea. I think we've drawn that line too far in the direction of war rather than peace, but I'm a soldier and I know that sometimes you have to fight if you're to hold onto what you hold dear. But in making that decision, I believe we understate the costs of war; when we make the decision to fight, we make the decision to kill, and that means lives and families destroyed. Mine now falls into that category; the next time the question of war or peace comes up, if you knew me at least you can understand a bit more just what it is you're deciding to do, and whether or not those costs are worth it.

"This is true love. You think this happens every day?"
     -- Westley, The Princess Bride

"Good night, my love, the brightest star in my sky."
     -- John Sheridan, Babylon 5


This is the hardest part. While I certainly have no desire to die, at this point I no longer have any worries. That is not true of the woman who made my life something to enjoy rather than something merely to survive. She put up with all of my faults, and they are myriad, she endured separations again and again...I cannot imagine being more fortunate in love than I have been with Amanda. Now she has to go on without me, and while a cynic might observe she's better off, I know that this is a terrible burden I have placed on her, and I would give almost anything if she would not have to bear it. It seems that is not an option. I cannot imagine anything more painful than that, and if there is an afterlife, this is a pain I'll bear forever.

I wasn't the greatest husband. I could have done so much more, a realization that, as it so often does, comes too late to matter. But I cherished every day I was married to Amanda. When everything else in my life seemed dark, she was always there to light the darkness. It is difficult to imagine my life being worth living without her having been in it. I hope and pray that she goes on without me and enjoys her life as much as she deserves. I can think of no one more deserving of happiness than her.

"I will see you again, in the place where no shadows fall."
     -- Ambassador Delenn, Babylon 5


I don't know if there is an afterlife; I tend to doubt it, to be perfectly honest. But if there is any way possible, Amanda, then I will live up to Delenn's words, somehow, some way. I love you.


Here is hilzoy's post Remembering Andy Olmsted.

Here is MAJ Olmsted's post  WHY GO TO IRAQ?

THE PURGATORIUM |

January 04, 2008

THE PURGATORIUM
Name: The Usual Suspect
Posting date: 1/4/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: theunlikelysoldier.blogspot.com

A routine trip to the motor pool, only supposed to last an hour or so ("Should be a quick fix, no biggie") becomes an all day event when you find out that this truck you're driving is scheduled for full servicing.

Why not? Gotta do it sometime.

Or maybe it wasn't the truck. Maybe it was the patrol, or the police call, or the tower guard, or it was any number of menial tasks and numb moments. Whatever it was, maybe you found yourself in a situation like this:

You light that cigarette -- you know, the one you're going to give up when you go home, but for now there's no reason to. Take a drag, and you look at nothing. You can even turn around to do this. Drop your hand to your side and exhale. Your eyes scan your surroundings. It's all tan and barren and you've seen it a million times before. And there are the same people you see every day.

One is pissed off, likely about some task they have to do. A couple more are smoking and joking. But everyone's doing the same thing: ignoring the magnitude, the realization of exactly where we are and what we're doing.

That's right. That's you standing on a sea of gravel (keeps that moon dust down, y'know) looking at barriers and baskets filled with dirt. CONEX* sheds and MILVAN* containers, villages of CHUs* (those little trailers most soldiers in Iraq live in....not your tent). A humvee rolls by and it doesn't mean anything.

That guy's bringing back a to-go plate from the chow hall. This guy's going to the gym. The phones. The internet cafe. This one's going to watch a movie. They're all going to ignore the open panorama that whispers thunderously loud, "IIIIIrrrraaaaaaaaq."

You choose not to see the palm trees on the side of the broken road as you roll out the gate. The kids jump up and down and demand soccer balls. The women make bread. The men stand in their gates and talk to each other. Groups congregate in front of shops. They all slide past you. You in your air guard hatch, in your multimilliondollar Stryker.

You in your $17,000 worth of equipment. You in your burned-out-tastebuds ether-and-xanax stupor of indifference brought on by endless repetition. You who have no idea where the world is going. You who probably never think about it anyway.

You who wake up for another nameless day, kneel down and jerk your bootlaces to tie them. One of them comes out right in your hand.

You who looks at it with a vague feeling almost resembling confusion.

You who tucks the remaining lace in your boot anyway.

You who never uses the phones because you hate how you can never find anything worthwhile to say and neither can they. We who all know that the phone can never compare to being with this person. The phone that can almost never prompt the random and hilarious conversations that spring up on fishing trips.

