Sunday, April 29, 2007

And the children smiled

One of the best things to happen to me since this war started was a couple days ago. I participated in a Civil Military Operation. We took coloring books, crayons and supplies to a local village school. The children were so excited to see us. The gunships did their job while the dismount crew (including me) got out and went inside.

The boys came out and stood in line to carry boxes. They almost seemed offended when a soldier tried to carry a box. They all spoke a few words in broken English. “What’s up?” or “How Hanging?” As we got inside, some soldiers took bags of goodies to the classrooms. The kids are funny and always wanted to trade things, or have you give them stuff. They would take the goody bags and hide them, then put on a sad face and try to get another. It was very amusing. After all the bags were handed out, they let us walk around for a bit and greet the children, teachers and staff. Many of us had cameras and you could tell they had their pictures taken many times. They would smile big and hold up their bags or give us a hug.

For a brief moment, I forgot I am at war. I could tell in their eyes that some of these children forgot too. Some of them had hatred in their hearts for us and did not want us there. I don’t think I have ever seen such hate in the eyes of a child. It must have been like back in the times of segregation in our own history. That hatred can only be originated and fueled in the home. Maybe America killed his dad, or maybe his dad blew up trying to set a bomb for us. His dad, brother or friends may be insurgents fighting the Americans and he his stuck at school.

Most of the children seemed to enjoy us being there. Most of them smiled and laughed and played; like children do. It was good to see. They are children, young and pure. They are children, and for a moment, so was I.

Monday, April 23, 2007

My little brother is at war

This entry will not be about me. It will not be about how unhappy or pissed off I am at people here. This time I feel I need to write and tell you about my little brother, Gary. My little brother is at war too. Physically and mentally, he fights a war every day. I read his words and hear his thoughts and feel his pain. If you know him you know what a fun guy he is. He is definitely mischievous and has a devilish grin that he does when he knows he's been caught doing something. I will never let him house-sit for me again, and he knows why, but that's okay. I love him all the same.

Gary is stationed overseas, like I am, but at a different base. He is depressed and it kills me that I can't be there to offer support for him. When I did get to visit him a couple months ago, I tried to have a heart to heart talk and offer my support. It wasn't what he wanted to hear, but that's me. I think he knows I love him and I don't always agree with him, but I am his brother and will be here for him as he needs me. I will not be a shield or a protector as I do not believe those things help us grow as people. In my opinion, he was shielded way too long. No, I will let him fall and hurt, and learn. I will let him get up on his own and I will follow beside him on the next path he takes. I will be there to offer advice, opinion and encouragement. As young adults, we must be allowed to make mistakes so we can learn from them. As negative things occur in my life, I use them to learn what not to do. I believe everything happens for a reason, good or bad. Everything we do today guides us on a path that leads to tomorrow. Sometimes I do get angry and say, "I can't wait to get home and get back on with my life!"

Something I have learned is that my life hasn't stopped. You can tell in my words that I often lose focus when I have a bad day. When I do that, I am not focused on the good days. I know we are men and men are strong and masculine, but when I hear my little brother so sad, I just want to hold him close; just so he'll know I'm there. I won't tell him tomorrow will be better, because it may not be. I won't tell him that he will be better off in the long run, because he may not be. I will tell him what I hope he already knows… I love you and I am here for you.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

And two soldiers fall

I recently participated in a memorial service for two fallen soldiers from our sister company. I had the honor of being a member of the rifle squad that did the 21-gun salute. Now, not being an honor guard, the seven of us picked had our work cut out for us.

We trained for many hours after work each day to try and get it just right. We had three days to get good. My fingers were sore from working the rifle so many times I couldn't begin to count. It was the first time my rifle has fired in country and if I have my way, it will be the last. For three days I had to hear the songs and see the images scrolling across the screen as the ceremony was rehearsed over and over to work out the kinks and make the service worthy of honoring these two soldiers that were on their last mission. They were due to be going home this week.

I was so nervous I couldn't eat because I knew I wasn't perfect. I messed up, forgot my next move, was too fast, and was too slow. I was so disappointed in myself when I made a mistake because the 21-gun salute is the ultimate tribute to a fallen brother. I have so much more respect for the honor guards that do this for a living.

One of the saddest parts of the ceremony for me was the last roll call. The First Sergeant of the soldier calls out the names of the other soldiers and each of them acknowledge they are present. Then he calls the name of the fallen soldier. He does this three times, then turns and salutes the display of boots, weapon and helmet. That's when the guns salute in a thunderous boom, boom, boom. I tried to put it out of my mind and concentrate on getting the timing perfect. Seven soldiers all trying to synchronize every movement, every sound. Every sound shall sound as one. We did okay but were a little off on the last volley of shots.

I was sad that we practiced so hard and was still a little off our timing. Something I had to realize though is that for me it wasn't about being perfect, it was about giving it my all. It was about not taking the job lightly. For me, the discipline was standing in the heat, as motionless as possible, staring at an empty sky; one hand holding the rifle by the tip of the barrel, the other held tight to the small of my back.

There I stood with flies biting and my arm gone numb, waiting for the cue to spring into action. It was an action that we waited 45 minutes to initiate and took less than 30 seconds to complete. That was my tribute to them. My performance was not worthy of the Marine Corp Silent Drill Team, but it was an honor and privilege just the same.

Monday, April 16, 2007

I'm not perfect

Is it possible to use a bad situation to grow as a person? I think the answer is yes. I am learning that is harder to do than to say. I think of my situation and look for ways to improve myself. Improve my faith, my attitude and my life. If I expect that of myself, why can I not expect that of others? I have never been in combat. Neither have my leaders and neither have many of the soldiers from home that I fight with. I am not the perfect soldier, not the perfect father, wasn't the perfect husband. I like to think I will be able to improve on these things in the very long time I have here.

