Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

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

My Resolution

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

Christmas 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

Private Scheuerman's suicide

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

A fun run: my Oxymoron

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

Another hum-drum night

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

Tis The Season

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

Pearl Harbor

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

Christmas Alone

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 Alone

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

Contract Broken

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

Soldier's Christmas Poem

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,
SILENT, ALONE,
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

Don't Come Home Soon: Explained

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

Don't Come Home Soon

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

End of Mission: Part 2

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

End of Mission: Part 1

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

In my solitude

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

Forgotten War - Part 3

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

Forgotten War - Part 2

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

Forgotten War - Part 1

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

Sunrise in Southern Iraq

I love a good sunrise. Iraq has the largest sunrises I have ever seen!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Little Doodah

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.

*************************************************

Dear Greg,

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.

Joe


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

A Different Christmas Poem

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

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veteran's Day to Me

Today, I have reached another milestone in my service to my country. Another special day has arrived as I am fighting a war far from home and again I am forced to sit back and think about what it means to me; to be a soldier on this day - Veteran's Day.

Today, I read stories of celebration and remembrance of our military veterans and I take pride in being among that group of Americans. I am one who sacrifices selflessly in pursuit of a better life for me, my family and others. Today, I fight in the sand far from home to kill bad guys in their homes and not in ours. Today, I fight to help a country stand on its own so that they too may one day have the freedoms that America has.

As I read about veterans today and what this day means to others, I read of Vietnam and the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall. I feel a sense of pride as America has honored and embraced a generation of soldiers who were treated so poorly when they returned home after their war. I sometimes feel isolated and alone here, but know that no matter what happens here, many Americans will honor and embrace me upon my return. Many Americans support my service and duty to our country regardless of their attitude toward why we are here.

I read of how the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Wall has become a de facto shrine where trinkets, letters and mementos are left by millions of visitors each year. Every non-perishable item is kept and catalogued. When it first opened the items were mostly unit patches, medals and photos of 'brothers'. With many veterans now in their 60's, members of a younger generation - including grandchildren of fallen veterans - are making contributions. One was a baseball card from a boy with a note that said, "For my grandfather"

Jan Scruggs, a veteran who came up with the idea for the memorial said, "It's a beautiful thing. It shows that those who we know and who were a part of our lives and who aren't with us any more still have an impact on us."

I hear these things and wonder if my fallen brothers will also have a place erected in their honor. A place where I will be able to take my children and show them the names of so many that died so that we may live. My children will know what it means to be an American and that the freedoms we enjoy are not free.

Someday I will walk along the names of all of my fallen brothers and take pride in knowing that I served with many great Americans.

To all who served and all who support them - from the frontlines in Iraq - Happy Veteran's Day!!!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

9/11 vs Military Compensation

I don't know if I am disturbed by the fact that the families of 9/11 think they are worth so much, or that military families are worth so little. I believe the families are exploiting American tax payers and no one will put a stop to it. In my opinion, Rush Limbaugh is right. The reason we pay millions of dollars to the victims of 9/11 isn't to honor the lives of the ones that died that day, it is because none of the people in control want to be seen as the political 'bad guy' that denied benefits to the victim's families.

Great people die everyday, including countless military men and women. To base compensation on 'potential lifetime earnings' is rediculous. Who is to say one of my friends wouldn't have won the lottery? Shouldn't we compensate his family a couple hundred million dollars, just in case? Who is to say the corporate CEO wouldn't have been hit by a car and been killed on 9/12? Then what? Then the families would be forced to rely on the pensions, life insurances and nest eggs that they still have; in addition to the millions of dollars they demand from tax payers.

My brothers and sisters in battle left all they knew and loved and died on the frontlines of the war on terror. Their familes receive a couple thousand dollars, a flag and a thank you. Most of the families deal with their loss and struggle to move on. Military service members want the same things everyone wants, for our family to be taken care of and a better life for our children.

