Wednesday, April 30, 2008

An Important Tool

Sorry it has been so long since my last entry. I have been doing well. It has been almost three months since I returned to the US and I think I have fully adjusted. I owe most of it to my girlfriend who has been with me through it all.

There was a time early on when large crowds made me uncomfortable and I spoke of how 'over alert' I was. We went to the mall one day and had lunch at the food court. I remember her talking and I was listening to her and scanning the room with my eyes looking for I don't know what. Then I noticed her reach over and hold my hand and just looked at me and talked to me in a calm voice as her eyes stared right into my soul. Everything around me just faded away and I couldn't focus on anything but her.

These past few months have been just like that. Everytime I would start getting anxious, nervous or start getting angry about whatever, she would gently squeeze my hand and demand all my attention until it passed.

Now, I think I have completely adjusted and somehow she still thinks I am crazy, but I think in a good way this time.

I think that she 'saved' me and I think that love, understanding and patience is an important tool for any soldier adjusting from combat. She never pretended to understand. She never made me feel stupid or foolish and I think that is what I love about her.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Failure to Adjust

Well, I have been back in the US for a month now. I have not gone back to work yet, which means I have not settled back into a routine really. I am hoping that is part of my problem and things will normalize a bit in the next couple weeks.

I have not tried to jump out my window or anything since that first night. My 'over-alertness' has seemed to ease a bit. It has turned to insomnia now. I usually am only able to sleep 3 or 4 hours a night. The other night my sister spent the night and I got up and started doing things and she woke up and asked me what I was doing. I was up in the attic going through things and running new wires for my surround sound speakers.

I really didn't think it was odd to be rummaging around in the attic at 3am until she mentioned it. I seem to get up and start doing things when I should be sleeping. I have tried watching movies, but I just can't lay still. I get extremely anxious when I sit still and have to be moving around. I don't quite understand that yet and again, I hope that goes away when I go back to work.

I have noticed as Sgt S Humphrey mentioned that I feel very uncomfortable when I can't see the exits and seem to always be 'observing' people in crowds. I tend to be more suspicious of people and making new friends makes me uneasy.

I have also met an amazing woman and am so mad at myself because I have not been able to be 'myself'. I am sort of skittish and withdrawn and though I know she is awesome, she probably thinks I am crazy or something. I am completely not shy by any means. I love being the extroverted, center of attention; at least I did. I want to be 'that guy' again, but as much as I try, I just haven't been able to adjust to society and people and it tears me up.

I am asked if I want to talk about it - talking about it will make me feel better, but I don't know what the hell 'IT' is. I don't know what I am feeling. I don't know how to talk about it and feel better because I don't know what I feel.

I am hoping some of my fellow veterans can shed some light on this.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Home Alone

You know, in all our briefs were told to be careful about fitting back into society too fast. I never saw the worst of war, so I wasn't particularly concerned about all that. I do notice that I do not like large crowds. I don't know why that is. I don't think everyone wants to kill me or anything, I just noticed I feel uncomfortable.

They briefed us many times on not hitting our wives or our children, neither of which I have living with me, so again I was not particularly concerned about that either. I think it goes beyond that and includes dealing with people in general. I think I have less patience and feel more aggressive than I should at times but I can't rationally justify why I feel this way.

I visited with family and friends all day and it was great. It still has not sunk in that I am home for good yet. I was so eager to go home and sleep in my own bed. My house is empty except for my bed and some clothes as everything is still in storage, but it is my bed and it felt great to snuggle up between the pillows and drift off to sleep, even by myself.

Around 4 am I woke up to the sound of a gun shot. I wasn't sweaty and breathing hard or anything. I didn't jump up screaming. I didn't think Hadji had followed me home. I just woke up when I heard someone shooting. I live in the country so it is not unusual to hear gun shots. Ususally they are mine.

I laid there a few minutes and listened for more. I went and turned the heater down a bit and heading back to bed in the darkness I saw a man with a flashlight walk past my bedroom window. I paused for a moment and watched as he started shining his light in my other window. Then my heart was beating out of my chest and I ran through many scenerios in my head.

I was unarmed that time and mentally scanned my surroundings for options. I had a flashlight a few feet away on the nightstand and a clothes hanger rod in the closet to my right. Being unarmed, suprise would be my best defense. He was close, peering through the window. If I ran fast, I could jump through the window and tackle him. All of these things ran through my head in the couple seconds it took him to pass from one side of the window to the other.

