As with all journeys, there is a first step. For me that first step was recognizing that there is an entire world out there, and I was simply a small piece in it. For me, realizing that the world could be a cold, dark and lonely place was disheartening, yet also realizing that within this world there was good, purity, and wonder was foretelling; it gave me my calling. Mayhaps that calling was naive, yet I answered it nonetheless, and for 17 years and 2 days now. I have (like Quixote), tilted with the forces of darkness, yet please do not think me mad, just at times foolishly idealistic despite my own darker side and even despite knowing better. I just chose to believe in something beyond myself.
I truly believe if we have nothing worth fighting to the death for, then life is the bitterest fruit, and for me I can not live in a world where I have no reason to hold onto what sweetness life can offer. As part of our human condition, we have grown far too fond of strife, and war. Yet, despite ourselves we find something oddly comforting in our little wars. We find a reason to go on.
I am home now, thus this blog, in it's current form is at long last finished. There may be a link that pops up here in the following weeks pointing to another blog. I am not certain if I will, yet I will keep the thought open. As for me and my war, I am simply a soldier who survived, did his time, and is now home. The torch has been passed to the 506th IN "Curahee!!!". Sadly, to those about to die, I salute you. May God (however you perceive him) watch over you with a ready sword.
December 15th 2005, was one of the greatest days of my life, I was witness to the birth of democracy in Iraq. It is a rarity to be a part of such an historic event. Despite any and all arguments about the why we are here; by some accounts 75% of Iraqis registered to vote did so (Imagine who or groups of who, would not be in office if 75% of American voters turned out!). Despite threats (very real threats) of violence Iraqi men and women lined up and waited; some for hours, to vote. They waited patiently in lines that would have driven me mad! They have never before had such an opportunity to vote and have a say in their own nation. While none of these candidates (nearly 8000 of them), will share the overwhelming 99.9% landslide victory Saddam Hussein (Former dictator, tyrant, and poet) once enjoyed. The day passed without incident, save for the aforementioned self-determination of the nation by its citizens. All was quiet on virtually all fronts of the war in Iraq. In fact, I can honestly say I was bored. Being bored in war is a good thing, and as of late, I have been blissfully bored to no end. Which is why I have not posted for some time, I simply had nothing to say.
Our battalion awards ceremony was on the 17th and I am now, at long last a 1st Lieutenant. Odd, I never imagined I’d ever be a 1LT, and now like some magic wand was waived the often comical look of confusion that plagues most Second Lieutenants is gone from my face. In its place is a grimace of a combat veteran, a sort of permanent scowl with my cover pulled down over my eyes and a frown etched on my face I move about the base walking briskly and as of late avoiding most unnecessary conversation. I have not been in a particularly bad mood, but save for time left here in Iraq, the mind has distanced itself from much around me. Funny, I don’t feel any different. It was a great moment in my life. I stood with 2 other officers and we were promoted together. Our battalion commander asked us to address the battalion and I was caught so off guard by it I couldn’t think of a thing to say; oh, and the microphone wouldn’t bend down so I had to stand on my toes to speak clearly into it. It reminded me of my speech for Student Council back in 1985. All I could think to say was that we’d seen our last full moon in Iraq. I hope that is true. At the ceremony promotions and medals were awarded for our time here and for some very courageous young men, the medals were well deserved. For others…well perhaps another time.
Looking back at the last year, I remember so much and so many people I have met, and had the honor of serving with. I have seen some wonderful things here and I have seen some of the worst violence, and the darkness of the human soul. I have seen vicious acts of hatred, and I have seen selflessness I never thought possible. This war is different from other wars…This war is exactly the same as every other war. War devours everything in its path; there is no mercy to it. There is no reason in it, it exists to destroy, and as long as there are governments run by mortals there will always be war. Yet, even in war the brighter side of humanity can shine through, I have seen it. Average Iraqis handing me a bottle of cold water in the blistering heat, a little girl holding the hand of a grieving soldier whose friend had been mortally wounded in an IED attack. Defiant Iraqi civilians standing in line to vote, so that their voice is heard.