I am disgusted that military families live on food stamps and state funded programs like WIC because there is no budget for military pay raises, yet we pay millions of dollars to one family because he 'had potential'.

I am not insensitive to the fact that they have experienced a tragic loss. But, I do not feel it is any different than any military family who lost a loved one. Hell, it is no different than anyone who has lost someone they love. How do you fairly compensate someone for losing a loved one?

For me it is simple. Give my children lower rates on school loans, grants, scholarships or investment options. Cut them a break to start a business or buy a house. We do it for the color of our skin, our sex and our heritage. I don't think that would be too much to ask.

**************************************************

The Truth Is by Rush Limbaugh

I think the vast differences in compensation between the victims of the September 11th casualty and those who die serving the country in uniform are profound. No one is really talking about it either because you just don't criticize anything having to do with September 11th. Well, I just can't let the numbers pass by because it says something really disturbing about the entitlement mentality of this country.

If you lost a family member in the September 11th attack, you're going to get an average of $1,185,000. The range is a minimum guarantee of $250,000, all the way up to $4.7 million. If you are a surviving family member of an American soldier killed in action, the first check you get is a $6,000, direct death benefit, half of which is taxable. Next, you get $1,750 for burial costs. If you are the surviving spouse, you get $833 a month until you remarry. And there's a payment of $211 per month for each child under 18. When the child hits 18, those payments come to a screeching halt.

Keep in mind that some of the people that are getting an average of $1.185, million up to $4.7 million, are complaining that it's not enough.

We also learned over the weekend that some of the victims from the Oklahoma City bombing have started an organization asking for the same deal that the September 11th families are getting.

In addition to that, some of the families of those bombed in the embassies are now asking for compensation as well. You see where this is going, don't you? Folks, this is part and parcel of over 50 years of entitlement politics in this country. It's just really sad.

**************************************************

The guys at Urban Legends added the following:

Limbaugh's figures above are roughly correct. As of June 2004, the compensation paid out to surviving family members of civilians who died in the 9/11 terrorist attack averaged $2 million per victim. By contrast, the families of American military personnel killed in combat typically receive a lump sum of $12,000 (as of November 2003; the amount was $6,000 when Limbaugh delivered his monologue in 2002), a burial allowance of up to $3,000, and ongoing monthly payments of $833 and $211 for surviving spouses and dependent children under 18 years of age, respectively.

Sources:
Rush Limbaugh monologue he delivered on his radio show March 11, 2002.
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/09/04/national/main571663.shtml
http://usmilitary.about.com/library/milinfo/casualty/blcasualty.htm

Friday, November 9, 2007

Take Time to Slow Down

I sometimes lose touch with things that are important in life as I go about living in a land far from home. I am a sergeant in the Army. I have many responsibilities and everyone needs everything done right now. We are at war. Though we have times when we are not, we are mostly pretty busy; always on the go.

We are in the ‘Information Age’. We need our news, statistics, gossip and messages delivered, now! We have text messages, emails and cell phones on us at all times. We can't live without them and we are furious when a call is 'dropped' or we are in a 'dead zone'. (I don't think there are as many of those in the city, but we have them in my neck of the woods.) What will I do? No one can contact me right this second!

At no other time in history has information moved this fast. On the battlefield it has proven invaluable in saving lives and finding bad guys. In the old days, a scout would run ahead of the main body and observe the enemy, then return and brief the commander on what he saw. Today, we send planes with video cameras and sensors that cannot only tell you there are bad guys, but how many and what weapons they have; even in total darkness.

Today, we can even be engaged in a battle with our enemy and call home to tell a loved one we miss them. A reporter can take photos of the action, then zip them through the air to their office in the United States. We can track our vehicles with computers and tell how fast they are going and where they are. If something bad happens, we know exactly where to send more good guys to help them.