I decided to go for my flashlight; I could blind him, then hit him with it. I held my flashlight tight and cautiously pulled my blinds apart to get a good look. Across the field, I saw a car pulling out from my neighbors house. The headlights played tricks through the trees and I watched it start to pull away.

Here's the thing though, even after I knew it was a car and not some guy outside my window, I still walked from room to room and watched the car until it got to the paved road and drove away. I went back to bed and tried to sleep, but every noise alerted me. I was never attacked (except by rockets). I can't explain why I am so jumpy.

I feel so stupid when I think about it. I actually thought about jumping through my bedroom window to tackle someone! I couldn't sleep for a while after that. I had to turn on my MP3 player and put my headphones on to drown out all the things that go bump in the night. I wasn't afraid, that is not it. I think I can only decribe it as startled; repeatedly, involuntarily startled and I hate it.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Finally Home

Sometimes it seemed like the day would never come, but just over a week ago, we arrived at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Cheers erupted as the plane touched down. An Army band played as we walked off the plane to board the awaiting buses. The trip through town to the reception hall was led by a police escort.

Cars honked and people waved. One of the things that struck me most was an elderly man standing by the road holding a big American flag. With is chest poked out and chin held high, he held a salute as we passed by. There was no one close by, just him, displaying his gratitude for our service and I imagine maybe remembering his own.

We arrived at the reception center and lined up outside. Our luggage was still on the bus, this was a quick stop. As we marched in the band played and families and quests stood and cheered. I was excited when I spotted my dad and Aunt Jo in the crowd as I didn't think anyone would be there. The speeches were suprisingly short and we were released for brief hugs and kisses.

After the initial welcome, we went to the barracks, received our assigned rooms, got a briefing to remind us not to do any drinking and then we were released for the night to visit with family in preparation to start demobilization the next morning.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Kicking it in Kuwait

We got the the terminal and I had checked all my bags (including my jackets). It was a quick 2 or 3 hours until I would be in Kuwait and the weather wasn't that bad. Well, as I have learned many times in the military, expect the unexpected!

My 3 hour wait ended up being an all-nighter! The weather got worse and we were all corraled in the holding tent. It was dusty, loud and cold. The hours ticked by and we were manifested for a different plane. Since we had already been checked and our bags were already palletized, I was unable to get to my jacket.

At some point, the power went out and what warmth we did have from the not so efficient heaters quickly chilled. The wind blew wildly outside and all the flaps, ropes and doors beat against the tent in an annoying, irregular orchestra.

A dozen or so soldiers lay sprawled out on the concrete floor. Some used duffle bags or their kevlar vests as pillows. I tried to sleep a time or two, but I don't think I actually slept until I hit my cot in Kuwait. It was now well past 10pm and we had arrived shortly after 7am. The weather wasn't cooperating, but we received good news that it was supposed to clear and we should be airborne around 3am.

We had also heard that the booms from the night before were just controlled detonations and not Hadji. Why they decided to do controlled dets in the middle of the night in a war zone is beyond me, but hey. The weather had cleared and we were getting close to time to board the plane. A loud boom thundered through the tent and we all laughed and hollered. The sirens again sounded and this time it was not a drill.

A couple other rockets landed and the TV cut to the emergency screen and we were told the base was on lockdown til 6am. I was welcomed into Iraq with a rocket attack and I was sent out of Iraq with an attack as well. We had been done with missions and the mess of this war for over a week and I had almost forgotten that we are still fighting a war here.

We arrived in Kuwait 28 hours after our journey began and I was finally able to get my jacket and a place to sleep. The kicker is that it is only a 45 minute flight.

I have been in Kuwait for a few days and our leadership has suprisingly left us alone to enjoy the last few days we have in theater. It has been a relaxing, refreshing time and a very well deserved break from all we have been through this past year.

For me and my brothers, tomorrow we will begin our journey back to the US and A; back into the arms of family and friends.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Goodbye Iraq

Goodbye Iraq... two words I sometimes thought I would never say soon enough. A couple nights ago, as we lay around the tent watching movies and playing games a large boom echoed across the base. We all whooped and hollered. Shortly after, the alarms went off we heard the Giant Voice proclaim, "Exercise, Exercise... this is only a drill."