How do I explain this place to those who will not listen, we are winning here. Of that, there is no doubt. The cost is high, but as Heinlein asserts; “Something given has no value.” A free Iraq has cost us more than I ever wanted to spend, in time, lives, friends and blood. For the soldier there is no politics (at least there shouldn’t be) for the soldier if there is to be war, then we destroy the enemies of our nation. War, as horrific as it is, is simple. Everything else is hard.
I have been afforded the honor of being an Army officer in time of war, and I have served with the very best that our nation has to offer. When this is over and I move on to other things, it will be from this perspective that I move forward. Simplicity, Occam’s razor suggests we not add anything unnecessary to a problem to solve it. In short keep it simple, when you find a problem fix it. I will miss the men I have served with here, when you spend nearly 16 hours a day with the same people every day for 18 months, like them or not they become family. I see that now, again perspective, and a healthy amount of time spent apologizing to myself for being such a miserable SOB at times in my life. A healthy amount of time spent reaching out to old friends I’d slighted years and years ago, and saying I’m sorry. A healthy amount of time spent not talking but listening, and I mean really listening to what people had to say. I have met some great people through emails and in meeting them; I have been presented with some great opportunities for life after “this war”. Like I said 11 months ago, there are only two days here, the day you arrive and the day you leave (yes like prison). Soon it will be tomorrow and I will leave. Not that this hasn’t just been a blast (often quite literally), but I’ll be glad to kick the dust of Southern Baghdad from my boots and focus on tomorrow, walk my dog, and hug my wife, and move past the only life I have known for nearly a year. Soon I’ll be whole again.
I am not certain if I’ll post again, not being dramatic but this blog (in its current form) has nearly run its course. I would like to thank everyone who has written me, even those who attacked me and lashed out with anger and at times apparent insanity. Interesting at times, and often down right hilarious. Those of you who sent me comfort items thank you so very much, your kindness and consideration truly lifted my spirits (AFSister!!) Those of you who shared pictures of your families, and children I appreciate your sharing what “normal” is with me. Those of you who think of me as a friend, I am always an email away. Those of you who thanked me for doing my job, well again all I can say is that sometimes the extent of my patriotism was putting my boots on, especially when I didn’t want to. So, I humbly thank you for reaching out to me and expressing your gratitude, thank you, thank you, thank you! Those of you who engaged in healthy and heated debate with me over our different political views, I thank you as well, soon we’ll see one way or the other won’t we. Those of you who continue to question this war, and why we are here, good for you, without different opinions, there is no debate. Without debate and open discussion, our perspective is skewed and we can ill afford to lose anymore of who we are because of a lack of perspective. Seek reason, find common ground, and never be afraid to stand up for what is right.
Finally, to my wife. My angel, my best friend and my compass. It has been so long since I watched you drive away from the Airport on April 21st 2005. It has been so long since my cheeks were stained with tears as I watched you pull away and felt as if I’d just died. At times, I thought it was the last time I’d ever see you, and at that thought my heart grew cold. We have been apart for 9 months now, and soon we will be together again, the one and only wish I have had since I saw you last was that I could see you again. To see you smile at me is the best present I could ever hope for, it is in fact the only thing I have let myself hope for, for months now. When this is over and I hang this faded uniform I hope to spend the rest of my life with you and when we grow old together, and reflect on this war and our time apart as with soldiers in all wars I’ll be able to smile and say; “I was there…”
What will I miss about Iraq? Nothing…everything.
words drifted across the frozen battlefield: 'Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht. Alles Schlaft, einsam wacht'. To the ears of the
British troops peering over their trench, the lyrics may have been
unfamiliar but the haunting tune was unmistakable. After the last note a lone
German infantryman appeared holding a small tree glowing with
light. 'Merry Christmas. We not shoot, you not shoot.'
It was just after dawn on a bitingly cold Christmas Day in 1914, 90 years ago on Saturday, and one of the most extraordinary incidents of the Great War was about to unfold.