The high speed world is not an option anymore; we demand it. If the phone lines go down, we want it fixed now! If a cell phone doesn't have a signal, the provider is contacted and complained to about it. If the internet is slow or not working, emails can't be sent and we won't know if someone needs us right now! We don't just need information, we need it now!

The other day my son was picking through some envelopes on the table and his mom asked him what he was doing. He was upset that I haven't written him and asked if any of the letters were for him from me. She said no and he wrote me a letter and asked me to write him. She was going to mail it from work but he said he had to mail it from the house.

A letter; a trivial piece of paper with words of expression I could easily send in an email? I had almost forgotten the ancient ways of 'written" communication. I even have 'free mail' and could send a 'real letter' every day; for free if I wanted to! I have been so caught up in my 'instant life' that I forgot about the simple things.

I forgot about sitting around the pond, fishing with my children. I forgot about encouraging my son to eat a worm when he was four and my ex-wife gagging at the sight. I had forgotten about my kids and I painting our bathroom with our hand prints and how much fun we had. I have forgotten the times when my children and I walk through the pasture to find 'Leprechaun Holes' and see if we can get their gold.

In this non-stop, information flowing, instant world of ours I forgot. I forgot to take time to slow down.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Interview w/ VAJoe.com

I would like to thank Lane at VA Joe.com for taking the time to interview me for VA Joe. You can read my interview to find out a little bit more about me or one of the other great MilBloggers out there.

I encourage everyone to drop by and check them out, you may find a few more favorites.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

In Honor of Sgt. Jeffers

This post is not my own, but if you take the time to read it, you will understand why I posted it here. SGT Jeffers' devotion to our country and our militay is that of my own. Thank you Sgt. Jeffers.


Published: Oct 19, 2007
A Soldier's Last Words: Listen Up CBS, CNN, Cindy Sheehan, Al Franken
by Louisa Centanni

SGT. Edmund John Jeffers' last few words were some of the most touching,
inspiring and most truthful words spoken since the tragedy of 9/11 - and
since our nation went to war.

SGT. Jeffers was a strong soldier and talented writer. He died in Iraq on
September 19, 2007. He was a loving husband, brother and son. His service
was more than this country could ever grasp - but the least you can do for
the man who sacrificed his life for you ... is listen to what he had to say.

Listen up and pay attention to all of the Cindy Sheehans and Al Frankens of
the world. To MSNBC, CNN, and CBS. To all who call themselves Americans ...
Hope Rides Alone.

****************************************************************

Hope Rides Alone
By Eddie Jeffers

I stare out into the darkness from my post, and I watch the city burn to the ground. I smell the familiar smells, I walk through the familiar rubble, and I look at the frightened faces that watch me pass down the streets of their neighborhoods. My nerves hardly rest; my hands are steady on a device that has been given to me from my government for the purpose of taking the lives of others.

I sweat, and I am tired. My back aches from the loads I carry. Young American boys look to me to direct them in a manner that will someday allow them to see their families again...and yet, I too, am just a boy....my age not but a few years more than that of the ones I lead. I am stressed, I am scared, and I am paranoid... because death is everywhere. It waits for me, it calls to me from around street corners and windows, and it is always there.

There are the demons that follow me, and tempt me into thoughts and actions that are not my own...but that are necessary for survival. I've made compromises with my humanity. And I am not alone in this. Miles from me are my brethren in this world, who walk in the same streets...who feel the same things, whether they admit to it or not.

And to think, I volunteered for this...

And I am ignorant to the rest of the world...or so I thought.

But even thousands of miles away, in Ramadi , Iraq , the cries and screams and
complaints of the ungrateful reach me. In a year, I will be thrust back into society from a life and mentality that doesn't fit your average man. And then, I will be alone. And then, I will walk down the streets of America, and see the yellow ribbon stickers on the cars of the same people who compare our President to Hitler.