At red lights. Over the third beer and second game of pool.

You who wishes you had a better way to comfort the people you miss, other than hoping that your own absence becomes routine. You who misses graduations and 18th birthdays and anniversaries and the birth of children, your kid's first step or first word or first fistfight.

You who doesn't know how The Sopranos finally ended. You who doesn't know if the Buffalo Bills even call themselves a team anymore. You who with a grudge, hopes they don't. You who will also never forgive the Dallas Cowboys.

That bored Iraq winter sun starts to set and splatters pink and orange across the clouds and everyone is milling back and forth from the chow hall. Everyone is getting through another day. Most people aren't counting. Everyone's in limbo. Everyone seems fine. Maybe everyone is a little bit numb. Maybe everyone's a lot of bit tired.

Maybe everyone only vaguely remembers what it's like to drive a normal car. To stop at a red light. To think that careening over the median to get through traffic is an unspeakable act. To think less of that guy dumping your french fries in a box. To smell the sweet decaying funk of commercialism in a shopping mall.

So what is it that you're doing out here? It can't technically be called "shutting down". You aren't giving up, aren't even feeling sorry for yourself most of the time. You're still keeping your eyes open and watching your corner.

Maybe you're just hibernating for a bit. And maybe you're wondering how you're going to make the transition back from Suspect to Ryan. Or what it'll be like to never tell anyone about this place.

The sun is all the way down and here and there are the fireflies of cherry tip cigarette embers doing slow arcs upward, glowing bright, fading slightly, and dropping back down again. Gravel crunches under foot and tire. For most, the day is pretty much over and it's time to embrace that sweet nothingness for as many hours as your schedule and your mind will allow you. Because tomorrow, it all happens again.

And for the most part, this isn't bad. Life in the Purgatorium is usually devoid of strong emotion. Life in the Purgatorium is a sentence of time, a test of luck and personal fortitude. It's counting down days or cigarettes or bottles of Gatorade. It's wading through the echoes of a media frenzied war. It's little surprises here and there, not always good, but usually things you get accustomed to.

Life in the Purgatorium is not thinking too much. That's why the bootleg DVD sales are so high. That's why the gym is so full. That's why the MWR* is always in use. Life in the Purgatorium is distracting yourself so that you can continue your dream-state trek through things that make no sense.

life in the Purgatorium is only partially asking yourself what you got yourself into, and never trying to answer that question for yourself. Life in the Purgatorium is looking forward to the things you left behind, the simple little things. It's continuing to breathe and getting yourself through the lifeless day after lifeless day.

It's doing your time.

And everyone closes their eyes and everyone lingers in that stage just before sleep, and just before they nod off, all things considered, everyone is doing just fine.

And all the while, The Purgatorium patiently and methodically feeds all of these anemic pseudo-emotions.

It's only time.

*
CONEX: Container Express
MILVAN: Military Van (container)
CHU: Containerized Housing Unit
MWR: Morale Welfare and Recreation building

MERRY COLD CHRISTMAS! |

January 03, 2008

MERRY COLD CHRISTMAS!
Name: Eddie
Posting date: 1/3/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: airborneparainf82.blogspot.com
Email: airborneparainf82@gmail.com

I figured that this Christmas, being that I was in Iraq, was not going to be the best of them, but it has turned out to be much worse than I expected. Our rotation worked out so that I would be here at the outpost, away from the comforts of the home FOB. I was OK with that. I was also OK with not having a good Christmas meal or anything. I was fine. I was also accepting of the fact that I would usher the transition from Christmas eve to Christmas in a guard tower, probably cold as hell. Again no problems there.

But it has been damn cold lately. If theres one thing that I cannot stand it is the cold. It's probably only dropping down into the upper 30s at night, but after going through a 120+ degree summer, that's a huge temperature difference. Add to that the fact that my squad's been manning guard positions during the coldest part of the night. It probably wouldn't be all that bad if it weren't for the simple fact that the Army is great about not allowing you to be warm, despite the fact that they issue you all these different types of cold weather gear. But God forbid that you try and keep warm, you know?!?