Weary men climbed hesitantly at first out of trenches and stumbled into no man's land. They shook hands, sang carols, lit each other's cigarettes, swapped tunic buttons and addresses and, most famously, played football, kicking around empty bully-beef cans and using their caps or steel helmets
as goalposts. The unauthorised Christmas truce spread across much of the 500-mile Western Front where more than a million men were encamped.
What is the point of that? Dear friends allow me this rant, and read on.
That was over 80 years ago. Men, who were enemies at war killing one another by the thousands, stopped fighting and crossed the field of battle to celebrate Christmas. CHRISTMAS, the celebration of Jesus Christ, you remember him, the man upon which the entire Christian faith is based (Christianity, by the way is the main religion of the United States). The man who was sent down from heaven to die for our sins. As I have said in the past I am not an overly religious man. I am among the worst Catholics in the world, I look at my watch during mass, and grow restless when it goes past the 42.5 minutes I am accustomed to. I haven’t been to mass since I left home, I use the war as my excuse, yet I know in my mind it really is no excuse. Yet now I see in the “news” that there is an attack on Christmas at home. Some people are offended by it. Let me get this correct; the rationale is that it is a religious holiday and it may be deemed offensive to some. Am I correct? The United States is a nation founded on the Judeo Christian belief system. So, exactly whom is it offending?
If you are offended by MILLIONS of Americans annually feeling good about themselves, and spending time with family, spreading cheer, and oh yeah, remembering God I have issue with that. If stores are so concerned with offending people that they are removing any mention of a holiday that American’s have celebrated since before these United States even existed then I hope their December sales tank.
I have never been a fan of December and the holidays, I used
to think the sentiment far too commercial, and phony. Yet here in “this war” I see wreaths adorning
the doors in our building, I see a Christmas tree in nearly every office. Our Muslim hosts say merry Christmas to us as
they pass us in the streets. Yet at
home, during one of the most joyous times of the year, people are attacking one
of the holiest holidays of the Christian calendar. I am offended and angry. We take God from our schools, granted
religion in public school should be limited, but it never hurt. We remove God, from every aspect of public life, and we wonder why
children go into schools with guns, we wonder why families are disintegrating,
we wonder why the moral fiber that binds our great nation is crumbling. I think if you turn your back on lets say a friend, why then would you be angry when he returns the favor. And lets say for arguments sake there is a God, do you really want the big guy feeling slighted?
The United States is the most accepting and tolerant nation on Earth, and we are letting the few dictate terms to the many. I say stop the madness! We celebrate Hanukkah with our Jewish American families, we celebrate Ramadan with our Muslim families, we accept Kwanza and embrace it with our African American familes, yet now we are standing idly by while Christmas is attacked. I think NOT! I still feel joy on Christmas eve, when I wrap my last minute gifts for my wife. Who by the way is a Jew. We celebrate both holidays. If we are such a liberal and accepting society, then how is it that we are allowing the few to attack a holiday that the many embrace?
I remember when I was a child, the insane excitement I felt during Christmas break (oh, is it Winter Break now?) I knew that soon, I'd be able to TRASH the living room and dance about in my arsenal of new toys; you see I was an only child for many many years, and knew that the family would spoil me to no end. I was on my best behavior the quarter prior to Christmas. I’d read the WSJ, to know if consumer confidence was high or low, then I’d make my Christmas list and leave discreet hints about the house. Asking Mother what Santa’s address was. Checking the WSJ, and checking it again. I learned early on that consumer confidence in Q1 was important to the holiday season. I didn’t know why, but it didn’t matter. CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS… Oh, sorry did I offend? Me thinks thou doth protest too much!
It is the holiday season, that means Christmas, that means Hanukkah, that means Kwanza, and above all else that means LIGHTEN UP!
I think that there needs to be a 5th Freedom, an amendment to FDRs 4 Freedoms. The 5th Freedom should be Freedom from the sniveling of selfish, miserable, mean, and unhappy people. Everywhere in the world.