I will watch the television and watch the Cindy Sheehans, and the Al Frankens, and the rest of the ignorant sheep of America spout off their mouths about a subject they know nothing about. It is their right, however, and it is a right that is defended by hundreds of thousands of boys and girls scattered across the world, far from home. I use the word boys and girls, because that's what they are. In the Army, the average age of the infantryman is nineteen years old. The average rank of soldiers killed in action is Private First Class.

People like Cindy Sheehan are ignorant. Not just to this war, but to the results of their idiotic ramblings, or at least I hope they are. They don't realize its effects on this war. In this war, there are no Geneva Conventions, no cease fires. Medics and Chaplains are not spared from the enemy's brutality because it's against the rules. I can only imagine the horrors a military Chaplain would experience at the hands of the enemy. The enemy slinks in the shadows and fights a coward's war against us. It is effective though, as many men and women have died since the start of this war. And the memory of their service to America is tainted by the inconsiderate remarks on our nation's news outlets. And every day, the enemy changes... only now, the enemy is becoming something new. The enemy is transitioning from the Muslim extremists to Americans. The enemy is becoming the very people whom we defend with our lives. And they do not realize it. But in denouncing our actions, denouncing our leaders, denouncing the war we live and fight, they are isolating the military from society...and they are becoming our enemy.

Democrats and peace activists like to toss the word "quagmire" around and compare this war to Vietnam . In a way they are right, this war is becoming like Vietnam. Not the actual war, but in the isolation of country and military. America is not a nation at war; they are a nation with it's military at war. Like it or not, we are here, some of us for our second, or third times; some even for their fourth and so on. Americans are so concerned now with politics, that it is interfering with our war.

Terrorists cut the heads off of American citizens on the Internet... and there is no outrage, but an American soldier kills an Iraqi in the midst of battle, and there are investigations, and sometimes soldiers are even jailed... for doing their job.

It is absolutely sickening to me to think our country has come to this. Why are we so obsessed with the bad news? Why will people stop at nothing to be against this war, no matter how much evidence of the good we've done is thrown in their face? When is the last time CNN or MSNBC or CBS reported the opening of schools and hospitals in Iraq ? Or the leaders of terror cells being detained or killed? It's all happening, but people will not let up their hatred of Bush. They will ignore the good news, because it just might show people that Bush was right.

America has lost its will to fight. It has lost its will to defend what is right and just in the world. The crazy thing of it all is that the American people have not even been asked to sacrifice a single thing. It's not like World War Two, where people rationed food, and turned in cars to be made into metal for tanks. The American people have not been asked to sacrifice anything. Unless you are in the military or the family member of a service member, its life as usual... the war doesn't affect you.

But it affects us. And when it is over, and the troops come home, and they try to piece together what's left of them after their service... where will the detractors be then? Where will the Cindy Sheehans be to comfort and talk to soldiers and help them sort out the last couple years of their lives, most of which have been spent dodging death and wading through the deaths of their friends? They will be where they always are, somewhere far away, where the horrors of the world can't touch them. Somewhere where they can complain about things they will never experience in their lifetime; things that the young men and women of America have willingly taken upon their shoulders.

We are the hope of the Iraqi people. They want what everyone else wants in life: safety, security, somewhere to call home. They want a country that is safe to raise their children in. Not a place where their children will be abducted, raped, and murdered if they do not comply with the terrorists demands. They want to live on, rebuild and prosper. And America has given them the opportunity, but only if we stay true to the cause, and see it to its end. But the country must unite in this endeavor... we cannot place the burden on our military alone. We must all stand up and fight, whether in uniform or not. And supporting us is more than sticking yellow ribbon stickers on your cars. It's supporting our President, our troops and our
cause.

Right now, the burden is all on the American soldiers. Right now, hope rides alone. But it can change, it must change. Because there is only failure and darkness ahead for us as a country, as a people, if it doesn't. Let's stop all the political nonsense, let's stop all the bickering, let's stop all the bad news, and let's stand and fight!


