As I was perusing over this blog from my tour in Iraq in 2007-2008, I discovered several "Easter Eggs"... rough drafts of posts that for one reason or another never got posted. I have decided to post certain ones that I still feel are worthy. One in particular is one I began writing about my marriage to the pen pal I corresponded with while in Iraq. For nine or ten months we wrote back and forth and she provided me with inspiration and a pleasant distraction from some of the things that consume a soldier's thoughts while in combat.
This post was drafted around July of 2008, shortly after I returned and shortly after I married the love of my life and the rock that I have depended on during my battle with post combat issues. With her support and understanding (a stern hand or "The Look"), I have become a better man, better husband, better father, better Christian and better soldier!
July 9th, 2008
I know it has been awhile and I have been back for quite some time now, 8 months to be exact, but I wanted to add a little closure to my blog. On June 28th, 2008 my girlfriend, my children and her children (seven of us in all) packed into her Dodge Intrepid and drove to Eureka Springs in Arkansas and I made her my wife. The ceremony was small but the day was so incredible. We got there in plenty of time and we were all ready to get out and stretch (in the rain). We decided to look for a spot to eat.
We found a cozy little BBQ spot heading out of town. It was an entertaining atmosphere with an elderly woman singing Karaoke; including a loud, raspy rendition of Eric Clapton's "Cocaine". In a not so coincidental coincidence, our daughter Ashley was glancing over the hundreds of one dollar bills stapled to the ceiling which included signatures, dates and some had little notes. One of the bills directly above our table was a couple who wed on June 28th; the day of our wedding. It was just another of the "millions" of coincidences we have experienced in our young relationship that we call "God Moments"... just a time we have come to accept that all the trials and hardships of our previous lives were His plan to get us together.
The wedding was a small service surrounded by nature with us and our children. It was raining that day, but we were undeterred. Tammy was insistent that we were married on 6-28-08... She has a 'thing' about even numbers. This was the last opportunity we had to have all our children together for our family's union and have all the numbers right.
The big moment had arrived and as we stepped out onto the little dock overlooking a coi pond with several large coi and a big bullfrog bellowing slow, deep croaks the rain stopped and a little slice of the sun peaked out. We all lined up in a row and with my sons, Billy and Taylor beside me, we united clans. Through the ceremony, Billy was distracted by the fish and kept tugging at my shirt asking if he could pet the fish. I attempted to delay his attention a little while longer. Hearing a few giggles I glanced down to see him licking the rain off the hand rail behind us.
As the service ended the rain started drizzling again and we crammed in the car for the two and a half hour drive back through the beautiful mountains of Northwest Arkansas; our first trip as a family. Driving back I was amazed at the blessing God has given me as I glanced around the car at our children all together and feeling the tight grip my wife had of my hand and her beaming smile from ear to ear. It was a beautiful day!
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
As I was perusing over this blog from my tour in Iraq in 2007-2008, I discovered several "Easter Eggs"... rough drafts of posts that for one reason or another never got posted. I have decided to post certain ones that I still feel are worthy. One in particular is one I began writing about my marriage to the pen pal I corresponded with while in Iraq. For nine or ten months we wrote back and forth and she provided me with inspiration and a pleasant distraction from some of the things that consume a soldier's thoughts while in combat.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Sorry it has been so long since my last entry. I have been doing well. It has been almost three months since I returned to the US and I think I have fully adjusted. I owe most of it to my girlfriend who has been with me through it all.
There was a time early on when large crowds made me uncomfortable and I spoke of how 'over alert' I was. We went to the mall one day and had lunch at the food court. I remember her talking and I was listening to her and scanning the room with my eyes looking for I don't know what. Then I noticed her reach over and hold my hand and just looked at me and talked to me in a calm voice as her eyes stared right into my soul. Everything around me just faded away and I couldn't focus on anything but her.
These past few months have been just like that. Everytime I would start getting anxious, nervous or start getting angry about whatever, she would gently squeeze my hand and demand all my attention until it passed.
Now, I think I have completely adjusted and somehow she still thinks I am crazy, but I think in a good way this time.
I think that she 'saved' me and I think that love, understanding and patience is an important tool for any soldier adjusting from combat. She never pretended to understand. She never made me feel stupid or foolish and I think that is what I love about her.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Well, I have been back in the US for a month now. I have not gone back to work yet, which means I have not settled back into a routine really. I am hoping that is part of my problem and things will normalize a bit in the next couple weeks.
I have not tried to jump out my window or anything since that first night. My 'over-alertness' has seemed to ease a bit. It has turned to insomnia now. I usually am only able to sleep 3 or 4 hours a night. The other night my sister spent the night and I got up and started doing things and she woke up and asked me what I was doing. I was up in the attic going through things and running new wires for my surround sound speakers.
I really didn't think it was odd to be rummaging around in the attic at 3am until she mentioned it. I seem to get up and start doing things when I should be sleeping. I have tried watching movies, but I just can't lay still. I get extremely anxious when I sit still and have to be moving around. I don't quite understand that yet and again, I hope that goes away when I go back to work.
I have noticed as Sgt S Humphrey mentioned that I feel very uncomfortable when I can't see the exits and seem to always be 'observing' people in crowds. I tend to be more suspicious of people and making new friends makes me uneasy.
I have also met an amazing woman and am so mad at myself because I have not been able to be 'myself'. I am sort of skittish and withdrawn and though I know she is awesome, she probably thinks I am crazy or something. I am completely not shy by any means. I love being the extroverted, center of attention; at least I did. I want to be 'that guy' again, but as much as I try, I just haven't been able to adjust to society and people and it tears me up.
I am asked if I want to talk about it - talking about it will make me feel better, but I don't know what the hell 'IT' is. I don't know what I am feeling. I don't know how to talk about it and feel better because I don't know what I feel.
I am hoping some of my fellow veterans can shed some light on this.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
You know, in all our briefs were told to be careful about fitting back into society too fast. I never saw the worst of war, so I wasn't particularly concerned about all that. I do notice that I do not like large crowds. I don't know why that is. I don't think everyone wants to kill me or anything, I just noticed I feel uncomfortable.
They briefed us many times on not hitting our wives or our children, neither of which I have living with me, so again I was not particularly concerned about that either. I think it goes beyond that and includes dealing with people in general. I think I have less patience and feel more aggressive than I should at times but I can't rationally justify why I feel this way.
I visited with family and friends all day and it was great. It still has not sunk in that I am home for good yet. I was so eager to go home and sleep in my own bed. My house is empty except for my bed and some clothes as everything is still in storage, but it is my bed and it felt great to snuggle up between the pillows and drift off to sleep, even by myself.
Around 4 am I woke up to the sound of a gun shot. I wasn't sweaty and breathing hard or anything. I didn't jump up screaming. I didn't think Hadji had followed me home. I just woke up when I heard someone shooting. I live in the country so it is not unusual to hear gun shots. Ususally they are mine.
I laid there a few minutes and listened for more. I went and turned the heater down a bit and heading back to bed in the darkness I saw a man with a flashlight walk past my bedroom window. I paused for a moment and watched as he started shining his light in my other window. Then my heart was beating out of my chest and I ran through many scenerios in my head.
I was unarmed that time and mentally scanned my surroundings for options. I had a flashlight a few feet away on the nightstand and a clothes hanger rod in the closet to my right. Being unarmed, suprise would be my best defense. He was close, peering through the window. If I ran fast, I could jump through the window and tackle him. All of these things ran through my head in the couple seconds it took him to pass from one side of the window to the other.
I decided to go for my flashlight; I could blind him, then hit him with it. I held my flashlight tight and cautiously pulled my blinds apart to get a good look. Across the field, I saw a car pulling out from my neighbors house. The headlights played tricks through the trees and I watched it start to pull away.
Here's the thing though, even after I knew it was a car and not some guy outside my window, I still walked from room to room and watched the car until it got to the paved road and drove away. I went back to bed and tried to sleep, but every noise alerted me. I was never attacked (except by rockets). I can't explain why I am so jumpy.
I feel so stupid when I think about it. I actually thought about jumping through my bedroom window to tackle someone! I couldn't sleep for a while after that. I had to turn on my MP3 player and put my headphones on to drown out all the things that go bump in the night. I wasn't afraid, that is not it. I think I can only decribe it as startled; repeatedly, involuntarily startled and I hate it.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Sometimes it seemed like the day would never come, but just over a week ago, we arrived at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Cheers erupted as the plane touched down. An Army band played as we walked off the plane to board the awaiting buses. The trip through town to the reception hall was led by a police escort.
Cars honked and people waved. One of the things that struck me most was an elderly man standing by the road holding a big American flag. With is chest poked out and chin held high, he held a salute as we passed by. There was no one close by, just him, displaying his gratitude for our service and I imagine maybe remembering his own.