“I’ll be home for Christmas…if only in my dreams…”
The first rule of posting on this blog is this; if you insult me have the guts to leave an email address...
"Hi. I'm not American, and let me tell you that you're American illusionism, and all those things that you don't even question about yourself and your country because you're just so full of bull**** , sounds really naive."
Ladies and gentleman, this comment was left by someone named Cristian. Cristian didn't have the courage to leave his/her email address. Now, since he/she didn't have to manners to allow me to respond privately I will do so for all to share. (Huntress, there is an IP address. Good hunting.) So, Cristian am I illusioned, and naive? Let me see, I have crossed the globe nearly a dozen times in the last 17 years to go and help nations that needed it. I have seen my friends here die, and I have seen them wounded. I have left the safety and security of my family and my home, so that those who couldn't stand up for themselves now have the chance to. Now, I'm not complaining. No, I signed my name on the line that is dotted, and here I am. Serving because my nation asked. Now, since you didn't tell me what country you are from, I am going to guess that it is a nation that has probably benefited from American...what did you call it, ah yes "illusionism". Was it money, that helped your nation? Was it, our buying oil and selling it to you at a discounted rate? Or maybe it was the naive illusionism that led the American Expeditionary Forces across the pond in WWI, to help our friends resolve a problem we not of our making. Or maybe it was American Illusionism that helped our allies chase the Nazis back into the shadows from where they came. Americans have been arrogant, naive, idealistic, yes we...I have been all of those things. But we have scarcely asked for much in return, save for what Colin Powell said to our friends who questioned us..."We have scarcely asked for anything in return except for a plot of land to bury our dead."
Cristian I am not a mindless automaton, I question daily the things I/we are doing and attempting to do here. If you have read any of what I have scribbed you could see, maybe even work with me here, Cristian this is a conceptual statement so if you need help let me know... I N F E R that I have doubts and questions yet I have a job to do. It's what I get paid for. Maybe we are full of as you so contemptuously put it bull(one-word dear)$***. So the next time ugliness rears its ugly head in your neck of the woods don't call us...We'll call you.
PS As promised to Father Bob, I will refrain from profanity, even if my naive petty side is SCREAMING for me to do so. Father Bob sees something in me that I must be unaware of, but he is a much nicer man than I. Thanksgiving was, well it was just a Thursday to me. I ate well, called my wife and went to sleep. Now Xmas trees are up, holiday candy is out, and I have "Harry for the Holidays" playing on my IPod. Yup, the more we try to make it like home the more we miss it. Well, at least this year I am closer to Jeruselem...Happy Holidays...
A few years ago (nearly 10), I had a rather nasty break-up. I found myself engaging in and fascinated by rock climbing, rappelling, free climbing, and hiking. I became obsessed by it, it occupied most of my waking moments when I wasn’t at work. I trained for it when I exercised, pull-ups, abdominals, squats, running for cardio vascular endurance. I lived to climb, my fingers had muscles, I particularly enjoyed free climbing. It was like a physical logic problem to me. It was not that I was trying to die, quite the contrary. I was remembering what it means to be alive. I remember being stuck on a physical logic problem and hanging there about 45 meters above the ground. I clung to an outcropping about half an inch thick, four fingers kept me glued to life. To lose my grip meant a quick trip to what lies beyond. I remember how much my middle finger mattered; there was a small pebble under the very tip of my finger and it became the center of my universe. To me it was all that was of consequence in my life. Not the nasty break-up (with Pi), not the betrayal of a dear friend, not my own shallow immaturity, none of that mattered to me, the only thing that mattered was that damned pebble under my finger. I couldn’t move my fingers at all, I was stuck there for about 2 minutes, deciding what to do. It seemed like forever, then the simplicity of it all hit me as I heard a falcon over head. The only way out is through. Simple to think, and easier to say, yet to survive this I had to go up, over and through. I have come to understand that life is not nearly as simple as that. Yet, isn’t it? Why are things needlessly complicated in life, in society, in all aspects of the human endeavor?