Eddie's father, David Jeffers, writes:

I'm not sure how many letters or articles you've ever read from the genre of "News from the Front," but this is one of the best I've ever read, including all of America 's wars. As I was reading this, I forgot that it was my son who had written it. My emotions range from great pride to great sorrow, knowing that my little boy (22 years old) has become this man.

He is my hero. Thank all of you for your prayers for him; he needs them now more than ever. God bless.

Though Eddie is no longer with us, you can help to let his voice be heard.

No day off in combat!

I'd like to think I don't normally write about how pitiful my life is and curse to the heavens, "Why Me, Lord?" I'd like to think that I have accepted my time here and shed a positive light on what I do. I'd like to think I don't feel worthless or angry because I am stuck on the FOB.

Today though, I feel like saying that I am tired and there is a big part of me that says, "Suck it up!" and I am okay with that. I have only had two days off since I got to Iraq in January and not many more than that since we were mobilized. I have worked a few six-hour days and many, many ten to sixteen-hour days.

One day I had off because a friend was killed; never want another day off like that again. The other day off was back in July to get things ready for my two weeks of R&R. Since August I have worked eight to thirteen hours a day, seven days a week. Okay, here is the "Suck it up!" part. We are all doing that, right? Wrong.

Many times when I am calling around to take care of business I hear, "Oh, he's not here today. Try back tomorrow." or "Oh, I can't do it tomorrow, it's my Maintenance Day." Maintenance Day; that's what we call it in the combat zone.

"We're in a Combat Zone! You don't get days off in combat!" I am often told.

I thought it was because we are short handed in my office. Barely enough soldiers to make the shifts. Man, if we just had another one or two soldiers in here we could get Maintenance Days too!

Well, recently we did get another soldier and can have another one or two if we need them. The answer was, "We don't need them."

"Don't need them?" I said. "If we had another one or two guys, we could alternate and have a damn day off now and then!"

"We're in a Combat Zone! You don't get days off in combat!" I was told again. All this time I had "Sucked it Up!" because we just didn't have the help. Often times I had thought a scheduling shift would have allowed someone to get some down time.

Then as more and more of our fellow Fobbits were unavailable due to days off I became jealous of them too. At least if I am stuck here on the FOB, I could get some time off now and then if I worked over there, but then these guys would be stuck pulling my load. Recently learning that isn't the case at all, makes me that much more ready to get out of here.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Entering the Blogosphere

Today starts like many others; I lay in my bed barely awake and contemplate my day. I climb out of the top bunk and quietly sit at my computer as I turn it on. My roommate is still sleeping and I try to be respectful. As I rub the crud out of my eyes, Windows XP screams "Good Morning" so loudly my speakers vibrate and my roommate sits up in his bed and looks around in the darkness. I apologize and he quickly goes back to sleep.

My screen brightens and my eyes adjust. The harddrive light is going crazy as my computer comes to life. Outlook opens and I scan through various emails and press releases. Does anything catch my eye today; an email or two from home, a couple things on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and more and more alarming things from China these days.

Off to Google to check my feeds and see who has updated recently. Who has been inspired while I was dreaming of home and how much I can’t wait to hold my children? I check SiteMeter and see activity has been steady through my night. I always like to see where my readers are coming from. I scan through the list and see the usual MilBlogging, Badgers Forward, Thunder Run and This F*ing War. A few more catch my interests. I am excited to see that more explorers in the Blogosphere are finding me.

Slowly, I am mentioned and listed on other Blogs and more readers are dropping by to hear my nonsense. Lemonade Stand and Cool, Calm & Collected are new to my referrals list. A few Google searches catch my eye and make me laugh. One visitor from Australia Googled “Hadji Man Rub Tart” to find my post on getting a haircut by Hadji a couple weeks ago. Ha, we have many Australians stationed here and I can only imagine the conversation back home that initiated that search.

