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 VAjoe.com and Milbloggers.com. 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.