April 22, 2013
Things are good here in the “Stan” as you can see by the picture. My Soldiers continue to amaze me on a daily basis. I consider myself lucky to be First Sergeant for a group of awesome Soldiers. I think we have a pretty good team here as we have met the retention goals of this year (with four months to go) and have already re-enlisted so many 2014 eligible Soldiers that Brigade has told us to stop (we are taking all of their slots). Overall, it has been a good week here.
We continue to train and enable the Afghan National Army on a daily basis. Just yesterday we conducted a clearance mission with the ANA in order to deny the enemy the ability to conduct attacks. It was a success. We are also conducting gunnery training with them to better hone their war-fighting skills over the coming weeks as we slowly pull out of the country. I wish I had some more exciting things to write about, but it’s truly becoming Groundhog Day around here.
As I sit here with headphones in, Led Zeppelin begins to play. Guitar feedback, synthesizer, and bass fill the track as “In the evening” is bellowed out by Robert Plant. The song sends a flood of endorphins through my body. Oh how I love music and its ability to shape my moods, take me away to different places, or just pass the time.
I have told the wife on numerous occasions that I thought I would be a great music producer. I seem to have an ear for the good stuff. I still believe that if I was to listen to an album of a brand new band, I could tell you if any of the songs on the album would be a hit. It may have to do with growing up with a couple of awesome friends (Mike and Jason) that both enjoyed good music. No matter what we were doing (except trudging through the woods) we had music going on. From searching for beers in the garage with Jason and wanting to shoot the speakers because it seemed that “Tonight” from Phil Collins was always on, or working on Mike’s Mercury Capri while blasting Ronnie James Dio and Led Zeppelin, music was shaping me. But one song by Alice in Chains had the most impact…
That one song that has had the most emotional influence on me, by far, is “Rain When I Die.” I have written earlier about it; it was one of my Roll Out songs during my last deployment. I still remember the exact place I was when I first heard it: 1993 at Forest Grove High, eating lunch with my back to the small grate barrier that blocked off the auditorium. Ben Gorham was sitting to my right, with Andrew to my left. Ben leans over, hands me his headphones and says, “Listen to this.”
“Is she ready to know my frustration? What she slippin’ inside, slow castration; I’m a riddle so strong, you can’t break me; Did she come here to try, try to take me; Did she call my name? I think it’s gonna rain; When I die.”
I was forever hooked on Alice in Chains and the song “Rain When I Die.” So much so, that I forced my crew to listen to it almost every time we rolled out the gate. It got me in the right mood. In the Amber zone; not the Green chill zone or the Red hyper-alert zone, but in the right mind to operate and conduct mission.
Every crew had one. Even now when I conduct Pre-Combat Inspections of my Troops leaving the wire, I notice that all of them are listening to some sort of music. Back in Ramadi some of the favorites were “Ram Jam Black Betty" (Bartlett) “Seven Nation Army" (White Stripes) “Stink Fist" (Tool) and many others. 99.9% of the time, the song was to get you pumped up.
Music was listened to most of the time during the mission as well. Depending on the mood of the truck at the time, it wouldn’t be strange for the whole crew to be singing along with the jam. Reminds me of this one time…
We had just captured a few Al Qaeda on a mission and had to transport them all back to Camp Ramadi. Normally my truck, along with the Platoon Leader's, was the last to transport prisoners. Some would say that it was because we had transmissions on our radios from Battalion that we didn’t want the prisoners to hear, but in reality it was a benefit of the rank and position; the prisoners usually stunk pretty bad. Well, due to the large number of prisoners we had, my truck had to provide a seat. My crew blindfolded the prisoner (standard practice) and placed him in the back seat behind me. As we started to roll out, still high on adrenaline from the mission, “Crazy Train” by Ozzy starts to play on the iPod player we had on top of the radios. Without thinking I reach over and turn it up and our crew begins to sing along with the song at the top of our lungs. I chuckle now as I write this, thinking back to that night. I can’t imagine what was going through the detainee’s mind; just captured by American Forces that he was trying to kill, can’t see anything, and he's listening to five pumped-up Soldiers belt out some Ozzy!
Music was our escape.
Fast forward to our last mission. It was a weeklong screen line and clearance mission north of Ar Ramadi. Days were spent on our trucks, parked in pairs, covering almost 10 miles of empty desert. It seems as every second of that mission was spent listening to music. We saw no action (thankfully) and headed for the long drive home. We talked about the song that we would play for our “last” song as we entered the Camp. Over and over I was rehearsing what I was going to say over the radio while calling our return-to-base report to Battalion. Lots of songs were being thrown around among us all as the last one to be played. This was a big moment: Fifteen months of brutal combat were going to be summed up in one last song, so we had to make sure it was the right one.
As we approached the gate I called up: “Tiger X-Ray, this is Saber 7! Saber, RP, FOR THE LAST TIME, Camp Ramadi; eight trucks, thirty-two pax; one interpreter; Saber’s Mission is Complete!”
And the song that my crew played and that was blaring on the speakers as we entered the gate?
“That shit is Bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S!” Our whole 15-month deployment was wrapped up by Gwen Stefani... *sigh*