One thing I have noticed and admire is the camaraderie that is unmistakable among Bloggers. As you navigate from one Blog to another, you notice common themes, interests and the dedication that each one brings to the readers. I don’t know if I can fit into this tight family of friends and enemies who share themselves with the world through their words. I am eager to try though as I too enjoy putting my emotions on my sleeve and sharing a little piece of my world to anyone who might stumble by.

The sun is peering through the window now and my roommate’s snores break the calming silence. One more day in Iraq is over and I am one day closer to being home. One thing that I have come to enjoy so much about Blogging is that no matter where you are; you are with friends.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Rebirth of a Nation

You can’t help but see the winds of change in this country...

A couple months ago I wrote that the real story here was the progress being made toward a stable Iraq. I wrote about the rebuilding of the infrastructure and how American media focused only on the violence and unrest. There have been so many reports lately that solidify the progress being made here in Iraq, that not even the Democrats nor the media can hide it anymore.

More and more of this country is being run by the Iraqi government and that is great news for everyone. I have seen it with my own eyes and have heard it from our guys on the road. When the locals volunteer as Citizen Guards to help police the area and rid terrorists from their lands, it is a good day for all. When leaders and townspeople aid Coalition Forces in tracking down bad guys and locating weapons caches hidden in homes of insurgents, it is a good day for all.

Lt. General Odierno stated that “Concerned local citizens across Iraq are providing valuable information to the coalition and Iraqi security forces… bound together by a desire for piece and prosperity, the Iraqi people are overcoming differences to provide a better future for their children.” He went on to say, “These concerned local citizens are providing information coalition and Iraqi forces need to find extremists and weapons caches, stop financial support to terrorists and criminals, and stop sectarian violence.”

In my opinion, the main impact on this progress has been the increase in troops; the surge. My brothers and I have seen a large decline in violence in the past several months due in no small part to the efforts of the surge. The increase in troops was essential in quelling the violence and gaining an upper hand in the region which is what this country needed. By keeping troops here and fighting, we were able to gain the support of the government and locals alike.

By not pulling out when things were bad, we proved to the locals that we are dedicated to helping them rebuild for a better future. As such, they are helping us find and eliminate safe houses and interrupt enemy attacks.

In this past week in 2006, there were 143 attacks in and around Baghdad and more than 300 in the Anbar province. This year, there were less than 100 in and around Baghdad and 30 in the Anbar province!

This is good for me and for my brothers who must travel down the most dangerous highways in Iraq, through some of the worst parts of this country. I am eager for the rebirth of this country as it means it will be safer for our troops and that much sooner we all can come home.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Support the Troops

I have recently been contacted by some great people at Soldier’s Angels and they encouraged me to pass along a few things.

Another wonderful organization I would like to mention is AnySoldier.com. I would have registered on there myself, but I do not meet the 4th requirement to register and that puts a great big smile on my face! I highly encourage you all to at least drop by and check out their services and assistance.

I also wanted to inform anyone interested that you can call the Post Office at 1-800-610-8734 and request the FREE Care Kit #4 for military overseas mailing. It contains 10 boxes, 10 “mili-pack” envelopes, tape and other materials for shipping and the kit is free of charge. The boxes cost a flat rate $8.95 for shipping. The Postal Service issued a Press Release on October 23rd, 2007 to promote early shipment of holiday packages to ensure delivery. I have received many packages from my mom who used this service many times to send packages to my brother and me.

There are many, many more groups and organizations that you can contact to offer donations, support or request information about deployed soldiers. The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW) have a great program called Operation Uplink that donates phone cards to deployed soldiers. I have used many of these cards to contact my family back home. I highly recommend considering the support of this program as nothing in this world can compare to hearing the broken, crackling voices of my children after a “bad day” at work.

I also want to mention the American Legion “Support the Troops” program. Their website has many resources and different ways to help support our service men and women.

The last support group I wanted to mention today is Tunes 4 the Troops. I contacted Tunes 4 the troops a couple months ago after our unit received a package of over 150 CDs and DVDs. I thanked them for their efforts and support. I received a lengthy reply and was thanked for my letter and my service. We have received MANY hours of enjoyment from this program.