We arrived at the reception center and lined up outside. Our luggage was still on the bus, this was a quick stop. As we marched in the band played and families and quests stood and cheered. I was excited when I spotted my dad and Aunt Jo in the crowd as I didn't think anyone would be there. The speeches were suprisingly short and we were released for brief hugs and kisses.
After the initial welcome, we went to the barracks, received our assigned rooms, got a briefing to remind us not to do any drinking and then we were released for the night to visit with family in preparation to start demobilization the next morning.
Monday, February 4, 2008
We got the the terminal and I had checked all my bags (including my jackets). It was a quick 2 or 3 hours until I would be in Kuwait and the weather wasn't that bad. Well, as I have learned many times in the military, expect the unexpected!
My 3 hour wait ended up being an all-nighter! The weather got worse and we were all corraled in the holding tent. It was dusty, loud and cold. The hours ticked by and we were manifested for a different plane. Since we had already been checked and our bags were already palletized, I was unable to get to my jacket.
At some point, the power went out and what warmth we did have from the not so efficient heaters quickly chilled. The wind blew wildly outside and all the flaps, ropes and doors beat against the tent in an annoying, irregular orchestra.
A dozen or so soldiers lay sprawled out on the concrete floor. Some used duffle bags or their kevlar vests as pillows. I tried to sleep a time or two, but I don't think I actually slept until I hit my cot in Kuwait. It was now well past 10pm and we had arrived shortly after 7am. The weather wasn't cooperating, but we received good news that it was supposed to clear and we should be airborne around 3am.
We had also heard that the booms from the night before were just controlled detonations and not Hadji. Why they decided to do controlled dets in the middle of the night in a war zone is beyond me, but hey. The weather had cleared and we were getting close to time to board the plane. A loud boom thundered through the tent and we all laughed and hollered. The sirens again sounded and this time it was not a drill.
A couple other rockets landed and the TV cut to the emergency screen and we were told the base was on lockdown til 6am. I was welcomed into Iraq with a rocket attack and I was sent out of Iraq with an attack as well. We had been done with missions and the mess of this war for over a week and I had almost forgotten that we are still fighting a war here.
We arrived in Kuwait 28 hours after our journey began and I was finally able to get my jacket and a place to sleep. The kicker is that it is only a 45 minute flight.
I have been in Kuwait for a few days and our leadership has suprisingly left us alone to enjoy the last few days we have in theater. It has been a relaxing, refreshing time and a very well deserved break from all we have been through this past year.
For me and my brothers, tomorrow we will begin our journey back to the US and A; back into the arms of family and friends.
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Goodbye Iraq... two words I sometimes thought I would never say soon enough. A couple nights ago, as we lay around the tent watching movies and playing games a large boom echoed across the base. We all whooped and hollered. Shortly after, the alarms went off we heard the Giant Voice proclaim, "Exercise, Exercise... this is only a drill."
Relieved that we were completely safe, we went back to our movies and games as a few more booms shook the ground beneath us... I don't think they told Hadji is was just a drill.
Last night I was awoken at 2am and told we were leaving a full day earlier than expected. I got up a few hours later, crammed all my clothes, sleeping bag and computer into my bags and tossed them into the back of the 5-ton and walked to the air terminal for out processing.
Many of us were leaving on an earlier plane and several others would follow several hours later. Though there was a chill in the air, I decided to tough it out and pack my jacket. Kuwait is not a long flight and we would be there long before the chill of the night... or so I thought.
Everything was going as planned, which is when we should have expected something was amiss. We got the order to pick up our gear and head onto the flight line. Our plane had just landed and was ready to board. The back of the Japanese C-130 lowered and we smiled. We were chomping at the bit, waiting for the signal to proceed. The heavy bags were not so heavy and as the airman approached, we started a slow shuffle to the plane... right up until the time he stopped us and said our flight was canceled.
We could see the plane, 100 yards away on the flight line under a chilly, slightly overcast day. Many words of disappointment and anger were expressed as we turned and carried our packs back to the holding tent. This time, the bags seemed to weigh a ton. We are vagrants, transients; like Tom Hanks in 'Terminal', we have no where to go. For as long as it takes, we stay at the flight terminal, waiting for a ride to join the rest of our brothers who are already in Kuwait.
As the hours drudged by, the weather got worse. The wind picked up and the flaps of the tent slap loudly in the wind. Dust and sand spray in through holes, tears and openings and create a smokey feel to the place. The weather is turning bad, just as the pilots said it would. The air is turning cold and my jacket and sweater are packed, strapped and locked down somewhere out by the flight line.
So, for a few more hours I hold on. For a few more hours I continue to make memories here in Iraq.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
As you can probably tell by the lack of entries lately, I have been pretty busy lately. Even when it is not busy, I have lost the ability to write as often or as easy. My journal has been blocked by military networks. It isn't because of anything I did or said, but because they have filtered out blogging sites to conserve bandwidth.
Today marks my one year anniversary; today I have now spent 12 months in Iraq. My room is empty. All except for a few odds and ends that I will drop off at the dumpster or the gazebo as we leave. The gazebo is a collection point of items outgoing soldiers set out for anyone who wants them. Some of the items are things that did not sell on the Sand Flea Market, a sort of garage sale listing for the base.
My roommate moved out. He has was a late arrival and volunteered to stay in Iraq with another unit. He said he didn't feel he has earned the right to go home yet. I adamantly disagree. I believe that coming here and facing our enemy in battle has earned him the right to go home with us, even though he came later. He believes that if he left now, some soldiers would look down on him and think less of him because he wasn't here as long as they were. I can definitely relate to that feeling. It is much the same feeling I had when I learned I would be a fobbit and not be heading out on missions with my brothers.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
As I am going through the plethora of pictures for our end of tour award ceremony I am putting together, I feel a conflicting range of emotions. I look at the faces of my brothers and I see their smiles, their frowns and their fatigue. I can see the same varied emotions on my face as well. I am anxious to be getting home and being with my family and friends; I am also sad in a way. This place, this miserable, dangerous world has been my home for the past year and though I do not want to stay, I think I will miss the adventure. I know I will miss the rush of combat. I will miss the experience of armored trucks and machine guns. I have hated having to lug my M4 around everywhere I have gone for the past 15 months, but it has unconsciously become my security blanket. I recently traded in my M4 for a pistol and I still find myself feeling a quick adrenaline surge when I think I have left my weapon somewhere. I sometimes say that when we get home, I would be fine not seeing any of these guys for a long time as I have been with them day and night for well over a year. I think that maybe I will miss them. They have been my only family since we started this adventure long ago. We have shared an extreme variable of emotions in such a short time and we have come to rely on each other for everything. I think it is the loss of brotherhood I will miss the most.
As I am going through the plethora of pictures for our end of tour award ceremony I am putting together, I feel a conflicting range of emotions. I look at the faces of my brothers and I see their smiles, their frowns and their fatigue. I can see the same varied emotions on my face as well.
I am anxious to be getting home and being with my family and friends; I am also sad in a way. This place, this miserable, dangerous world has been my home for the past year and though I do not want to stay, I think I will miss the adventure. I know I will miss the rush of combat. I will miss the experience of armored trucks and machine guns. I have hated having to lug my M4 around everywhere I have gone for the past 15 months, but it has unconsciously become my security blanket. I recently traded in my M4 for a pistol and I still find myself feeling a quick adrenaline surge when I think I have left my weapon somewhere.
I sometimes say that when we get home, I would be fine not seeing any of these guys for a long time as I have been with them day and night for well over a year. I think that maybe I will miss them. They have been my only family since we started this adventure long ago. We have shared an extreme variable of emotions in such a short time and we have come to rely on each other for everything.
I think it is the loss of brotherhood I will miss the most.
Monday, January 7, 2008
It is with deep regret I respectfully say my goodbye and thank you to fellow MilBlogger, Major Andrew Olmsted. Though I did not know him, his loss is felt throughout the family of frontline bloggers. It is always surreal to hear of our fellow bloggers paying the ultimate sacrifice.
I recently visited his blog and read his last blog titled, ‘Final Post’. It was a post he had written with instructions to his friend to post in the event of his death. It is as symbolic and meaningful as the letters that have been exchanged by soldiers since war began. Many of us in combat feel compelled to say our goodbyes and express our loves, hopes and dreams in “letters from the grave”.
In his final post, Major Olmsted wrote, “Believe it or not, one of the things I will miss most is not being able to blog any longer.” I think that is a common feeling among all bloggers. We have become so accustomed to sharing our lives with the masses that it may be hard to actually have a moment in our lives, good or bad, that we do not want to share.
In my blog, I often share my thoughts and feelings. There are a few opinions that I should probably not have been so vocal about, but blogging is so addictive. For some reason, I often do not think about whether or not my readers will enjoy or even understand what I am writing about. In some aspects, it doesn’t matter much to me, I blog for myself.
I too had a final post for a friend to post in the event of my death. I guess I wanted to ensure I would have the last word and wanted to bring closure to my blog, to my life. I do not believe I could ever say anything enlightening or insightful that I do not say in life.
