Friday, July 27, 2007

When bad things happen

I hate my job. Many people doing many jobs can say they hate their jobs, but I truly hate my job. I sit behind a desk and wait for something bad to happen to my friends, to my brothers. I hear an alert that tells me one of the guys on the road wants to talk to me. Each time I pull up a message I pray it is not bad news; sometimes, like last night, it is. All the information, intelligence and planning in the world sometimes is not enough when these guys are on the road doing what they do. That hurts more than I can say.

I know the guys on the guns will never understand how much I care for them. I know my dedication and envy of them will mostly go unnoticed. There are only a handful of men that I know understand. My friends and co-workers, Eric and Danny are the only guys I know that get it. We express over and over how hard it is to sit back and wait for something bad to happen and not be able to do anything to prevent it. Every time the alert comes, we are hopeful it isn't bad news. When bad news does come, when one of our fellow soldiers, our friends is hurt, we leap into action. We do what we must do to handle the situation as best we can. We can't "freak out", we can't pause and reflect and we can't engage our enemy with gunfire to express our frustrations. We are forced to choke it aside, bottle it up and continue the mission.

My friend, Danny, expressed it best. He said we do let it out, we do release it, but it is often at inappropriate moments. I think back to times when I cry for no reason or get extremely angry when times don't justify it. I don't believe I want to hurt anyone, but I hurt inside; inside my head and in my heart. As a soldier we are trained to be hard targets, to always look strong, act strong, be strong. Hell, even the Army motto is Army Strong.

I often find it impossible to talk about my inside because no one understands why I hurt when my friends are the ones getting banged up and all I do is sit in an air conditioned office and "play on a computer". I have it "so easy" I often hear. "You're not the one getting shot at and blown up. Why are you complaining?" None of the guys on the guns understand what it is like to hear of the death and destruction of my brothers, over and over while I sit in my air conditioned office and play on a computer. None of them know how helpless I feel as a soldier, as a brother, when I sit in my office and do my job while they are under fire or gathering up what's left of their trucks that were just blown up. None of them realize that I am getting shot at and blown up beside them, beside them all.

I hurt and I get infuriated and I want to get out there, yet I swallow it down and type away at a stupid computer. The truth of the matter is an uneasy fact for me, as my friend also pointed out. Danny asked, "Well, hell, if I do get out there will I be helping or hurting them? For me to be out there means I am taking an experienced set of eyes off the road." He is right in a way. As much as I want to believe I would be able to go out there and shoot up all the bad guys and protect my brothers, the truth is I wouldn't.

I have asked my boss on several occasions recently to go out. Since the loss of Sergeant Massey, I have wanted to go on the road and kill bad guys. Eric refused to let me go out, then he went; the bastard. He was concerned because I am going on vacation in a couple days and he didn't want anything to prevent me from going home to see my family. It is just so hard to accept bad things happening to my brothers while I sit back and play on a computer.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

IED takes Charlie Battery Soldier

Today I write with a heavy heart. Today I write about the loss of SGT John R. Massey and how we as soldiers must deal with the loss and move on, seemingly without properly showing him the respect he deserves. I write about how there is not enough time in combat to truly honor the sacrifice your brother made. How every action you do must honor and cherish them with the time you do have, because the war goes on. Our mission continues, bad guys are still trying to harm us and we must put the loss aside and refocus to keep it from happening again. As much as I hate it, as much as I have come to despise the words the past three days; we must “Soldier On!”

I woke up with distant knocks on many doors. I remember being annoyed that the messenger had to be so loud and obnoxious in the middle of the night. I huffed and pulled a pillow over my head. Suddenly there was a knock at my door. I answered to an over-excited soldier talking so fast it was hard to make out his words. “Meeting… now… gazebo”. I started getting dressed and my buddy came over to ask what was going on. I told him what I knew. As we headed to the meeting together, a million things ran through my mind. I feared I already knew, but tried to convince myself it was something else; anything else. It was dark and the moon was hidden. As we walked around a corner, a dim light cast a somber glow about the alley. More soldiers emerged from the darkness in front of us, beside us and crunching rocks behind us said we were not alone. My stomach turned as the likelihood that this was anything but bad news was sharply subsided. Rounding the final turn to the gazebo, all doubt was removed. Dozens of soldiers had already gathered. I found myself searching through the darkness for familiar faces and the voices of friends. In my mind I ran down a list and desperately checked off as many as I could.

The commander called us around and being close, I took a knee. Still too dark to see, his voice was his only expression. In a broken voice he told us Sergeant Massey paid the ultimate sacrifice earlier that night. Sounds of muted cries and sniffling could be heard as our captain asked for prayer. Afterwards, he explained that a roadside bomb took him from us. He spoke for a bit, his voice soft yet secure in a way I had never heard. Our First Sergeant came forth and also offered words of encouragement and support in a way that showed compassion and remorse. His voice crackled as he spoke and I hurt for him. His love of Charlie Battery is evident in everything he does and everything he says. Though you couldn’t see his face, you could hear his pain with every word.

