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 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.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Why I AM a MilBlog

When I started having issues about my blog a short time ago, I was told to get rid of it. I urgently researched dozens of MilBlogs, rules, regulations, advice and encouraging articles about Military Bloggers. Though I like to write about me, I sometimes write about my passions as they affect me.

One name kept popping up regarding frontline MilBloggers, Badger6. Everywhere I turned, Badger6 was being referenced. So, I emailed him and asked his advice on the matter and sought his guidance. I knew he was a busy soldier and quite frankly, never thought I'd hear from him.

A few days ago though, I was excited to get an email from him. We have corresponded a time or two and he has helped drive me to continue telling my story. He gave me a few tips that made me think. He encouraged me to write. To write every day or every couple of days, but told me that if I go mainstream, they will come. People will drop by to read what I say.

I often write with a passion on issues I feel strongly about. It is almost never political or military in nature. I feel strongly about many issues, but this is not my forum to talk about Abortion, God in school or my favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs. There will be plenty of articles in my future blogs for that.

I do feel strongly about free speech though and believe that this is a place for that. I fight for the United States. I defend our way of life and the US Constitution. Our very first amendment is the right of freedom of speech. I read an article by Kevin R. Watkins that you should read if you get the chance. It is titled, "Reprehensible Free Speech on Myspace"

"The principle of free thought is not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate." US Supreme Court

I do not want to turn my journal into a political springboard though. That is not why I started my journal. I will however, show my pride for my country and our military fighting men and women whenever I can. I support the idea of freedom of speech for those who have the same ideas as me and the ones who don’t.

I do feel that there is a line, a point when free speech is muted; when the words or actions are so extreme and so harsh that there is no constitutional right to hide behind. I get so infuriated when I see idiots protesting at a soldier's funeral, waving banners that say, "I'm glad your son is dead" or "Thank God for dead soldiers." I can't tell you how badly those idiots tear at my gut. I can't imagine anyone telling a mother they are glad her child is dead and smiling while they are saying it to show pride in their cause.

Hate the war, the politics, the mess in Washington; sure. But I have no tolerance for those who protest the soldiers who have sworn an oath to give their lives in their defense. I am thankful for groups like the Patriot Guard Riders who have banded together to support fallen heroes and their families.

Our soldiers give much more than their lives, they give the lives of their families as well. I have so much admiration and respect for military families, for the men and women that take on the daily struggle to maintain peace and balance in their homes so their soldiers can focus on the challenges ahead.

Thank you, all of you who support your soldiers -wherever they are.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Why I'm NOT a MilBlog

Today I am reminded of why I don't like to call myself a MilBlog. My entry today is not about this war, Iraq, Iran or weapons of mass destruction that may or may not be here.

Today it is about my children and how much they help me focus on what really matters in my life. As I have said before, I don't believe I was sent to this place to kill bad guys, though I gladly would. I believe I was sent here to give me time away from everything and everyone I love and care about. It is to force me to figure out what is important in my life and to never take the people I love for granted. It is to force me to figure out how to take time to appreciate the small things, because when they are gone, they are always so much bigger.

When I talked to my kids last night, it was awesome as always. It never matters what my day was like, how busy or tired or fatigued I am. It is my time that brings me back and reminds me that my time here will come to an end and I will be going home. I will be back with my family and friends and I will have time with my kids, though it will never be enough. I know now how important the little things are.

When I called my kids the other night they were playing dominos with my ex-wife and her mom. I talked to my daughter and she seemed a little too pre-occupied to talk to me in the middle of her game, but I didn't mind. Just the sound of her voice was nice.When my son got on the phone I asked him how we was doing and he told me not very good. He went on to say that he won some games the other night. I asked him if he cheated and he said he won without even cheating.

I had sent their mom some extra money this month to buy a couple video games for their Wii. I had asked him what he got and if he liked them. He went over and started reading off all the games. One of the games, Mario something, he said they didn't play that often because he wasn't very good at it. I told him I was pretty good at that one, thinking maybe I would sound cool. He did confirm that was cool and asked if I could teach him to play it when he comes to visit. I said of course and am now scrambling to learn how to play. He read off a couple more and I told him I wasn't very good at the other games and he said that when he comes to visit he could teach me to play if I wanted. How could I refuse an offer like that, I confirmed for him how cool that will be.