My family and friends all know how much I love them. My children know how I love them more than the world. My mom and dad know that I love them and will put them in the best old folk’s home I can find (by best I mean cheapest). My siblings all know that I love them, each in their own way. Yes, I have always made sure my family and friends know how much I love them.
No, there would be nothing in my final post that would shock or surprise anyone. My sense of duty and my feelings regarding my service to my country and the people of Iraq would not surprise anyone who has known me, met me or read my blog.
I could easily drift away with no words being said...
THE DEATH OF ANDREW OLMSTED
Major Andrew Olmsted, who posted a blog since May 2007, was killed in Iraq on Thursday, Jan. 3. Major Olmsted, who had been based at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, began blogging after his unit was sent to Iraq with the mission of helping to train the Iraqi Army. No official details have been released on his death, but reports say that he and a second member of his unit were killed during an enemy ambush in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad. Olmsted was determined to make a difference in Iraq. "The sooner the Iraqi government doesn't need U.S. support to provide security for its people, the sooner we will probably be asked to leave."
Sunday, January 6, 2008
A couple months ago I did a paper on the Ziggurat of Ur for my Art class. I wasn’t able to go out there, but had taken a couple pictures from afar. Yesterday though, Mike and I took the tour.
I have to admit, I was really impressed with the tour and the preservation of the site. The biggest culture shock I guess was that we were allowed, and encouraged to walk around the temples, tombs and structures. Many of the structures are over 4000 years old.
We have been finishing up a lot of the various paperwork and exams that we have to do before we leave here. It is the beginning of a long tedious process that will continue even as we get to the states. Each step along the way includes taking time to turn in equipment and do a plethora of exams and ‘death by Power Point’ presentations.
As far as I am concerned, I am glad to be harassed by so much of this crap because it means I am that much closer to getting out of here. I have been talking with my family and friends and we talk about how close I am to getting home.
The scary thing is that there are many stories of soldiers who are this close to going home when bad things happen. For me, I am a fobbit, and my job is not as deadly as those of my brothers. I dodge an occasional rocket now and then, but for the most part I am safe.
I talked to my son the other night and we talked about playing video games when I come to visit. He mentioned that they have tennis and bowling and I told him I hated the tennis game because I am not that good at it.
He said, “Well, I can probably go easy on you.”
I said, “You can? That would be great.”
He said, “You know, so you could win some too.”
Ha, That’s my boy!
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
It’s hard to believe that in another three weeks I will have been in Iraq for a year. One year ago today I started my blog on MySpace with a short poem about heading to the frontlines in defense of America and how I willingly stand on the wall of freedom for my country.
It is much more than that I now know. I have also learned to fight for the people of Iraq that have been bullied, tortured and murdered by the thousands. I fight so they may live, learn and prosper without fear of retribution of death. I fight to rid this country of extremist that torture and mutilate the children of men that refuse to be terrorists; I fight for Doodah and her father.
This year I have learned that there is more to being a United States soldier than defending America and our way of life. It is also about helping others that are too weak or unable to stand up against tyranny and defend themselves. We are the mightiest nation on earth and though some will stand in the rear and protest that America should fight our own fights and not be in Iraq or Afghanistan; I feel we have a responsibility to be here. We have the ability to fight and defeat terrorism at its very heart. We have the ability to fight terrorists where they live, where they train and as such we have a responsibility to do what is necessary to prevent 9/11 from happening again.
It is hard to believe that my blog was spawned from a comment some disgruntled American left on my mother’s blog as she wrote about how heartbroken she was that two of her sons were heading overseas to join the fight on terror. He wrote something to the effect that he hoped all of us soldiers were killed for fighting in a war that was illegal, blah, blah, blah. There were several comments from her friends that were upset with him, but I thanked him and stated that freedom of speech is our right as Americans and how can I choose to fight for one right over another. I fight for all of our freedoms.
That was when I decided to start my own blog on MySpace and write about what I was going through in my head as I began my journey, mentally and physically. In February, I commented on the very controversial troop surge. I spoke of how I supported the move to bring more soldiers in the fight. After being here for the surge, I can say that I was more right than I could have imagined. The surge was exactly what we needed and it did save lives and directly led to the exponential reduction in violence in the region.
I had decided early on to be truthful and honest about what I was going through. I decided to wear my emotions on my sleeve as much as I could. I did this more for myself than anyone else. I wanted a way to let it out and get the horrors of battle out of my head; writing helps me do that.
At the time, I only had a handful of friends and family that read my journal. I learned shortly after my arrival in this country that my mission was not going to be on the road with my friends, with my brothers, my mission was to become a fobbit and work on computers in the Operations Center most of the time. That was a crushing blow to my ego, my sense of duty and my mood became angry and short fused as my early entries reveal.
In March, there were two guys in the unit that was leaving that were killed by an IED a week before they were to go home. It should have been an eye-opener, but we nievely explained it away as they had become complacent and took their eyes off the ball. I was part of the 21-gun salute and remember how sad I was at the ceremony and remember how I felt a hollow pit in my stomach as their First Sergeant called their names in the Last Roll Call, knowing they would never answer.
This year I participated in a Civil Military Operation and delivered school supplies to a village school. The laughter and smiles on the faces of the children were heartwarming and I had a great sense of purpose after that. To watch the sparkles in their eyes as they opened boxes of crayons, pencils and coloring books was priceless. It made me miss my own children very much.
Charlie Battery will be returning home with three empty seats this year. Three soldiers have "gone home early". Sgt Massey was on his second tour and was Charlie Battery’s first loss. He was our only loss due to direct enemy engagement and his death dealt a huge blow to the morale of a battery that was surefooted, confident and quickly changing our own tactics to defeat those of our enemy.
Sgt Chenoweth was home on leave when he was killed and was also on his second tour. He had volunteered to come over here with us and when asked why, he quietly said that he had left something here and came back to see if he could find it. Of all the ways to die here, I’d like to think that maybe he did find what he was looking for. He died at home, surrounded by his family and friends.
Sgt Vidhyarkorn was our third loss and he too had been here before. He was killed on mission, on my birthday. His family has requested for me not to talk about him, so I will just say that he too is missed and honored as one of our own. Their service and sacrifices are forever written in Charlie Battery's history.
There was a time this year when we lost focus of what really matters. There was a time when it seemed the safety and well-being of our soldiers was not near as important as receiving awards and recognition. We got caught up in the race to be the best and pushed our guys on the road faster and faster in our quest for the gold.
We desperately wanted the leadership to stand in front of the other units in our battalion and exclaim that Charlie Battery was still the best. For a time, we lost touch of the fact that we were the best because of who we are and because we take care of each other. We have found that again and once again, we are Charlie Battery.
Late this past year I joined the Blogosphere. I was urged to remove my journal from MySpace at one point. I chose to make a stand as I did not believe my journal violated any policies or regulations and as such, I chose to move my simple MySpace blog and create a real blog. I migrated all my entries from MySpace and in a couple of days, I was up and running, sharing my life on the frontlines with anyone that wanted to hear about it.
I have been interviewed by VAjoe.com and Milbloggers.com. I have been referenced many times, most recently in Bruce Kluger's essay in the USA Today titled "A Christmas over there, and the pain back here." A marketing professional referenced my journal regarding how I monitor and promote my site. An English student likes my writing style and The Free Press wanted to emphasize my frustration about having only had two days off this year (Now I have had three days off).
Yes, it has been a long, crazy, busy year and not only has 2007 come to a close, so has my time in Iraq. In a few short weeks I will be back in the US, back in Arkansas, back home in Ozark. I will drive my new Mustang convertible to South Carolina and spend time with my children that have been my biggest inspiration this year. They are what drive me to keep my head focused and wake up each morning, one day closer to going home.
Monday, December 31, 2007
I think this New Year is a great time for me. I talked to my kids last night; they are in Disney World with my family. I am turning in all of my non-essential Theater Provided Equipment (TPE) items and have everything else packed up and ready to ship home. Our end of tour briefs are beginning. Our shipping containers are now being packed for the long trip home. The pace is picking up quickly and I can smell my momma's beans and corn bread on the stove.
One thing I love about my kids is that they always make me laugh. They have my sense of humor. I miss their smiles, but will see them soon and that is enough encouragement for me now to keep my chin up. My son is excited about painting his room this summer and we decided to do a Cars theme. "Like the movie, not the thing you drive," he made clear.
My sister said they have grown up a lot this year; physically and emotionally. I am sad in a way. The combination of this war, my divorce and my ex's subsequent move a thousand miles away have taken me from my children's childhood memories. They will only have short, faint thoughts of me as they look back at this time in their lives and that hurts me more than I can say. Coming from a broken home with only short, faint memories of my own father, I desperately wanted to keep my children from experiencing the same.