Relieved that we were completely safe, we went back to our movies and games as a few more booms shook the ground beneath us... I don't think they told Hadji is was just a drill.

Last night I was awoken at 2am and told we were leaving a full day earlier than expected. I got up a few hours later, crammed all my clothes, sleeping bag and computer into my bags and tossed them into the back of the 5-ton and walked to the air terminal for out processing.

Many of us were leaving on an earlier plane and several others would follow several hours later. Though there was a chill in the air, I decided to tough it out and pack my jacket. Kuwait is not a long flight and we would be there long before the chill of the night... or so I thought.

Everything was going as planned, which is when we should have expected something was amiss. We got the order to pick up our gear and head onto the flight line. Our plane had just landed and was ready to board. The back of the Japanese C-130 lowered and we smiled. We were chomping at the bit, waiting for the signal to proceed. The heavy bags were not so heavy and as the airman approached, we started a slow shuffle to the plane... right up until the time he stopped us and said our flight was canceled.

We could see the plane, 100 yards away on the flight line under a chilly, slightly overcast day. Many words of disappointment and anger were expressed as we turned and carried our packs back to the holding tent. This time, the bags seemed to weigh a ton. We are vagrants, transients; like Tom Hanks in 'Terminal', we have no where to go. For as long as it takes, we stay at the flight terminal, waiting for a ride to join the rest of our brothers who are already in Kuwait.

As the hours drudged by, the weather got worse. The wind picked up and the flaps of the tent slap loudly in the wind. Dust and sand spray in through holes, tears and openings and create a smokey feel to the place. The weather is turning bad, just as the pilots said it would. The air is turning cold and my jacket and sweater are packed, strapped and locked down somewhere out by the flight line.

So, for a few more hours I hold on. For a few more hours I continue to make memories here in Iraq.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


As you can probably tell by the lack of entries lately, I have been pretty busy lately.  Even when it is not busy, I have lost the ability to write as often or as easy.  My journal has been blocked by military networks.  It isn't because of anything I did or said, but because they have filtered out blogging sites to conserve bandwidth.

Today marks my one year anniversary; today I have now spent 12 months in Iraq. My room is empty.  All except for a few odds and ends that I will drop off at the dumpster or the gazebo as we leave.  The gazebo is a collection point of items outgoing soldiers set out for anyone who wants them.  Some of the items are things that did not sell on the Sand Flea Market, a sort of garage sale listing for the base.

My roommate moved out.  He has was a late arrival and volunteered to stay in Iraq with another unit.  He said he didn't feel he has earned the right to go home yet.  I adamantly disagree.  I believe that coming here and facing our enemy in battle has earned him the right to go home with us, even though he came later.  He believes that if he left now, some soldiers would look down on him and think less of him because he wasn't here as long as they were.  I can definitely relate to that feeling.  It is much the same feeling I had when I learned I would be a fobbit and not be heading out on missions with my brothers. 

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Conflicting Emotions

As I am going through the plethora of pictures for our end of tour award ceremony I am putting together, I feel a conflicting range of emotions.  I look at the faces of my brothers and I see their smiles, their frowns and their fatigue.  I can see the same varied emotions on my face as well. 


I am anxious to be getting home and being with my family and friends; I am also sad in a way.  This place, this miserable, dangerous world has been my home for the past year and though I do not want to stay, I think I will miss the adventure. I know I will miss the rush of combat.  I will miss the experience of armored trucks and machine guns.  I have hated having to lug my M4 around everywhere I have gone for the past 15 months, but it has unconsciously become my security blanket.  I recently traded in my M4 for a pistol and I still find myself feeling a quick adrenaline surge when I think I have left my weapon somewhere.


I sometimes say that when we get home, I would be fine not seeing any of these guys for a long time as I have been with them day and night for well over a year.  I think that maybe I will miss them.  They have been my only family since we started this adventure long ago.  We have shared an extreme variable of emotions in such a short time and we have come to rely on each other for everything.


I think it is the loss of brotherhood I will miss the most. 



Monday, January 7, 2008

Farewell to Fellow MilBlogger

It is with deep regret I respectfully say my goodbye and thank you to fellow MilBlogger, Major Andrew Olmsted. Though I did not know him, his loss is felt throughout the family of frontline bloggers. It is always surreal to hear of our fellow bloggers paying the ultimate sacrifice.