He was excited to tell me about his field trip to the Pumpkin Patch this Friday and told me I could go if I wanted to. I told him I would love to go and before I could finish with the "but" why I couldn't he interrupted with, "That will be great. You gotta be here by two days." It broke my heart to hear him so eager to have me be a part of his life when I can't do anything about it. I told him I won't be able to make it this year, but maybe I could go next year.

He said okay with the crushing resiliency that he is familiar with knowing I am not in his life. He is used to the fact I am not there for the little things. The things that I now would kill for to be a part of so that one day he will look back and remember the year I drove 1000 miles to help him pick-out a pumpkin on his field trip for school. He will remember the summer he came to visit and taught me how to play Mario Brothers when we got back from fishing all day.

There are so many fond memories I have of the times I have spent with my children these past few years because I take time to be with them, even for the little things. Many times my son's attitude would upset me or my daughter's interference with my dealings with him; she is quite the mother hen. I often pause and reflect on the moment and wonder what my children are thinking of me at that moment. Will they reflect back on that moment months or years from now as a defining moment in my relationship with them? I hope not. I hope I give them so many wonderful times that when I do have to be the daddy, they won't just have those times to remember me by.

I hope that they look back at our lives, at me and remember that I took time out with them; time out to enjoy the little things.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What NOT to send - Part 2

Okay, I knew it wouldn't take long before a part two. Here is another list of what NOT to send. Again, this is a generalized statement. If you have specific soldiers who have asked for these items, then of course they need them. I am mainly posting this for the benefit of the individuals that want to send care packages because we have so many large groups that send these items.

1. Chap stick - Though it is always great to have lips that glitter and smell like Cherry Tarts while you are spot correcting one of your soldiers, we are stock full of this stuff. I admit we don't use it near enough and there are thousands of soldiers running around fighting bad guys with chapped lips. Fortunately, the sun is not as hot these days and we could survive with less than 22.5 sticks per soldier.

2. Sun Block - Sun Block is awesome, especially the waterproof, bulletproof kind. However, like anything else, in excess it is well... excess. Danny and I recently conducted an experiment and found that one 1.8 gallon tube of 80 SPF Sun Block lotion will "liberally cover" 76,834 square inches of human flesh! Since we must remain fully clothed (with gloves on) while we fight bad guys, only about 4 square inches of skin is exposed while we are out on missions. So, we have enough Sun Block to keep our cheeks sunburn free for the next 3,756 years. We believe we may still have troops here.

3. Hard Candy - In the past couple of days, we have given out .24 pounds of the 150 pounds of hard candy in stock. Luckily, we just received an emergency shipment of 26.3 pounds of Butterscotch hard candy. Our supply is now back up to operating levels, so PLEASE do not send hard candy!

4. White Socks - Why do we need 13 cases of white tube socks in Iraq? I'm not sure. We are not allowed to wear civilian clothes in the war zone. We only wear white socks in our physical training uniforms and we can only wear that uniform when we are exercising. Two or three pairs of white socks is good for a couple months. Don't get me wrong, they ARE comfortable, but we just can't use that many.

5. Civilian Clothes - Again, just absolutely no need for civilian clothes in combat as they are completely prohibited. We CAN wear them in our room technically, but must change into our uniform to walk to the bathroom or go take a shower. I do have an Austin Texas Fire Fighters t-shirt I wear in my room on occasion and I have seen Danny sneaking to the bathroom in his red, Budweiser Dale Earnhardt Jr t-shirt, but those are rare occasions.

While some of these items are useful and appreciated, we end up getting so many at once, that we run out of places to store them. Thank you for all the support, we REALLY do appreciate it.

What NOT to send - Part 1

As Danny and I were cleaning the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) yesterday, we sorted through several boxes trying to organize the contents of care packages we have received. We realized that many people and organizations send necessities when they aren't sure what we needed. As the war has gone on, more and more things are available to soldiers on the frontlines now that weren't available when we started.

Many people have asked me lately what I need or want, what we need. Danny and I discussed it as we sorted though the plethora of goodies. The holidays are coming up and many people and groups are gearing up to send us care packages to show their support. We GREATLY appreciate the support of those back home and would never discourage that! We did however, come up with an urgent list of items we DO NOT need.

1. Hand Sanitizer - We have enough hand sanitizer to cleanse every soldier and half the Hadji population in southern Iraq. It's not that we don't use the stuff, we do, but almost every care package sent has included several bottles of the stuff.