My aunt wrote me some very inspiring words. She reminded me there is more to war than the bombs and the bullets. There are stories to be told everywhere. I work in a position where I see almost every soldier as he leaves out and returns from missions. None of the guys on the guns get the same experience. I have the opportunity to go around to the trucks and see the guys preparing, mentally and physically, for the challenges ahead of them. I see the faces and hear the words of them all. Some guys play ball, some sit in solitude. Some pray, some sing or tell jokes. My aunt challenged me to look to them; to tell their stories along with my own. What better way do I have to honor my brothers than to share part of them with you?

I also think that our leaders are learning as we go, just like the rest of us. I do not always agree with them and that's the great part about the Army; I don't need to. I must accept that because someone has a different idea on how things need to be done, doesn't mean that one of us is wrong, just different. The Army has confidence in my leaders. They have the training necessary to be in the positions they hold. I am learning to accept that they too are under great amounts of stress; more stress than someone at my level and it is so easy for me to sit on the outside and criticize.

These are the same guys that grew up in the small town back home. Everyone sits around drinking coffee and joking about people and events back home. We all have someone back home that makes us want to do our jobs and get home safe. The thing about the guard many active guys don't get is we aren't just in it because this is our job. We are all brothers, friends, neighbors, sons, cousins or once were enemies of the men we fight beside. I have to tell you, when one of the bad guys picks a fight with one of our gun trucks, our boys unleash hell! I can only relate it to a "clearing of the bench" in baseball. It makes me proud to be a part of Charlie Battery!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Can you be done talking now?

My last journal was written in frustration and I apologize, but it is often times like that are the most honest.

Things the past few days have gone well. We got our satellite dish hooked up and have been fighting with some guys from Dubai to get it working. It is so hard to deal with people who are thousands of miles away and it takes a day or two of talking back and forth to get out one train of thought. Anyway, it should be up and running in the next day or two (fingers crossed).

I got a chance to talk to my boy last Saturday. He always makes me laugh. He was telling me all the new things going on and I was telling him about my cool stuff. In the middle of my sentence he said, "Daddy, daddy..." I asked him what. He asked, "Can you be done talking now?" I said sure and he told me he had to go. Then we said our goodbyes and hung up. I just had to laugh. He is so grown up and I guess listening to daddy blabbering on the phone isn't as exciting as taking a nap.

I am sick of being on the FOB! All the guys come through my office when they come in from a mission. They talk about how their missions went and how different attacks and counter attacks played out. Their eyes light up as they explain the action. I am so jealous it makes me sick. I do not feel their enthusiasm about my job. I can't tell you much about it, but I will say that the bad guys here never expected what they got when they challenged Charlie Battery to a fight!!! There is a famous movie quote that says, "I'm coming, and I'm bringing hell with me!" Every time I hear these guys roll in, that quote runs through my head as I hear of the destruction the bad guys received.

Well, I will hopefully be able to keep this up more often, not that anything real exciting happens to me. I even get tired of talking about rocket attacks as they are not interesting at all compared to my "brother's" attacks. Of course you won't hear those stories from me. Most of those stories will be told on bar stools and in backyards all over Franklin County for years... hell decades... to come!

Friday, April 6, 2007

Adam's worst day ever!

Quite some time has passed without being able to update you. I have been extremely busy. I have often been working 10-16 hrs a day, seven days a week. I haven't had a single day off since we arrived in Iraq. The lives of many fobbits are much the same. Most of the complications, heart-ache and anger felt by me toward others have nothing to do with bad guys at all. It comes from leaders that seem like they just don't care. They push and push to the breaking point, seemingly without regard to the soldiers they command.

It isn't just the fobbits that frustrated. The guys on the guns run many, many missions. I can't tell you their schedules, but it is a bunch. They are always on the road; in harm’s way. Most Escort Teams have enough guys to leave a couple behind each mission. They were told they would be left behind to decompress, to relax, to refresh. We put them to work, here in the FOB. We have them doing various duties such as cleaning vehicles, arranging store rooms, etc. Though many of them are on a different schedule than us, they are required to change to our hours while they are here. Most of them, though tired and beaten, would rather face the dangers of the road than to stay here with us. Even I would rather be on the road. Our guys brag about how nice it is at other bases. The garages are friendly and expedient; ours are not. Some of them mention a sense of relief as they head out on the road. "Sure you dodge bullets and bombs now and then, but it is better than putting up you guys!"

Yesterday, my best friend came to me and mentioned that he had the "Worst Day of His Life!" He is constantly told how useless he and his co-worker are and no matter what they do, it is never good enough. The two of them are required to work all hours of the day and night and be on call when they are not at work. If they leave by 6pm, they are criticized. If they stay until 1am they are still criticized. They are in a no-win situation.

Last night, after my friend's worst day ever, we were sitting in my room "venting" when explosions started shaking the walls. As we took cover, my buddy laughs about how the worst day of his life actually got worse and how that was the topping on the cake. This was well past our bedtime and he mentioned how it was a great ending to a horrible day. Then these two soldiers were ordered to go back to work instead of going to bed. When asked if the "all clear" had been given, (meaning was it safe to walk around and go back to work). They were told "It doesn't matter!” It didn't matter that it hadn't been deemed safe to leave shelter. It didn't matter that the job they were going to do wasn't engaging the enemy or defending a position from attack. It didn't matter that it wasn't anything they couldn't have done the next day, yet they worked all through the night as ordered.