Framed_eddie_coldchristmas Well, we've managed to make use of what items we are allowed to wear and I guess it hasn't been that bad. About a month ago I ordered some skintight winter Underarmor pants and shirt, which are great for keeping you warm. Plus I wear a thick cotton shirt under my uniform. I've got my gloves, and a fleece cap that I wear under my helmet, and late at night I use my poncho liner blanket, and half-ass wrap up in an attempt to keep warm. Our guard towers have these AC/heater units in there, and the last time we were here they were functional. But somehow in the last two weeks, while we were gone, they all ended up breaking. Fabulous. Also, within the places we stay at the outpost it is cold as shit. But it has been made clear that we must maintain the "standard" appearance, so no wearing jackets around, or the fleece cap when not on guard. How retarded! There's hardly anyone here of any significance, and for Christ's sake, we're living out in the middle of Baghdad. Is this really necessary?

Enough of my bitching and complaining about the cold. Back to Christmas. We started off on guard, cold, but time passed and finally we were done. Immediately afterward our squad drew names for Secret Santa. We'd all bought gifts in the $10 to $20 range, and drew random names and got whatever gift that person had bought. Following that we had our "Christmas Dinner" which conisted of smoked sausage and pepperoni with some cheese and crackers. It actually wasn't too bad. Following that several of us lit up cigars and celebrated the day of Christ's birth. It wasn't turning out to be all that bad of a Christmas, until we found out that they were planning on having another platoon relieve us for a bit so we could travel to a nearby base and get some real Christmas dinner.

This doesn't sound like a bad idea, right? Well you have to figure all the time of getting everything ready, getting the handover going, heading out, getting back, blah blah blah. Nobody in our entire platoon wanted to do this, but we were being forced. How joyful! To make it even better for us, the time we were going to be heading out was smack dab in the middle of my squad's sleep time. Awesome. Now we are giving up sleep to do something that we don't even want to do in the first place.

Well, seeing as we had no choice, we were woken up, got ready, and then headed out. Once we got there we received a speech that basically stated the time that we had, and that everyone was being forced to go in to the chow hall, grab a plate of food, sit down and eat it and enjoy it and be Merry. Wow. I'm now being ordered to have a Merry Christmas in a manner in which I don't even want to. And they wonder why a 26 year old who doesn't like to have his life run like he's twelve doesn't want to re-enlist. HA!

The food was actually pretty good, but all we could think about was how we didn't want to be doing this in the first place. Oh well, it's the Army. What can you do? Leave it up to them to take something and ruin it. Well, that's about all that I have for now. Hope everyone back home has had a good Christmas, or whatever you celebrate!

THE YEAR IN REVIEW |

January 01, 2008

THE YEAR IN REVIEW
Name: Eric Coulson
Date: 12/31/07
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: badgersforward.blogspot.com

If you had asked me in January of this year if I thought I would be writing a Year in Review post, I certainly would have answered in the negative. This year brought many interesting developments as we carried out our mission; several dark days for the Task Force and the Team; big changes in Iraq; and ultimately the redeployment of the unit and Mrs. Badger 6's and my decision for me to remain. This is how it broke down:

January

January would turn out to be the most prolific month of 2007, with 62 posts. It began with Boise State defeating Oklahoma and the boys of Team Badger being very happy about that. The Blog had really started to take off at that point. With a few links from Blackfive I had over 5k visitors in December, and would see over 10k in January for the first time. The "Surge" was just being suggested, and I reported on 24-hour missions we did.

I wrote about the banal and combat; I told you some of the things you should read; and I think made the case for the appointment and confirmation of General Petraeus. January was a time where I was finding out what worked and what didn't. Trying to regularly publish different things that would let people know what it was like to be in Iraq, without overwhelming the reader with pointless posts.


February

February would turn out to have some of the darkest days for the Task Force. The end of January brought the Task Force's first Killed in Action. Corporal Stephen Shannon was wounded on 30 January and died the next day. I wrote about our experience dealing with that here. Shortly after Team Cobra lost Corporal Shannon, Team Badger experienced our own losses. A few days later I went home on leave. Looking back, February seems a little incongruous. Writing about life and death, but also making posts about very mundane and trivial things. I suppose that is part of the nature of life; the mundane and trivial go on even in times of great sorrow. Going home on leave here recently really revealed to me how much shock I was in from this entire event.

March

March saw my return from leave and the weather starting to warm up in Iraq. Mel debuted Cool, Calm & Collected and the Don was prolific. We went back to Al Karma. Chlorine Bombs were in the news as was the Iraqi "Civil War."


I took you on a run around Camp Ramadi and speculated on whether the awakening movement would make it to Falluja. Multi-National Force-Iraq launched their YouTube channel as US military information operations screamed onto the information superhighway.

March concluded with a review of the moonlight over Ramadi.