2. Baby Wipes - Tons of baby wipes! There was a time when these little wipes were as valued as gold, but the modern bases have many showers and we have enough time to go take a nice shower in a stall with running water and everything. Though we do have outages now and then and John has showered on his porch with bottles of water, that is not the common. We are really "wiped out!"

3. Hard Candy - Somewhere out there is a list of items that modern soldiers just can't live without. Someone added candy to the list and as a result, we have roughly 150 pounds of the stuff in boxes and piles and getting more every day. Many bags have had to be discarded as there is simply no place to get rid of the stuff. We are fat, happy and have enough cavities, but thank you.

4. Toiletries - Though this is and always will be very valuable, we are stocked full of razors, soaps, toothbrushes and pastes. We are quite possibly the cleanest soldiers to ever fight in combat! I admit, some are not, but it is NOT because we don't have the resources.

There are probably several other things I have not mentioned and I am sure there will be a part 2 to this before too long. Now, I am not the be all, know all so if you have talked to specific soldiers and loved ones who have requested these items, by all means send it to them. We are fortunate that our base has stores for us to go and purchase almost anything we want. Some bases don't.

Magazines and local newspapers are always a big hit. Every time we get a new edition of "The Spectator" it is always nice. We read through and laugh at our friends who got arrested or had babies and scan through to see who won the "Bull Drop!"

From those of us on the frontlines, thank you. Thank you for all your support and kind words, they will never go unnoticed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I got a "Man Rub"

I normally cut my own hair, but the other day I had $5 to spare and happened to be in the PX so I dropped by the barber shop. Only two ahead of me, I decided to let Hadji do it.

As I sit in the chair and get comfortable, my barber tells me "Down a little" in broken English. He reaches around, unzips my top, slides it down off my shoulders and wraps the white strap around my neck. If I had a bow-tie I'd look like a Chip and Dale's dancer!

He snaps the apron and swirls it in the air. As it gently drifts around me, he fastens the tie around my neck. He reaches for the shears, asks me how I want it and I answer in broken English instinctively, like that will matter as to how my hair will look when he is done; "skin, side, top, short." He nods and smiles and I get the feeling he has a generic cut in mind anyway.

The clippers buzz to life and my scalp vibrates as my hair falls to the floor. He and his co-worker talk and laugh in a language I don't understand. My eyes constantly scan the room beside me and through the mirror I watch behind me. Though I probably have nothing to worry about at the barber shop here at Adder, I am instinctively aware.

One thing I have noticed about these people is that many of them take pride in their work. The barber has finished with the clippers and is whittling away at my remaining hair with his comb and scissors. I watch him in the mirror. Again, more instinct than fear, but Hadji with sharp scissors close to my neck makes me nervous and reminds me why I cut my own hair. My hand has a firm grip on my push-dagger and I sometimes laugh at myself at how paranoid I am, but I can't help it.

I realize I am getting older as he takes the comb and scissors and trims my eye brows for me. I seem to always have a couple crazy hairs here and there. He leans in close as he grooms me and the stench is tart. Not overpowering, but it is customary to not shower often and it is noticeable.

After he is finished cutting, he douses his hands with rubbing alcohol and rubs my freshly pruned scalp. It is a cool, refreshing burn and feels good as he massages it in with his fingers. He then slaps, rubs and finger claps my head and it is strange, but nice. He works to my neck and my shoulders, and then presses his fingers hard as he goes up and down my spine, back to the shoulders and around to my chest. It is aggressive, relaxing and I am uncomfortable it is a dude, because it feels nice.

A couple more slaps on the back and the apron is yanked off. I let go of my knife and zip my top as I stand up. I tell him thanks and he smiles and nods his head. I hand him a couple bucks and smiles again and thanks me. I pay the $3 for my haircut and leave.

Five dollars and ten minutes is all it costs for a fresh look and slight confirmation of my manhood.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why Blog?

Well, my journal has received a lot of attention lately and quite literally travelled the world. I have been advised on many levels to “let it go”; to just delete it and move on. I have been told it is not worth the headache and is frowned upon by the military.