They all sounded like they were having a great time and my daughter even sounded genuinely interested in talking to me this time. We had a long talk and I think she is excited about me coming to visit in a few weeks.
After talking with everyone, I was happy; I have gotten out of my funk. At this point I do care what day it is, here and back home, because I am almost out of here. I am anxious about getting home, being around my friends and family and wonder how much they have changed; how much I have.
Tomorrow begins a New Year. In all sense of the word, it is a new beginning for me.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Christmas is over; New Year is around the corner. Most of my things are in boxes or have already been shipped home. The pictures of my family and friends that have decorated my walls for the past 11 months are packed away. All but one, it is of me and my children by the Mulberry River back home.
I have no decorations to pluck off the tree and re-pack this year. My one strand of lights is coiled neatly in my footlocker beside Santa's hat and a stocking. I do not have to spend hours vacuuming up hundreds of pine needles only to find one in July as I walk barefoot across my living room.
There aren't a dozen bags of garbage at the curb full of wrapping paper and empty boxes. There are no children ambushing my car with snow balls as I drive across town; no snowmen decorated with twigs and worn-out clothes.
This year, the holidays just didn't spread the cheer that I have enjoyed in the past. In fact, it came and went all too soon. I missed the over-crowded stores and angry shoppers that bite and claw their way to the sales on Christmas Eve.
Next year, I will be with my family and friends and take time to enjoy the moments I have missed this year. Holidays, special days and every day, I will take time to enjoy the little things as much as the big ones.
It sounds so easy on paper - it is my resolution this year.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
It's Christmas Eve 2007; I sit alone in my room. My Christmas lights are shining and I miss my family and friends. Today was supposed to be a non-mission day and all of Charlie Battery was supposed to be together for Christmas Day. Like it has been all too often though, the missions go on and many of my brothers are spending Christmas on mission at another base.
To many of us it doesn't matter. Many of them have said they could care less if they were here or on mission today; it's just another day. That is the common feeling this year. Most of us just shrug when someone says, "Merry Christmas." Most of us do not want to be reminded that we are missing yet another holiday far from home.
Tonight was going to be like many others; Mike and I were hooking up after work and going to the gym. Tonight however, we have to wear our body armor to go outside because we are supposed to be attacked, so we couldn't go to the gym. I decided to work on packing some more boxes to ship home.
The Armed Forces Network plays holiday video tributes from home and earlier today I watched "A Christmas Story." It is the only indication for me that Christmas is near. Now I am watching Mixed Martial Arts and I can feel my testosterone level elevating.
I did get to call my children last night. They are glad it is Christmas and I tried to sound excited about it too; just for their sake. My daughter was slightly too busy and my son was missing his tooth. He had one fall out earlier that day and was not happy about it. My daughter is Little Miss Busy and seems to reluctantly take time to talk with daddy, but she is always so enthusiastic about it.
I have received several boxes and large envelopes full of letters and cards written by school children. They are truly uplifting and always bring a smile. Many of the homemade cards from a Fort Smith school start off, "Merry Christmas Army." The cards from my sister's students are personalized. Most of them start, "Merry Christmas Will."
I was upset that I have prided myself in answering all of the letters I have received, but I have so many cards and letters there is no way I could possibly write to each child. I will however write to the teachers and pass on my appreciation for their support.
On Christmas Eve, alone and far from home, with the anticipation of a pending attack tonight, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
I recently read the article on Yahoo News about Private Scheuerman's suicide.
I found it extremely depressing that there were so many indicators that this was a troubled young man and his leadership's best action was to punish him and restrict his amenities that is often the one thing that keeps us sane.
The ability to talk to or email my friends and family are the only things that have helped keep my head about me. If I had emails and phone calls to my family taken away from me during the severe bouts of depression I have had, there is no telling what I would have done.
Sometimes the mentality of the Army leadership is so ignorant. For a First Sergeant to "motivate" his troubled soldier by telling him to straighten up or he will be sent to prison and raped is beyond wreckless and irresponsible.
I have seen all types of soldiers and there are soldiers that do not like being in Iraq and some do try to take advantage of the situation. Some of them do make exaggerated claims to get attention. As Non-Commissioned Officers, as leaders, however, we have a responsibility to our junior soldiers to take care of them.
My feeling is that his leadership's handling of Private Scheuerman directly led to his suicide. According to the article, he repeatedly exhibited behaviors that should have triggered a more involved response. Instead, his leadership took away his contact with his family, made him sleep in a public company area and humiliated him in front of other soldiers.
The chaplain reported, "His mood had drastically changed and said Scheuerman demonstrated disturbing behavior by sitting with his weapon between his legs and bobbing his head on the muzzle."
The psychologist reported, "Scheuerman checked on a mental health questionnaire that he had thoughts about killing himself, was uptight, anxious and depressed, had feelings of hopelessness and despair."
The article states, "Scheuerman's mother got an e-mail from her son telling her goodbye. She contacted a family support official at Fort Benning and later received a call saying her son had been checked and was fine. Later, her son sent her an instant message and said her phone call had made things worse."
As is often the case, leaders do not like a soldier going outside the chain-of-command to report concerns about their leadership ability. There are ways that leaders make life harder on a junior soldier to prove how bad things can be. It's the mentality of, "You think it's bad now, you have no idea how miserable I can make your life."
I am not a psychologist so I cannot professionally comment on the psychologist recommending, "Scheuerman sleep in an area where he could be watched and that most of his personal belongings and privileges be taken away for his safety (all of his belongings except his weapon and ammo)." What an extremely negligent recommendation in my opinion. Were his privileges of emails and phone calls to his parents more hazardous than a loaded gun?
If it were not for my ability to talk with my family and friends, I would still be in a very dark place in my mind and quite capable of harming myself and others; especially when I carry a machine gun and ammo everywhere I go.
Can you fathom the suicide rate in the United States if a person was diagnosed as “…having thoughts about killing himself, was uptight, anxious and depressed, had feelings of hopelessness and despair" and then were given a loaded gun and sent on their way?
Here is a big red flag that hits me hard, "Scheuerman had tears in his eyes, but one of his non-commissioned officers said he was surprisingly calm before he went to his room, weapon in hand."
At that point, I believe he felt he was completely out of hope and without contact and the support of his family, he felt he had no options left. Less than an hour later, his NCO said he heard someone yelling that Scheuerman had done something.
We now know that is when he wrote a note and pinned it to the door as he shut himself inside his closet. My opinion is that his leadership failed to act in a responsible manner and directly contributed to his death by having knowledge of his severe depression and thoughts of suicide, then giving him a weapon and telling him his future consisted of going to jail and becoming a "butt-buddy".
The saddest part for me is that Private Scheuerman had an extremely loving and dedicated family that cared for and supported their son very much. I believe his family's support could have prevented his very unnecessary death.
Monday, December 17, 2007
It was shortly before 5am when my alarm went off this morning. The Everly Brothers sang me to life with the tune 'Wake up Little Suzie' and though it is a fun, catchy tune, it was way too early. It was a full 4 1/2 hours earlier than my normal wake up time. This morning it was a crisp 55 degrees and in my PT shorts it was a little colder than I would have liked. I knew it would be hard to loosen my muscles up for the 3.5 mile run ahead of me.
As I headed over to the rally point, I was all alone. The walk over made me a little nervous. No one was in sight which made me check my watch a few times to make sure I wasn't too early, or even worse, running late. One thing about the Army, there is no such thing as 'fashionably late'. There is usually much physical pain for the tardy and with a battalion run this morning I wasn't in the mood for extra pain.
I crossed the parking lot of Living Area 4 (LA4) and finally saw signs that others were awake before sunrise as well. It again caused me to check my watch and make sure I was on time. The silhouettes of the other soldiers in the battalion were outlined by the bright lights of the volleyball court. I mingled around until I found the rest of Charlie Battery and conversed with the others about how early it was, how cold it was and sarcastically spoke of how excited I was about the run.
Our acting First Sergeant, Sergeant First Class Evans, formed us up and led the warm-up exercises and stretches. Warmed up and as motivated as possible for the run, we waited. In the classic Army tradition of "Hurry up and wait", we "hurried up and waited." The wind was light, but cool and my muscles quickly tightened again. I continued random stretches and ran in place as the other companies in the battalion formed up around us.
Command Sergeant Major Reid put the battalion "at ease", rallied us with a quick motivational speech and assured us this would be a fun, short run; only 10 miles today; thankfully he chuckled. With that, he called us to attention, yelled the commands of "right face, forward march" and Task Force 11 was on our way.
We marched across the awkward, unsteady gravel parking lot to the paved road and once we were all on the blacktop, the order of "double-time" was shouted loudly from the front. Suddenly the soldiers in front of me sprinted forward and as I too let out my stride to keep up, I knew I was in trouble. The pace had started off almost twice my normal speed and I knew it was going to be a long, winded run for me.