On the day that the rest of the soldier’s crew returned to base, Charlie Battery stood by to welcome them home. In the middle of the afternoon; for most of us it was midnight. Many of us climbed out of bed and headed down to be with them. Some of us rode but, some walked two miles in temperatures over 125 degrees to be there when they came in. Almost everyone was there, suffering through blistering heat and burning sun to pay respect to the crew of our fallen brother. As they rolled in, we all went over and embraced them. I can’t really explain it, but sometimes you run out of words. Sometimes a handshake, a hug and a look in the eyes is all you have. The crew was exhausted, mentally and physically. Some of the other crews took care of the weapons; others took care of their vehicles; everyone doing something to ease the burdens of the returning crew.

The memorial service was extremely tough for me. Many times the ceremony brought tears, not only for the loss of a friend I didn’t know well enough, but to his teammates and best friends. To hear them speak of the love they felt for each other was heartbreaking. His Team Leader paused several times as the words refused to come out.

He spoke of John spending endless hours on the gun and refusing to change places stating, “If anything happened to you, I’d never forgive myself knowing it should have been me.”

That’s the kind of soldier we lost. “Infantry to the bone”, he’d say.

His chief spoke of times when they’d have to stop, they would be far ahead of the rest of the convoy and “on their own.” He mentioned grabbing a weapon and climbing in the turret with John and helping him search for bad guys. He stated he did this for two reasons; one he said was because it helped his gunner scan for danger. Two, he goes on, was because he felt safer exposed to the enemy with John covering his back than to be surrounded by the armor of his vehicle. Back to back, he describes, they searched for our enemy in the darkness.

Many months ago I said I would never write about the injury or death of my brothers. Maybe I was na├»ve to believe that. Maybe I just wasn’t sure exactly what I meant when I wrote that.

I do not write today to express his death. I write to express how we as a battery have pulled together and done our best to honor and respect one of our own. Whether you knew him as a close friend or only in passing, he left a smile on your face. John will not just be greatly missed; he will be greatly remembered. We honor him much like he would honor one of us. We weep for him, for his family and friends. We smile at his memory and then we soldier on.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Independence Day

Sometimes I feel obligated to sit down and write about something, anything just to get it out and let go. It is a way of helping me deal with the stress and pressure of being here, doing what I do. I haven’t felt the urge to do that for several weeks. It’s not that things haven’t been happening, but quite simply, I haven’t felt motivated. Today however changed all that. Today, July 4th, 2007 – Independence Day – I felt the motivation I have been lacking.

This 4th of July will resonate deep within me for the rest of my life. Today is when what this day means has all come together for me. It is much more than the liberation from Great Britain that I am reminded of today. Today most of my family and friends are unreachable. All have gone to various celebrations, picnics, barbeques, or camp outs.

Today I sit alone, far from home in a land full of hatred and hostility; especially for America and all it stands for. Oh, my enemy is not without hospitality for they have been helping us celebrate in a similar redneck fashion. Back home, today would be busy drinking beer, hooting and hollering and shooting stuff up. Well, with the exception of the drinking, we are doing much of the same thing here. Like every other day since I’ve been here, I am forced to think about today on a much deeper level.

Ironically, I watched “Independence Day”. I have seen it a hundred times, but never saw it like I did today. When I watched it before, I saw pretty girls, fast action, cool space ships blowing stuff up and that little “Hell Yeah!” feeling at the end as the mother ship was destroyed.

This time though I saw a story behind the movie I never took time to notice. This time I saw America celebrating, families playing and people caught up in the day to day. Life is normal and good until bad guys come and throw us into war. I saw men and women of all race, color and creed stand up and volunteer to join the fight to preserve the way of life they love.

I saw soldiers sacrificing themselves to ensure victory against an overpowering enemy. I saw good people urging success in the fight and offering support in every way to ease the minds and hearts of the soldiers on the battlefield. I watched an amazing, triumphant victory as the enemy is crushed and defeated and everyone rejoices and takes time to honor those that fell in battle.

I saw this and envied those soldiers. For them, they fought honorably, with heart and defeated an enemy of the world and the world united and rejoiced. For my brothers and me it is not the same. We fight an enemy that is not as well defined. We fight in a war that many Americans do not support; a war many people around the world call unjustified and illegal.

The terrorists we fight are no less dangerous than the monsters from outer space, yet Americans are seen as the bad guys. For my brothers and me, I fear we will be rewarded the same fate as those from Vietnam. We fight in a war that will never be chalked up as a victory. Our enemy has been here for thousands of years and will be here for thousands more. Long after we are home, this war will be remembered as a failure; as the Vietnam of my era. The sacrifices of my brothers will be nothing more than a politicians tally mark to win votes.

As you celebrate our independence today, take a few moments to honor those who fought for it, respect those who fight for it today and admire those who will stand up in the faces of our adversaries and fight for it tomorrow!