So, feeling strongly about my pursuit to tell my story, I have researched Military Blogs (MilBlogs) and found that they are not discouraged. It is allowed and encouraged for soldiers, even frontline soldiers, to express themselves in MilBlogs, web forums and other avenues. We must go through certain procedures and monitoring by our commands as set forth by Multi-National Forces Iraq (MNF-I) to ensure we do not unintentionally post sensitive information that could be used to aid our enemy.

I have read many MilBlogs such as Badger6, BlackFive and found hundreds of others it seems. So, why is there a need for yet another Military Blog? Why put up with the hassle of keeping my journal going?

Well, though I do not consider my journal to be a Military Blog, by regulation, my location and participation in this war defines it as such. As such, I believe I offer a different perspective than most others. Some include a very political view with links to White House press releases and some are down and dirty with the grim details, violent in nature and the effects of watching fellow soldiers killed by their side.

I have been asked by my fellow soldiers of Charlie Battery not to include the details of their dangers as they have expressed them because many of their families read my journal as well. While my journal is public, it is more for me, my family and friends and those of my fellow soldiers.

I feel I provide a more personal side. One of the life of a Fobbit, of an Operations soldier who experiences the stress of have six groups of soldiers on the road conducting missions. I am sometimes more vocal about frustrations than some. Sometimes, people want to hear about those things too. I think my journal can be used as a tool for others to use along with other MilBlogs to get a bigger picture of modern combat and the effects it has at all levels and all jobs.

So, rather than terminate my journal, I have chosen to promote it. I am a southern boy. I don’t know many big fancy words or follow the daily mess in Washington. I just try to do the best I can to get through this war with some kind of feeling of pride that I helped to do something good here; that my friends have not died in vain.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

My new home

Welcome to the new home of my blog. I am in the process of moving, so please bear with me as it will take a couple days.

I am moving in part to be able to grow as a MilBlog and am seeking the advice and guidance of other frontline bloggers. Though there are such things as Freedom of Speech to most, frontline bloggers are held to a higher standard and sometimes must restrain from discussing some topics or releasing information that could hurt others. I am eager and ready to take on this responsibility.

If you are new to my blog, please look around. Most of my entries can stand on their own, but a few are built off of previous posts. If you are familiar with my blogs and have followed me since my days on MySpace, you may want to read over the early posts again as I have added pictures and extra commentary.

Feel free to leave comments or drop me an email, and as always thank you for your support.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Another soldier falls

Once again I write about the recent loss of one of my brothers in Charlie Battery. It is with a deep regret I mention the death of Specialist Chirasak Vidhyarkorn who was posthumously promoted to Sergeant.

V, as we called him because most of us southern boys can't pronounce fancy words, was killed on September 29th, 2007. He was due to go on his two weeks back to the states just six days later. I was in my "Birthday Mode" as it was still my birthday in the states. A few of us in Operations were laughing and joking as things started to settle down for the day when the alert came that something had gone terribly wrong.

I can't talk about what happened because it is still under investigation, but I will say that the official Department of Defense release states he was killed in "a non-combat related incident". I can't tell you how badly that chaps my ass as I feel that statement completely disregards the fact that he was in a Combat Zone, conducting a mission when he was killed. I feel it completely takes away from his sacrifice and service by being with us. I may be angry and unjust in my distaste of that phrase, but I am.

My other brothers that paid the ultimate sacrifice volunteered to come back. All of Charlie Battery's losses have been serving multiple tours in Iraq. After the loss of Sergeant Massey, Sgt. Vidhyarkorn spoke with a member of his team and said if he was killed, he wanted it clear that he was not happy about being here. He did not volunteer, he was "drafted" which is what the guys who were called up from the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) call it. In a time when many IRR soldiers shredded, burned or disregarded the "draft", he dropped everything and immediately reported for duty.

To some of us, we don't have a lot of "everything" to drop. For V, though, this was quite different.  Chirasak moved to New York to work on his Master's Degree in Environmental Engineering in 2000 and did a two year enlistment in the Army. In 2003, he was recalled and did a year in Iraq, then returned to a job as an Engineer with the state of New York. In 2006, he was called again and joined us in Camp Shelby, Mississippi. V was recently offered a six-figure job and was eager to get home in a couple days to tell his family about the good news.

Whether it is a prestigious job, a new child, new girlfriend or family and friends; all of us have something to come home for. All of us do the best we can and fight hard to make it back home. Chirasak, was a Buddhist and I don't know anything about his religion.

So, as much as I know he was upset about being here, I hope that V is at peace wherever he is.