As I expected, I didn't finish first or last, but I did finish. A few post-run stretches and another motivational speech by CSM Reid and we were released to go about our daily business. For me it consisted of a shower, a nap and then off to the Operations Center; one more day in the life of a Fobbit.
Friday, December 14, 2007
Frosty the Snowman plays cheerfully on TV, sexy women in Christmas lingerie scroll across my computer screen and outside, our sirens are alerting us we are under attack; tonight it's just a drill. Just another hum-drum night on Camp Adder.
I sit back and chuckle silently and know that some day I will look back on my time here and try to make sense of it all. Someday I will be sitting at a desk somewhere doing something mundane that will seem so urgent and important at that time to someone, but not to me. I think I will find it hard to fall back into the mindless repetition that was my life before this war.
I think back to when I was home for few weeks last summer and how I found it hard to stress about things in the real world like I once did. I find it hard not to chuckle when my family and friends complain about things going wrong in their life and remember that I too once lived an over-dramatized soap opera of a life not too long ago.
I have a much different outlook on life these days. I have different ideas on what I will value most in the years to come. I'm sure I will someday look back at these past couple years and consider it the defining moment in my life; when my life came sharply in focus. I find comfort in knowing that I am a better person than I was.
In the land of the biblical beginning, I have found an enlightenment that has erupted at my very core. I have been blessed with ability to find a better place within myself and accept that the mistakes I have made in the past, have also contributed to character of man I am today.
I am thankful for the many family and friends that have been a constant influence in my life this past year. There was a time when I wanted to forget about everyone and just do what I came to do, but they never let me forget that there is a better life, better times, waiting for me back home.
I am proud to serve my country. I am proud to have been in Iraq during a time when absolute and quantified positive results are so evident in the beginning of a prospering Iraq. I am also, however, so thankful that my tour is almost over and I will be coming home to begin a new chapter in my life as well.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Well, I have been quite the grouch for a couple weeks now. I had planned on just trolling through the season, getting by without much thought about the holidays. I almost made it.
The closer it gets to Christmas, the more I am reminded this is the season of good will toward men. Friends and family wish me well and send presents. My sister's class all made cards, drew pictures and sent letters. The local radio station in Baghdad plays Christmas music that I hear on the bus riding back and forth to work.
We have a Christmas tree in my office and in my room. I tried hard to forget about it this year as I live and work in a land far from home where bad guys want to kill me. I wanted to keep my head focused on the fact that I am still in a bad place. Even more than that though, I don't want to be reminded that I am far from my family for the holidays.
With my time here coming to an end, I am getting more excited. As much as I have come to appreciate the great things we are doing here, I am so ready to leave this all behind and return to my family and friends. I want to get out of this funk I am in and keep my head held high, it's almost over.
Friday, December 7, 2007
This Day In History Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941
At dawn on Sunday, December 7, 1941 66 years ago today, naval aviation forces of the Empire of Japan attacked the United States Pacific Fleet Center at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and other military targets. The goal of this attack was to sufficiently cripple the US Fleet so that Japan could then attack and capture the Philippines and Indo-China and so secure access to the raw materials needed to maintain its position as a global military and economic power.
Airfields, port facilities, and warships were attacked and severely damaged. Of the nine Pacific Fleet battleships at Pearl that day, Utah and Arizona were completely destroyed and the Oklahoma was salvaged but considered obsolete and designated for scrap. All other battleships were returned to service. The expected result of the attack was to cripple the U. S. Pacific Fleet for a period of up to eighteen months, preventing aggressive action against imperial forces, with the fleet to later be drawn out into a final battle and destroyed. This goal eluded the Japanese as U. S. forces were acting aggressively in the South Pacific within 60 days and the fleet was fully effective within a year. There was never the kind of massive fleet battle that the Japanese hoped for.
The attack was almost a complete tactical success. By a matter of chance, of the three of the Pacific Fleet carriers that would normally be at Pearl that morning, two were at sea on exercises and one was on the U. S. west coast undergoing maintenance. Not knowing the location of these ships that could attack his strike force would cause the tactical commander, Admiral Nagumo to withdraw before a planned third strike, sparing the Pacific Fleet submarine force, important maintenance facilities and critical fuel supplies. The survival of the repair shops would enable rapid restoration of the fighting capability of the fleet. The carriers would enable the first blow to be struck against the Japanese homeland in the Doolittle raid, would prove to be decisive in the Battle of the Coral Sea, where the Japanese forces were turned back in their thrust toward Australia, and would prove essential to U. S. success in the Battle of Midway Island, where naval a viation forces from U.S. carriers sank four Imperial carriers.
( This entry originated at from Medals of America )
Thursday, December 6, 2007
This is a poem I wrote about 15 years ago when I was in the Navy. It was my first Christmas away from my family. It is as true for me this year as it was then; except now my children are the little feet I miss instead of my brothers and my sister.
Christmas is a time of joy
And spreading Christmas cheer
But I don't have that feeling
As I celebrate this year
There is no roaring fireplace
And the mantle looks so bare
Maybe the reason is because
There's just one stocking there
The lights that cover the tree
Don't shine like in the past
And with no presents to open
How long will this Christmas last?
With a falling snowflake
There also falls a tear
For Santa won't be bringing me
Any presents this year
How can Christmas feel the same
Without the patter of little feet?
Tumbling across the living room
To see if Santa left a treat
As I'm spending Christmas
In a place so far from home
A tear-stained pillow reminds me
I'm spending it all alone
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Being a veteran of the Iraq war, well technically I am here so I am not a veteran, I joined the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). It is a good organization that is concerned about the specific issues the veterans of these wars are facing.
I gotta tell you, when I read about the PFC Fox fiasco, I got so upset. The Army is so ignorant sometimes. I know we are having budget issues and the Democrats are pushing to stop funding and that means that we (American Soldiers) will be left stranded on the frontlines. It is an effort to force the Bush Administration to withdraw from Iraq and pull support from a strengthening Iraqi Government before it is ready to stand on it's own.
All that aside, I heard of the Army billing our wounded veterans that are kicked out of the Army because of injuries they sustained in combat. They are being billed for money they received when they enlisted in the Army. Since they are now disabled and being kicked out because they were wounded before they could fullill their full contract, they have to pay the Army back money they recieved.
It sickens me to think that the military thinks so little of the sacrafice these soldiers made. I am glad to see that someone in politics is taking notice and pushing a bill that will stop the Army from pouring salt in an open wound of our soldiers. There are many hardships ahead, mentally, physically and financially for these veterans and if they Army can pay $900 for a hammer, they can pay $3000 to a soldier who lost his arm and his leg in Iraq.
--- Here is a letter I received from the IAVA ---
When Jordan Fox was serving as a Private First Class in Iraq in May of this year, he was injured by a roadside bomb. The attack left him with a back injury and blind in his right eye, and as a result, the Army sent him home. A few weeks later, to his surprise, they sent him a bill for nearly $3,000.
The Army demanded that he return part of his enlistment bonus because he had been injured and medically discharged before completing his enlistment. Jordan had signed up to serve his country and was injured in the line of duty, and now the Army was asking for its money back.
Fortunately, there's a new bill gaining momentum in Congress that would ensure this doesn't happen to others in his situation. Pennsylvania Congressman Jason Altmire has introduced the "Veterans Guaranteed Bonus Act" (H.R. 3793), and IAVA is making a major push to ensure it gets passed as soon as possible. Please take a minute to send a message to your Representatives urging them to support it.
Throughout this fight, Jordan has maintained that he is proud of his military service, and would serve again if asked. But this is a loophole that needs to be fixed immediately. The men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan have served our nation proudly, and this is a terrible way to welcome them home.
So please take a minute now to send your Representatives a message, and tell them to support the Veterans Guaranteed Bonus Act.
On behalf of Jordan, and future wounded veterans, thank you.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Recorded for a radio station... A very different version. God Bless our Soldiers!
TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS,
HE LIVED ALL ALONE,
IN A ONE BEDROOM HOUSE
MADE OF PLASTER AND STONE.
I HAD COME DOWN THE CHIMNEY
WITH PRESENTS TO GIVE,
AND TO SEE JUST WHO
IN THIS HOME DID LIVE.
I LOOKED ALL ABOUT,
A STRANGE SIGHT I DID SEE,
NO TINSEL, NO PRESENTS,
NOT EVEN A TREE.
NO STOCKING BY MANTLE,
JUST BOOTS FILLED WITH SAND,
ON THE WALL HUNG PICTURES
OF FAR DISTANT LANDS.
WITH MEDALS AND BADGES,
AWARDS OF ALL KINDS,
A SOBERING THOUGHT
CAME THROUGH MY MIND.
FOR THIS HOUSE WAS DIFFERENT,
IT WAS DARK AND DREARY,
I FOUND THE HOME OF A SOLDIER,
ONCE I COULD SEE CLEARLY.
THE SOLDIER LAY SLEEPING,
CURLED UP ON THE FLOOR
IN THIS ONE BEDROOM HOME.