These are only a few programs, but they have all personally affected me and my deployment. I can tell you that whatever you can do to support the men and women of our armed services is greatly appreciated. I could never promote one group or organization as a favorite over another as the devotion and dedication of the volunteers and staff is evident in all of them.

If you don’t have money, resources or time to support our deployed troops, something as inexpensive as a handshake, nod or thank you is invaluable.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

What DO I send

If you have been following along with me the past week, you have noticed I mentioned some things NOT to send.  It started out as mindless, humorous ranting but it is honestly about things we are in abundance of.  So, I have received several comments and emails asking what we DO need.  I received a comment from Debi M, with Soldiers' Angels and wanted to pretty much plagiarize her list of things we do need/want.  I also wanted to say that it is not that we don't ever need the items on my list.  I was targeting the individuals that want to send things too.  We do receive candy, sun block, chap stick, soaps and razors, etc.  We have a few large groups, like Soldiers' Angels that sends many boxes of those things.  I wanted to give you an idea of things that are individual and very meaningful.

1. Homemade Anything - We sometimes get homemade food like marshmallow treats, fudge, brownies, beef jerky, jelly and salsa.  Very big hits.

2. Pictures - We mostly operate in wide open desert terrain or run down, war torn neighborhoods.  No trees, grass, ponds, clouds, birds, deer, bears or much else to speak of.  Sometimes it is as simple as a picture of a pasture, trees, mountain, wildlife or random shots of the local town that brings smiles to the faces of soldiers far from home.

3. Letters - Long or short, from young to old, letters are always appreciated. When we got here, there were still over a dozen boxes from Christmas.  As we opened and sorted, there were many letters from children inside. I took and read EVERY letter I found.  I am so thankful of the support of those back home that I DO read every letter.  A few have had contact information and I have written them back.  Most of them do not.  Privacy and security do not allow it.  If you are a teacher or organization with many students or volunteers, send a way for soldiers to reply.  Emails work great.  I can't say that you WILL get a response back, but I WILL respond.

4. Drawings - As with letters, drawings are great.  I have received many drawings and letters and they always bring endless smiles.

5. Magazines - Always a big hit.  Hunting, Fishing, Outdoors, Cars, Trucks, Motorcycles... you know, guy stuff.  We love magazines and newspapers from home.  No girlie magazines though.  No Vogue, Modern Bride or that stuff.

Here is the part where I am going to plagiarize Debi M's list because it is great:

"Here’s a list of the items I plan to send over the next several months, feedback from you would be greatly appreciated.

THANKSGIVING: mixed nuts, sunflower seeds, dried fruit mixes, cheeses, summer sausage, crackers, chocolates and I took pix of local fall foliage etc, printed on heavy paper like post cards and dropped them off at nursing homes/VFW for them to write a message of thanks to our troops on the back and they will be sent in the box. I also plan to include a box of blank Christmas cards for the soldiers to send cards to family back in the states.

CHRISTMAS: Regional candies, cookies, Christmas drawings and letters from elementary school kids, candy canes, wrapped gifts I know this soldiers wants.

MOVIE: popcorn, hot choc./cider mix, movie candies, new release DVD.

READING: current manly magazines, flavored teas/coffee.

WINTER CARE: hand warmers, travel size cold/general care meds, cough drops, muscle rubs, tissues, micro chicken soup, hand held video game, extra batteries. I enjoy send things and I'm happy to have a way to contribute, but I want to send items that can be used.

Sorry, this is getting long but I also want you to know that I enjoy reading your blog -- look forward to every new post and I want to thank you for your service and hard work… it is very much appreciated.

Thanks again, Debi M."


To everyone that plans on sending something, anything, thank you.  It really is great to get stuff from back home.  I will find out a good place to get addresses to send goodies. 

I hope all of you have a very merry holiday season.