The only way out is through, that means forward. In our absence these many months, our lives here in Baghdad have been simple. It can be summed up in a sentence; Do your job, if you make it home alive never forget, ever. Yet we watch the news here and read of dissention in our cities, people protesting against the war, calling the President of the United States names. “Dude where’s my country?” JFK starred down the barrel of nuclear war, and he didn’t even blink. FDR faced the possibility of losing to the Nazi’s and the forces of darkness, and he didn’t flinch. What happened to us, have we gotten so pampered, so soft that “hope” has replaced determination to persevere? Has, naiveté replaced understanding that the world is full of darkness and unless you stand up to it, you will be trampled by it. It is not for me to say that this war is wrong or right. I am here and despite my feelings I serve with men and women who face this emptiness, this decaying of the soul daily with a fortitude that has kept our nation free for 230 years. If the best that America has to offer is here, then what is there now? What home do we have to come home to?
Forgive the drama, it is purely perceptual. I don’t see my Grandmother on the news telling me she misses me, I see the honorable Mrs. or Mr. accusing the President and his administration of this or that, I see the sacrifices of men and women here in Iraq and Afghanistan being used as a maneuver piece on the chess board of the American political landscape. Each time I watch the news, and see what is going on in my country, it saddens me. I have spent 17 years (nearly) in service to this nation, and for me my return signifies nothing. For my job won’t be done. Service is sacrifice. Yes, yes now I see that clearly. Love is sacrifice, and I do so love my country. But the lines of division grow wider by the day, and that cannot stand. We are all children of the framers, and united by their revolution. A liberal is not the opposite of a conservative, and vice versa. It is possible to live in both of those worlds and be reasonable. It is more apropos to say that reason is the opposite of extremism on either side of the isle. If so, where are the reasonable?
As many of you know I am not an overly religious man, yet for me Veteran’s Day is one of the most sacred days of my year. This year doubly so. Christ died 2000 years ago, and a religion was born from his death, and ultimately his ascension. Yet for me, November 11th each year is a reminder to me of who I am. I reflect and today, I found myself deeply saddened by Veteran’s day. COL William Wood, my Battalion Commander, believed with his heart in our purpose here 10,000 miles from home in a strange land. He died honoring his oath to defend his nation against all enemies, he believed when I doubted. Again Duty sir!
CPT Raymond Hill, a man who in his noticeable absence I can only in a way a soldier can call friend. I knew him for only 3 years. His soul was gentle, and his heart enormous. He met his end trying only to help bring smiles to the faces of the children of this land for he truly enjoyed their company and saw the purity and innocence of their youth when I would not. He died believing in his cause, his end was also to a higher cause than just his own life. Honour sir! Ray’s death has hit me hardest, because each day I was here, I spoke to him. Each day, I saw him, and each day his smile was genuine, and real. Like in grade school when you met someone you liked they became your friend on the very same day. Ray was like that, when he got a box from home, he shared it with everyone. Each day I see his empty desk, my heart stops, and I get a little colder.