THE FACE WAS SO GENTLE,
THE ROOM IN SUCH DISORDER,
NOT HOW I PICTURED
A UNITED STATES SOLDIER.
WAS THIS THE HERO
OF WHOM I'D JUST READ?
CURLED UP ON A PONCHO,
THE FLOOR FOR A BED?
I REALIZED THE FAMILIES
THAT I SAW THIS NIGHT,
OWED THEIR LIVES TO THESE SOLDIERS
WHO WERE WILLING TO FIGHT.
SOON ROUND THE WORLD,
THE CHILDREN WOULD PLAY,
AND GROWNUPS WOULD CELEBRATE
A BRIGHT CHRISTMAS DAY.
THEY ALL ENJOYED FREEDOM
EACH MONTH OF THE YEAR,
BECAUSE OF THE SOLDIERS,
LIKE THE ONE LYING HERE.
I COULDN'T HELP WONDER
HOW MANY LAY ALONE,
ON A COLD CHRISTMAS EVE
IN A LAND FAR FROM HOME.
THE VERY THOUGHT
BROUGHT A TEAR TO MY EYE,
I DROPPED TO MY KNEES
AND STARTED TO CRY.
THE SOLDIER AWAKENED
AND I HEARD A ROUGH VOICE,
'SANTA DON'T CRY,
THIS LIFE IS MY CHOICE;
I FIGHT FOR FREEDOM,
I DON'T ASK FOR MORE,
MY LIFE IS MY GOD,
MY COUNTRY, MY CORPS.'
THE SOLDIER ROLLED OVER
AND DRIFTED TO SLEEP,
I COULDN'T CONTROL IT,
I CONTINUED TO WEEP.
I KEPT WATCH FOR HOURS,
SO SILENT AND STILL
AND WE BOTH SHIVERED
FROM THE COLD NIGHT'S CHILL.
I DIDN'T WANT TO LEAVE
ON THAT COLD, DARK, NIGHT,
THIS GUARDIAN OF HONOR
SO WILLING TO FIGHT.
THEN THE SOLDIER ROLLED OVER,
WITH A VOICE SOFT AND PURE,
WHISPERED, 'CARRY ON SANTA,
IT'S CHRISTMAS DAY, ALL IS SECURE.'
ONE LOOK AT MY WATCH,
AND I KNEW HE WAS RIGHT.
'MERRY CHRISTMAS MY FRIEND,
AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT.'
Friday, November 30, 2007
I feel I need to explain my frustrations I expressed in my previous entry. I mentioned many months ago that the emotions I go through here are from one extreme to the other. There are times when I am very proud and excited to be here and other times where I am deeply depressed.
I don't use the word 'depressed' lightly. I don't mean I get sad or feel down. I mean I reach a point where I sometimes pray that a rocket or gunman's aim will not stray. I don't want to hurt myself, but at times, I would feel relieved to 'come home soon'.
There are times when I need to feel that every day is just one more day of being closer to going home and being with my family. There are times when I don't care what 'significant day' it is back home. Sometimes I don't care it is my birthday, anniversary, Valentine's, St. Pattie's Day or even Christmas.
I am not saying that is how I feel all the time or that I do not want anyone to ever wish me well. I don't want to give that impression at all. I just want to say there are times when I just do not care and I hate that because it is not 'me'. I am very appreciative of the blessings in my life, of my family and my friends and I do care.
My Aunt Jo tore me up pretty good about my last entry and this morning I received yet another military version of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' which I will include here. One thing that hits hard is the remembrance of why I am here in the first place. I volunteered. I enlisted in a time of war with the full knowledge that I would be going to combat far from home and family.
I am an American Soldier and I do fight here so others can enjoy time with family and friends. I do spend time alone, far from home, physically and mentally. I chose to come here and do my duty to my country in hopes that my service, my small tribute in this war will ensure a safer life for my family and America.
I am determined to continue my sacrifice, at whatever the cost now, so my children do not have to continue my fight. To you, America, I wish a very merry holiday season.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The other day a friend of mine and I were talking and I realized that I hate to hear phrases like, "Come home soon" or "Wish you were here". The holidays are upon us and I have missed many of them. There are several days lately, hell throughout the past year, that I get depressed knowing I am missing things that I enjoy back home.
The good intentions of those from home are quite appreciated, but annoy me just the same. To say, "We love you, come home soon" is annoying to me. There are only a couple of ways I will get to come home soon and I do not like any of them. Even the option of a total military withdrawl where I come home alive and in one piece, means that we leave before the region is stable enough to stand on it's own and my brothers and sisters have died in vain.
To come home soon, before my time, is to come home in a box or in pieces and I know that is not what my family wishes when they say that. No; coming home soon is not an option I want to expore.
"Wish you were here" is another phrase that eats at me when I am feeling depressed already. I wish I was there too, but I really like when you rub it in that I am not (sarcasm). I hate hearing how much fun you are having. It is selfish, I know. Someday I may regret writing this entry today, but it is how I feel more often than not.
To me, every day is one more day closer I get to coming home. We do not celebrate the holidays here. We do not celebrate the weekends. Every day is just another day because we still go out and fight bad guys. We can't head down the road singing Jingle Bells while we are looking for bombs and bad guys. We can't say, "Hey, it's Christmas, let's not get attacked today!"
To me, my birthday was just another day. Actually, it kinda sucked; V was killed on my birthday. Halloween; I guess I was a soldier for halloween this year. Thanksgiving meant longer lines at the chow hall. Christmas will mean the same.
Every day here, is just another day. Someday I will be home, with family and friends and I will celebrate the holidays. In the years to follow, I will appreciate the time I spend with my family, holiday or any day. For me, this year, just wish me not to come home soon.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
The PX was a good stop. The PX on Camp Liberty is a Super Wal-mart compared to the PX we have on Adder. There is a small bizarre and several little shops. I searched for just the right souvenirs for my children and found some things I think they’ll like.
I had learned on the trip up that it is hard to see in the dark and a good, rugged tactical flashlight is invaluable. I however did place a value on it and bought a suitable flashlight for $75. It is supposed to be water-proof and crush-proof. Though it should survive being driven over by an up-armored HUMVEE, at this price I won’t test it.
We got to the staging area shortly after dark. We received a quick intelligence brief and then were released to go search the TCN trucks for contraband. I used my brand new flashlight and was very pleased with its performance.
Back at the gun truck, we ‘suited up’. It is somewhat ironic that we put on a hundred pounds of additional vests, bullet-proof plates, helmets, goggles and gloves and the TCN drivers we were escorting were wearing robes and sandals.
We headed off and slalomed through the barriers as we headed out the gate. The convoy net squawked to life and we were again ‘all business’. The many trucks in front of ours had stirred the dust and their taillights disappeared and reappeared in the darkness until we reached the blacktop.
As the last of the convoy hit the main road, we were halted. One of the TCN trucks was missing, so a couple of us had to return back to base to find it. A half hour later, we were all together again and heading back to Adder.
We had a good, safe run. Many times you can see taillights of the convoys ahead of you and the headlights of the convoys behind you. The convoy behind us reported Small Arms Fire (SAF) and it looks like we missed the action by just minutes. Most people would be thankful, but the guys and I are a different caliber; we were disappointed we missed it.
The hours ticked by slowly and we decided on a ‘splash and go’ at the refuel post. As we got closer to home, our truck flexed up to provide over-watch through a vulnerable area as the main part of the convoy passed through. As we sped into position, bouncing and bumping all over the road, we heard a commotion and as we were figuring out what it was, the truck behind us informed us that our ice chest had fallen off.
Shortly thereafter, we heard a truck from the rear announce that the TCN drivers were stopping in the middle of the road and, “picking up the free shit.” Our guys got everyone moving again and we got home none too soon.
I was dirty and tired. I got back to my room and took a quick ‘baby wipe bath’ to rinse off the grime. It was nice to curl up with my pillow in a familiar bed and drift off to sleep.
End of mission… Frontline Out!
Monday, November 26, 2007
I recently returned from my third mission since I arrived in country ten months ago. This mission I was assigned as Truck Commander of a 'flex' truck in our Convoy Protection Platform. I basically sent messages back and forth to the Tactical Operations Center (where I normally work). It is the same 'dings' that I talk about while sitting on the other end. Everyone in the truck had a headset so we could talk to each other. The trucks were so noisy with everything going on that it was the best way to talk to each other effectively. We could also talk to the other trucks in the convoy.
The trip was not too long by mission standards; it is the shortest mission we run. It took us nine hours to get to Baghdad this time. We had a Third Country National (TCN) that rode his clutch the whole way and burned it out before we got there. It was his first mission in Iraq and his first time driving a truck. We had to call a tow truck to come get it. 24-hour tow truck service in a combat zone is free, but slow. We waited for over three hours for a twenty minute tow. It was pretty smooth sailing besides that.