I recently visited his blog and read his last blog titled, ‘Final Post’. It was a post he had written with instructions to his friend to post in the event of his death. It is as symbolic and meaningful as the letters that have been exchanged by soldiers since war began. Many of us in combat feel compelled to say our goodbyes and express our loves, hopes and dreams in “letters from the grave”.

In his final post, Major Olmsted wrote, “Believe it or not, one of the things I will miss most is not being able to blog any longer.” I think that is a common feeling among all bloggers. We have become so accustomed to sharing our lives with the masses that it may be hard to actually have a moment in our lives, good or bad, that we do not want to share.

In my blog, I often share my thoughts and feelings. There are a few opinions that I should probably not have been so vocal about, but blogging is so addictive. For some reason, I often do not think about whether or not my readers will enjoy or even understand what I am writing about. In some aspects, it doesn’t matter much to me, I blog for myself.

I too had a final post for a friend to post in the event of my death. I guess I wanted to ensure I would have the last word and wanted to bring closure to my blog, to my life. I do not believe I could ever say anything enlightening or insightful that I do not say in life.

My family and friends all know how much I love them. My children know how I love them more than the world. My mom and dad know that I love them and will put them in the best old folk’s home I can find (by best I mean cheapest). My siblings all know that I love them, each in their own way. Yes, I have always made sure my family and friends know how much I love them.

No, there would be nothing in my final post that would shock or surprise anyone. My sense of duty and my feelings regarding my service to my country and the people of Iraq would not surprise anyone who has known me, met me or read my blog.

I could easily drift away with no words being said...


Major Andrew Olmsted, who posted a blog since May 2007, was killed in Iraq on Thursday, Jan. 3. Major Olmsted, who had been based at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, began blogging after his unit was sent to Iraq with the mission of helping to train the Iraqi Army. No official details have been released on his death, but reports say that he and a second member of his unit were killed during an enemy ambush in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad. Olmsted was determined to make a difference in Iraq. "The sooner the Iraqi government doesn't need U.S. support to provide security for its people, the sooner we will probably be asked to leave."

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Death by Power Point

A couple months ago I did a paper on the Ziggurat of Ur for my Art class. I wasn’t able to go out there, but had taken a couple pictures from afar. Yesterday though, Mike and I took the tour.

I have to admit, I was really impressed with the tour and the preservation of the site. The biggest culture shock I guess was that we were allowed, and encouraged to walk around the temples, tombs and structures. Many of the structures are over 4000 years old.

We have been finishing up a lot of the various paperwork and exams that we have to do before we leave here. It is the beginning of a long tedious process that will continue even as we get to the states. Each step along the way includes taking time to turn in equipment and do a plethora of exams and ‘death by Power Point’ presentations.

As far as I am concerned, I am glad to be harassed by so much of this crap because it means I am that much closer to getting out of here. I have been talking with my family and friends and we talk about how close I am to getting home.

The scary thing is that there are many stories of soldiers who are this close to going home when bad things happen. For me, I am a fobbit, and my job is not as deadly as those of my brothers. I dodge an occasional rocket now and then, but for the most part I am safe.

I talked to my son the other night and we talked about playing video games when I come to visit. He mentioned that they have tennis and bowling and I told him I hated the tennis game because I am not that good at it.

He said, “Well, I can probably go easy on you.”

I said, “You can? That would be great.”

He said, “You know, so you could win some too.”

Ha, That’s my boy!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Year in Review

It’s hard to believe that in another three weeks I will have been in Iraq for a year. One year ago today I started my blog on MySpace with a short poem about heading to the frontlines in defense of America and how I willingly stand on the wall of freedom for my country.

It is much more than that I now know. I have also learned to fight for the people of Iraq that have been bullied, tortured and murdered by the thousands. I fight so they may live, learn and prosper without fear of retribution of death. I fight to rid this country of extremist that torture and mutilate the children of men that refuse to be terrorists; I fight for Doodah and her father.

This year I have learned that there is more to being a United States soldier than defending America and our way of life. It is also about helping others that are too weak or unable to stand up against tyranny and defend themselves. We are the mightiest nation on earth and though some will stand in the rear and protest that America should fight our own fights and not be in Iraq or Afghanistan; I feel we have a responsibility to be here. We have the ability to fight and defeat terrorism at its very heart. We have the ability to fight terrorists where they live, where they train and as such we have a responsibility to do what is necessary to prevent 9/11 from happening again.