April

In April we were out on the ground in Habiniyah engaging in some Civic Action. I tried to help get General Petraeus' "Letter to the Iraqi people" out, and I played some hoop with my guys in Falluja.

The Parliament was bombed in Baghdad and I noted that I was getting gray hair.

The headstones for Sergeant Holtom and Private Werner were installed in Idaho; the Task Force Memorial was installed at the Reserve Center on Gowen Field.


May

 
My post Michigan got some minor blog play across the internet; there was much ado about nothing in the new Army OPSEC and blogging rules; I told you about a funny incident with a Soldier in "Hand and Arm Signals."

The Task Force suffered two more killed in action and I wrote about that here.

More minor internet Milblog celebrity with my job application for the National Security Affairs writer position at the WaPo; I showed you the arrival of new MRAPs and told you about the quantifiable difference the Task Force was making.

The Doonesbury book, The Sandbox was announced and I told you about 10 Myths about the Iraq War.

Of course this was the first Memorial Day many of us had people tangible to Memorialize.

June

June 15 saw the last "surge" brigade move into place and the commencement of Operation Phantom Thunder.

We had Six Days of no Significant Actions in Ramadi proper, and those with short memories said Soldiers like me were "lucky to be in Al Anbar."

I showed you graffiti and wall symbols from the previous tenants of our FOBs and speculated on their meaning. I also brought other more serious issues to your attention. Badgers Forward also had its 100,000th visitor in June.

July

In July I introduced you to Sergeant Jesse Kelsch and you helped welcome home some Team Badger Soldiers. I talked about the home front and Iraq won the Asian Cup in Soccer.

In its second month Phantom Thunder had already started to make believers out of some, as some people agreed that Iraq was a war we just might win. I presented some Purple Hearts and ran the Run for Heroes.

August

August was the last full month for the Task Force in Iraq. Unfortunately we saw the Final Roll Call Grow and I reported on this tear jerker as well.

Sheikh Sattar had come to international prominence and Sergeant Ross Clevenger finally received his more modest due.

Ambassador Crocker visited Ramadi and my story about New Glass became the second biggest piece Badgers Forward has had. I told you how it was great to be a Soldier and what an Iraqi thought about traveling through Anbar.

I reminded you though that we were still in a gun fight.

September

September was the quietest month as we Transfered Authority to the next unit and most Badgers went home.

A mere nine posts this month, but I did give you my final thoughts on command and the experience.

October

October saw somewhat of a return to blogging; I finally had internet access regularly again. I told why I stayed and what I was doing here.

I wrote about my trip from Ramadi to here in A HET and Two Hercs.

Colonel Simcock, the RCT 6 Commander noted that AQ in Anbar had been routed.

Word came from the states that another Pathfinder Soldier had died. I also introduced to Sergeant First Class Freeman.

A glimpse of Authentic Iraq and a story on Shia Sunni cooperation were also BF subjects.

November

In November Badgers Forward was in the running for one of the best Milblogs of the year; we also supported the Valour IT project with a renewed emphasis because of their support to a Team Badger solider. (MB6's Christmas gift to me was another donation to Valour IT. Should I send her another postcard?)

The news from Anbar continued to be good and Team Badger awards continued to come in.

Iraqis in exile were encouraged to come home and I made it home to MB6 in time for Thanksgiving.

December

The last month of the year found me on leave meeting other veterans of the Ramadi campaign and lamenting not going through Dallas.

I told you what it was like to arrive home and reported on more good news from Falluja.

December also brought the one year anniversary of the death of Major Megan McClung, Captain Travis Patriquin, and Specialist Vincent Pomante.

I also reviewed the new book The Fighting 69th and encouraged you to get a copy for yourself.

And that is 2007.

What does 2008 hold in-store?

Well, it will be a return to the United States; blogging will continue much like it has in the last couple of months barring some big change in what I am doing. Posts and site visits are down. I think that is because staff work at a higher echelon simply is more prosaic; those activities are more routine and don't give you as much of a sense of what is going on in Iraq. Also I think a large number of readers were interested in Company A and the 321st Engineer Battalion. I actually considered discontinuing blogging when I came here, however MB6 was pretty insistent I keep it up.

I once wrote that I was concerned about what I will do when this deployment is over. It looks like that issue is resolved and I will return to regular active duty in a capacity that combines the Army and my other civilian skills.

Creedance Clearwater Revival had a hit with the anti-war song "Fortunate Son." I consider my self a Fortunate Son to have been here with these Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Airmen.

Have a good 2008.


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