Some of the TCN ‘combat drivers’ get little to no training on how to drive an 18-wheeler. The drivers are cheap and willing to drive down a bomb-filled highway and get shot at while wearing a robe. One of the TCN drivers from Pakistan said his uncle "briefed him" on how to drive a semi before he came to Iraq. That driver ended up having an accident that totaled one of our gun trucks when he rear-ended it; “No brake, no brake” he said.
We finally got to the tents and I found a cot. I hadn’t been wearing my ‘snivel gear’ because we kept the truck pretty warm so our gunner wouldn’t be so cold. I quickly put on my ‘Ninja Suit’; the suit is a silk set of long johns. I then put on my winter physical training uniform, my 'beanie hat', socks and gloves. It was shortly before 5 am and colder than I like to voluntarily be. I crawled inside my Patrol Sleeping Bag; part of the Army issue 4-piece Modular Sleeping System (sleeping bag). I had packed only the Patrol Bag as it is lighter and easier to transport. Next time I will take up the extra room for the Intermediate Bag also.
I curled up into the fetal position and waited for hypothermia to hit the 'euphoria phase' before I slipped into a coma, the sounds of C-130’s landing beside our tent lulled me to sleep. I woke up at 1300 with the distinct thumping of Blackhawks maneuvering above. I sat up and scanned the darkness of the tent for movement.
I got dressed and found the other guys in my truck and we decided to head over to get some coffee at Green Beans. As we drove over to Camp Victory, we passed several palaces and landmark architecture along the way. Some of it is run down and war torn, but I have a creative mind and filled in the visual gaps. I imagined how the palaces would have looked when they were new.
We got to Green Beans and I enjoyed a Double White Chololate Mocha. It tasted awesome, even after the heavy dusting I got as a gun truck sped through the parking lot in front of me. We still had time, so it was off to the Post Exchange (PX) to see if there is anything I must have before I go back to Forward Operating Base (FOB), Camp Adder.
With the 82nd idiots here now, it would be more accurately described as a Frontline Army Garrison, but since that would make me a Faggit instead of a Fobbit, I'll stick with FOB, Camp Adder.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Tonight is cool and the air is crisp. I sit in my solitude and work on my Psychology paper that is due in a couple days. I must do it tonight as I will be on a mission and unable to turn it in on time if I don't finish it tonight. Always the procrastinator, I have waited until the last possible moment to do it.
I lean back and look up at the stars as I sit on the steps of my porch. My air conditioner fan is clanking along beside my head so I turn it off and enjoy a bit of silence. It is nice, relaxing and reminds me of home; sitting on my front porch, snuggled between the Ozark Mountains.
I hear the distant crunching of rocks as soldiers move about in the darkness. Doors open and close and muffled voices echo off the concrete barriers that protect the trailer I have called home for ten long months.
The calm is interrupted as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is launched and buzzes noisily overhead. It sounds much like a bumble bee in a coke can and I can see it's blinking navigational light circling high above. I feel a little safer, reassured that other soldiers are at work watching over me while I rest.
Tonight is nice; it reminds me of home.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
After grandpa returned from the war, he did what everyone else did, he moved on. There were no fancy parades like after World War I and World War II where it was a decided victory. It wasn't like after Vietnam where soldiers came home to be spit on, called names and cursed. They simply came home and returned to their lives as best they could.
The soldiers of Korea fought what has been called, "One of the bloodiest battles in US history." In the Korean War there were almost 34,000 casualties in the three years of US involvement. That doubles the annual Vietnam losses. In the Korean War, soldiers and marines earned 132 Medals of Honor, more than was even awarded in World War I. All of that mattered little when these soldiers returned home. The Korean War Memorial was dedicated in 1995, 13 years after Vietnam's Memorial Wall went up and a full 42 years after the fighting stopped in Korea.
Korea was the United States' first conflict in the Cold War. It was Russia's test of the US at resistance to the proliferation of communism. It was a new war for the US. It was a political, strategic attempt to deny the spread of communism into South Korea. Soldiers like my grandfather knew they were not fighting for ticker-tape parades and an extravagant military victory. They fought for, and successfully resisted Communist aggression into South Korea, which affects us still today.
My grandfather and fellow soldiers returned home and went on with their lives. Grandma says my Uncle Skosh was short, fat and 8 months old when Pepaw got home. A group of the local guys came to see him. One of them (a friend to this day) brought a little pair of shoes from Japan. He took a look at my uncle and said 'Sukoshi' (Japanese for little) and that became his nickname. Today, it has been shorten to S'kosh.
One of the first things he did was join the American Legion in Tecumseh. He continued that association for fifty years; being active in post and district offices. He also was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He has been a member of the Masonic Lodge for over fifty years and has served as Worshipful Master in Springdale and Ozark, Arkansas while holding membership in the Tecumseh Oklahoma Lodge.
He has always been an active Deacon and Board Chairman in the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) wherever he has resided. He was a Boy Scout in Tecumseh and after he and grandma moved to Springdale, he was Scout Master for a boy scout troop (Age 12) and kept them until they went to college. In Springdale, he served for 16 years as a volunteer fire fighter. He was on the Shiloh Park Commission, City Planning Commission and was the Co-Coordinator and first Director of the Community Development Program.
As the Director, he was responsible for constructing sidewalks near grade schools, hard service play areas, Little League and Babe Ruth Parks. In addition to being an abstractor, he worked as a petroleum land man doing title work in southern Arkansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma.
When he was selected as Director of the Community Development Program, the out going mayor who appointed him was asked why he chose my grandpa because grandpa wasn't in the political circle. The mayor replied, 'Because he doesn't owe anybody.'
Pepaw sees things in black and white; it either is or it isn't. When he was a Scout Master, boys began to transfer into his troop. When he finally asked why, the boys said it was because he always does what he says he will do. When he planned a camping trip, he never called it off; whether one boy or fifteen, he took them camping. Rain and snow or sunny and hot, there were no cancellations and they won national camping awards because grandpa is a man of his word.
Supper time was family time. While their five children were in grade school, my grandmother was involved with Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, PTA and was the President of the American Legion Auxiliary. Whatever she did though, she was home by the time her children got out of school. Everyone was home for supper, grandpa insisted on it. There were no meetings, appointments or plans made that kept anyone away from family time. My grandma said, "It was a time to visit and learn what everyone was doing. It was a wonderful time that slipped away as the children grew up."
2008 will mark the last year of the reunion of the Korean Veterans of Company D, 180th Infantry in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Uncle Don is in charge of it this time. For a number of years now they have met every two years but death and health has taken it's toil. These veterans have come from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Michigan and other states to Shawnee to meet life long army buddies and friends. They sit and talk and joke. When the topic gets too serious, their voices cease and they look in space, each with his own memories.
I am proud of Pepaw's service to our country and the opportunity I have to share that common bond with my grandfather.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Uncle Don and grandpa were long-time friends. Don had moved to Tecumseh, Oklahoma in 1946. Pepaw's buddy, Cotton was born in Tecumseh. In a small town like that, you knew everyone my grandparents say. Uncle Don's parents had to sign for him to go because he wasn't old enough to enlist at the time.
According to his discharge papers, my grandpa, Private Jerry D. Reeves, received the Army Occupation Medal, UN Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with 1 Bronze Campaign Star and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
He enlisted in September of 1950 and was discharged in June of 1953. He worked for a local grocery store before going into the service and he and his older brother, Leroy had a paper route. Pepaw started his paper route when he was 9 years old and continued it until he was 17 when he went to work in the grocery store.
In Korea, he worked in the Motor Pool and while he was assigned to Company D, he also worked for the Headquarters Company. Uncle Don stayed in Company D. Grandpa's first assignment in Korea was as a radioman for a forward observer. One of the vehicles he drove was a captured Russian truck with no brakes that he used to haul food, mail and other supplies to the frontlines.
All of their equipment and clothing was WWII issue and that included their food which were C-Rations. The eggs they got at Camp Chitose had been frozen in 1945 and stored at Zero Mountain, Arkansas which is just down the road from Springdale, Arkansas where they lived when I was a boy. They received their cold weather clothing after they had been in Korea for several weeks. Until then they wore the WWII long overcoats.
General MacArthur had recently been replaced by General Ridgeway when grandpa left for Korea.
He traveled by ship from Japan to Korea in early December. Once they arrived they were loaded onto 'antique' Korean trains that had wooden seats with no padding. They were taken to a staging area just south of the 38th parallel, the line that separates North and South Korea. Their only gear was World War II issue ammunition.
From the staging area they moved closer to the 38th parallel. The ground was frozen and covered with snow and ice. They lived in dugout, sandbag hooches which held from two to six men. They made roofs out of whatever they could find. For heat, they stole fuel oil from the motor pool and burned it in ammo containers as there were no trees or wood available. Pepaw's first bed was an old stretcher and items were confiscated back and forth constantly.