It is hard to believe that my blog was spawned from a comment some disgruntled American left on my mother’s blog as she wrote about how heartbroken she was that two of her sons were heading overseas to join the fight on terror. He wrote something to the effect that he hoped all of us soldiers were killed for fighting in a war that was illegal, blah, blah, blah. There were several comments from her friends that were upset with him, but I thanked him and stated that freedom of speech is our right as Americans and how can I choose to fight for one right over another. I fight for all of our freedoms.

That was when I decided to start my own blog on MySpace and write about what I was going through in my head as I began my journey, mentally and physically. In February, I commented on the very controversial troop surge. I spoke of how I supported the move to bring more soldiers in the fight. After being here for the surge, I can say that I was more right than I could have imagined. The surge was exactly what we needed and it did save lives and directly led to the exponential reduction in violence in the region.

I had decided early on to be truthful and honest about what I was going through. I decided to wear my emotions on my sleeve as much as I could. I did this more for myself than anyone else. I wanted a way to let it out and get the horrors of battle out of my head; writing helps me do that.

At the time, I only had a handful of friends and family that read my journal. I learned shortly after my arrival in this country that my mission was not going to be on the road with my friends, with my brothers, my mission was to become a fobbit and work on computers in the Operations Center most of the time. That was a crushing blow to my ego, my sense of duty and my mood became angry and short fused as my early entries reveal.

In March, there were two guys in the unit that was leaving that were killed by an IED a week before they were to go home. It should have been an eye-opener, but we nievely explained it away as they had become complacent and took their eyes off the ball. I was part of the 21-gun salute and remember how sad I was at the ceremony and remember how I felt a hollow pit in my stomach as their First Sergeant called their names in the Last Roll Call, knowing they would never answer.

This year I participated in a Civil Military Operation and delivered school supplies to a village school. The laughter and smiles on the faces of the children were heartwarming and I had a great sense of purpose after that. To watch the sparkles in their eyes as they opened boxes of crayons, pencils and coloring books was priceless. It made me miss my own children very much.

Charlie Battery will be returning home with three empty seats this year. Three soldiers have "gone home early". Sgt Massey was on his second tour and was Charlie Battery’s first loss. He was our only loss due to direct enemy engagement and his death dealt a huge blow to the morale of a battery that was surefooted, confident and quickly changing our own tactics to defeat those of our enemy.

Sgt Chenoweth was home on leave when he was killed and was also on his second tour. He had volunteered to come over here with us and when asked why, he quietly said that he had left something here and came back to see if he could find it. Of all the ways to die here, I’d like to think that maybe he did find what he was looking for. He died at home, surrounded by his family and friends.

Sgt Vidhyarkorn was our third loss and he too had been here before. He was killed on mission, on my birthday. His family has requested for me not to talk about him, so I will just say that he too is missed and honored as one of our own. Their service and sacrifices are forever written in Charlie Battery's history.

There was a time this year when we lost focus of what really matters. There was a time when it seemed the safety and well-being of our soldiers was not near as important as receiving awards and recognition. We got caught up in the race to be the best and pushed our guys on the road faster and faster in our quest for the gold.

We desperately wanted the leadership to stand in front of the other units in our battalion and exclaim that Charlie Battery was still the best. For a time, we lost touch of the fact that we were the best because of who we are and because we take care of each other. We have found that again and once again, we are Charlie Battery.

Late this past year I joined the Blogosphere. I was urged to remove my journal from MySpace at one point. I chose to make a stand as I did not believe my journal violated any policies or regulations and as such, I chose to move my simple MySpace blog and create a real blog. I migrated all my entries from MySpace and in a couple of days, I was up and running, sharing my life on the frontlines with anyone that wanted to hear about it.

I have been interviewed by and I have been referenced many times, most recently in Bruce Kluger's essay in the USA Today titled "A Christmas over there, and the pain back here." A marketing professional referenced my journal regarding how I monitor and promote my site. An English student likes my writing style and The Free Press wanted to emphasize my frustration about having only had two days off this year (Now I have had three days off).

Yes, it has been a long, crazy, busy year and not only has 2007 come to a close, so has my time in Iraq. In a few short weeks I will be back in the US, back in Arkansas, back home in Ozark. I will drive my new Mustang convertible to South Carolina and spend time with my children that have been my biggest inspiration this year. They are what drive me to keep my head focused and wake up each morning, one day closer to going home.