For the first two months there were no showers. They heated water in their steel helmets and took 'whore's baths'. The soldiers had to dry shave and many of them grew beards. They eventually built a shower with hot water and they received their first clothing issue. Grandpa and the others went and showered, deloused, and were issued new clothes.
The North Korean People's Army crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded South Korea on June 29th, 1950. Seoul fell into enemy control. By the time my Grandpa got there, United Nations Forces (US 8th Army) was almost to the Yula River and the Chinese had entered the war to aid North Korea. Between January and April of 1951, the Chinese drove U.N. Forces south, back across the 38th parallel in three separate campaigns and recaptured Seoul. In May of 1951, U.N. Forces again regained control of Seoul.
Grandpa was there during that time - June 1951 to June 1952. The U.N. and Communist Forces fought bloody battles for control of the mountainous terrain around the 38th Parallel.
On the home front, my grandmother worked at the weekly newspaper, The Tecumseh Standard, worked second shift at Sylvania in Shawnee and took a refresher class in book keeping. She did what she had to do until he returned.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
With the recent passing of Veteran's Day, I thought it important to write about something that disappointed me in talks of celebrating our veterans. I was as guilty as many others and it was my grandmother that pointed out my negligence. As I preached to remember our veterans I spoke of World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Desert Storm and todays war. My grandmother wrote and reminded me of the 'Forgotten War' - The Korean War - my grandfather's war.
My grandma said, "I think the Korean War is the forgotten War. I am sure though that whichever war anyone went through was the worst, and at that time it was. The blog on communication reminded me that your Uncle Skosh was three weeks old before your grandpa got the wire he had been born."
Her words inspired me to learn more about the Korean War and how it affected my grandparents. As I have grown, I have heard about him serving in the war, but was too young to truly appreciate his service to our country. This past week I have spent learning about the man that I have been fortunate enough to grow up with. I have a strong bond with my grandparents, so do all of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In May of 1950, my grandpa's older brother, Leroy was in the Navy. He was stationed in Japan and home on leave to attend grandpa's high school graduation. With the threat of the Korean War, his leave was cancelled and he was sent back to Japan before graduation day.
The draft was reopened and Oklahoma's 45th was called back to duty. They were to mobilize in September of 1950. A campaign began state wide to 'Join Now and Go With the Boys You Know'.
When he was 18 years old, my grandpa and his buddy, 'Cotton' enlisted in the Army National Guard in Shawnee, Oklahoma. His other buddy, Don, who I have known as Uncle Don my whole life, had already enlisted. They joined Company D of the 180th Infantry, 45th Division. This was before Social Security Numbers were used for identification and grandpa and Cotton were issued consecutive numbers. On September 9th, 1950, they left Shawnee by train for Ft. Polk, Louisiana.
The 45th came home heroes from World War II. Being from a state with an Indian history and so many Native Americans in the 45th, it was held in high esteem as this gave Indians the opportunity to be warriors. The pow-wows still reflect that 'warrior heritage' today. They trained and filled their ranks with draftees.
A large number of the draftees were from the large cities in the east, the majority of the Oklahoma boys were from small towns and farms and a lot of that majority was Native Americans. The Oklahoma boys had the advantage of already knowing how to use a rifle; the city boys didn't know one end of the rifle from another. This brought about a lot of jokes and puns.
Pepaw's last leave before shipping to Japan was in March of 1951. He and my grandmother eloped on March 19th, 1951. My grandma and her family took grandpa back to Fort Polk and went to California for a few weeks to see family. When they got home, she found out she was expecting a baby.
Grandma moved in with her parents, worked in a drug store and went to night school at a business college. Pepaw's salary was $80 a month; $40 of that went to Memaw. Grandpa sent back part of his poker winnings to help out until he returned in June of 1952.
The more I learned about my grandparents, the more I wanted to know. It has been said that they came from a 'different generation'. I feel the need to write about that a little more in the following days.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I occassionally come across a story that touches my heart in such a way that I have to share it. I came across such a story today. I came across the story of a 5-year old Iraqi girl named, Roossel. Her father calls her Doodah. Below is a letter to Greg I read at The Thunder Run from his brother, Joe.
Every day you see local nationals working around base. They come from all over the area and help us build or rebuild on the base. Some of them work on water lines, some build fences and some, like Doodah's father, drive trucks that haul supplies or materials.
These guys are happy to do these things, happy to be employed. It is a sign of growth and stability that the country is growing and becoming a place where they can live a better life. Not everyone is happy about the changes though. Bad guys are still here and still try to intimidate or kill us and the Iraqi people that do not want to help them.
When I read of stories like Doodah's, I am glad to be here, doing my part to rid this country of bullies and help the Iraqi people live better lives. I believe everyone should hear Doodah's story and then tell her father you do not want us here.
Returning from patrol this evening, we were flagged down by some Iraqi Police who shouted that they had a wounded civilian who needed aid. I walked over to the IP truck and looked in the back seat. There was an Iraqi man, probably 35 or so, holding a pre-school age little girl wrapped in a blanket. I could not see any blood, but when he saw me looking the Iraqi man (who proved to be the father of the little girl) pulled back the blanket to reveal severe burns on her neck, chest, arms, and stomach. I shouted for the medic, who came forward and started treating the little girl, a 5-year-old named Roossel but nicknamed Doodah by her father, in the back of the truck. Her father said that Al Qaeda gunmen had chased him to his house because he drives a gravel truck which delivers gravel for the US forces, and that he fled the house thinking the Al Qaeda guys would follow him. Instead, they took a large pot of boiling water and poured it on Doodah. The man took her to the Iraqi Police, but they knew that her case was hopeless without US medical aid, so they stopped the next US patrol they saw.
We took control of the father and little girl and drove the 10 minutes to the nearest US medical facility. We called ahead, and the doctors met us at the door. Several of our soldiers followed me in, all pressing forward in concern for the little girl. We had to search the father before we could get him into the facility, but after that he stood at the head of the stretcher while the doctors worked. I could tell by the low tones and sad looks that the story wasn't good. Once they removed her clothes the burn wounds were horrid; several soldiers turned away from the scene. They called for an air MEDEVAC to take her to the CSH, then set out to stabilize her for movement. The doctors and nurses called her Doodah and told her what a good girl she was while they worked; my interpreter repeated it all in Arabic. One hand was burned severely, but the other was unharmed and when I touched it she closed her hand around one finger and stared at me. She never made a sound the entire time the doctors worked. The senior doctor said she had third degree burns over 30% of her body, and that she had a "better than even chance" with US medical care. My interpreter passed this to the father, and he nodded through tearing eyes.
When the helicopter came our medic and I carried the stretcher out and put Doodah on the flight, then sat her father down next to her. He looked scared - probably his first helicopter flight. The flight medic pulled back the blanket for a quick look at the little girl, then gave me a long glance, then a thumbs up. I stepped back and the bird was gone. The whole incident had taken 20 minutes.
We're trying to track Doodah in our medical system, and will try to get down to see her if she lives. Several soldiers have volunteered stuffed animals and other toys for her, and I hope we can deliver them once she is able to enjoy them. The doctor said that, if she survives, she has a long road to recovery ahead. My hope is that I can send some pictures of her from the recovery room in a few days.
It is hard to explain what this type of experience does to you, or how it helps you to see your enemy with a clarity that is hard to achieve from reading the papers or watching the news. But it makes me that much more determined that the future of the little Iraqi girls like Doodah cannot be left in the hands of people who will poor boiling water on a child.
Greg's brother sends an update:
Thanks for the notes.
Doodah is recovering well and expected to live, although Iraq lacks the cosmetic surgery capability of the US and will likely be scarred pretty badly. Regulations require military hospitals to transfer local nationals to Iraqi hospitals within 24 hours, but they are making an exception for the girl and plan to hold on to her until they can be confident that the worst danger of infection are past. We went to the CSH to visit her yesterday and took some stuffed toys and crayons. I took the medic who initially treated her.
We're hopeful that she will come through this okay.
Monday, November 12, 2007
To some of you, Christmas isn’t something you think about until after Thanksgiving, but the sentiment of this poem is as true today as it will be in a couple of weeks.
My grandmother sent me this poem and I wanted to share it. It is so true of soldiers of all wars and reflects a testament to the character of men and women who have served and are serving. Though I have not confirmed the source, it is credited to LCDR Jeff Giles in Al Taqqadum, Iraq.
A Different Christmas Poem
The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.
The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.
A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.
"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack; brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"
For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts…
To the window that danced with a warm fire's light
Then he sighed and he said "It’s really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night.
So your family can sleep without any fright.
It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at ‘Pearl’ on a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram will always remember.
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.
I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures; he's sure got her smile.”
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.
“I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother…
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall."
"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."
"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."
Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and remember we bled,
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."
LCDR Jeff Giles, SC, USN
30th Naval Construction Regiment
OIC, Logistics Cell One
Al Taqqadum, Iraq