Ray would not have let me feel down, he would have told me some joke, or given me a reflection of home, and I would have felt better if only for a minute. I knew all of our fallen, and thus this Veteran’s day is even more sacred to me. Tonight I am still here, and though my hand is shaking, from fatigue, sadness, and anger. I am still here. Though this war may be increasingly unpopular, we remain. The job of the soldier transcends opinion, politics, or popular opinion. The job of the soldier is to do what despite opinion must be done, and despite my opinion here; daily I am reminded by the wall of the fallen, and the soldiers I see daily humble me just by being here. It is my honour to serve with them. It is my honor to be here. I knew them all, I can still see them where last I saw them. I hear their voices as I past by the shadows of where they once stood. And at each memorial to the honored dead, I stood a little taller as taps echoed their memories. This war is indeed different. It is not Tripoli, or Luzon, it is not reminiscent of Foy, or Gettysburg, it is not Berlin, or Tokyo. It is towns that yet again we didn’t know existed before we got here. It is towns that we still can not easily pronounce. It is specs on the ground where history was born, it is a place where far too many of our young have grown old beyond their years. It is a place where far too many of us paid for freedom with blood. It is a place where my faith in God and humanity have been shattered. It is a place where my faith in God and humanity have been reaffirmed. It is a place where I come to grips with my own life, and the possibility of my end. Yet, despite it all and despite world opinion it is a place where I have found the faith to believe in something that I am willing to fight to the death to defend. To the agnostic, or the atheist here there is more at stake. To the agnostic and atheist this life is all there is, so to be willing to risk it all, to be willing to die for our way of life to me that is just huge. I really want to believe, and despite it all I falter. Yet despite it all I…we are holding the line, and more importantly we are crossing said line, and pushing back with all that we have, so that those of you at home don’t have to sleep with one eye open. Sleep well, for we are here. Semper Adsumus. I push my doubt aside and stand next to better men than me, and we move forward…together. I have wanted to do many things with my life; be a good husband, write, teach, hold office etc etc… The one thing that I have done for the entirety of my adult life I have been in and remain in uniform; what this says I do not know, but what I do know is this. Here, and now, of all the things I have wanted to be, I have always been a soldier.
Happy Veteran’s Day… My mind is lost and words escape me, so I’ll say this. Semper Paratus, we are always ready. Semper Fidelis, always faithfu;, and finally Semper Adsumus…we are always here.
How does a former Marine (still very much so at heart), celebrate the birthday of the United States Marine Corps? Well, without specifics, I was in the air above the barren night landscape of Southern Baghdad, with Delta Company 1/184th on a combat mission, what the Army calls an Air Assault. CPT D, of "Demon" Company asked me to tag along and lend a hand where I could, despite my reservations, it was my duty to oblige, thus I went.
The marshaling area was alive with the usual soldierly banter, and my mind wandered and my thoughts drifted to what it must have been like with LTC Hal Moore's men as they descended form the skies above the Ia Drang Valley. Or how tense it must have been prior to the landings at Saipan, Gudal, or Iwo. I wathced soldiers do what they do, they joke, they mess around, and they silently pray. Father Bob was there handing out candy, and making us feel a little better about what we were about to do. I didn't feel scared per se, but I was very apprehensive, that is an understatement.
As the birds, jumped off of the ground, the wind, and rotor wash filled the cabin, and as we were catapulted towards the darkness of the Iraqi sky, my unease left, and if looked at the ground below, from above even Iraq looks good. CPT W, was more or less correct. As the signal was given that we were 5 minutes out, what I can only say was what passed for a prayer "Father, may we be swift, sure, and right. Should we be wrong, let us be wrong and remain standing." 30 seconds, the stomach tightened and I held my breath. wheels down, GO GO GO!!! We jumped from our seats and hit the deck fast and ready. It was 0001 hours. The USMC was 230 years, old, and I could think of no better way of celebrating than to put my boots (USMC issued boots) on the deck. Granted it wasn't like Iwo, or Juno, Sword, or Gold. But for me it was just as real, and the memories of it will be with me for the rest of my days. The tension, and apprehension I felt were as real as I have felt them in over a decade. As I moved with the team I was assigned to moved to our assigned area, the job (training) took over, and I did what I was assigned to do. During the operation, the true spirit of America came out. Children and women were cold, and we gave them blankets, and offered them smiles of reassurance. How odd it was to be there, doing our job, and providing comfort and care to the people we are here to help, the local Iraqi's. Despite fatigue, and aches, we all did our job.
We were in the air, and back to base. The mission was complete, none of us got hurt, and the day was ours (Henry the V reference). It was a good mission, and when I returned a former Marine took my hand and said happy birthday Brother. I am fortunate. I have the honor of being part of two distinct "Bands of Brothers". I got "home" and felt drained. yet I did what I was trained to do; "after every battle, sharpen your sword." I cleaned my weapons. Sleep didn't come easy. Today at evening mess, some of us gathered and we celebrated the Corps's Birthday. Not as well as last year, but then again we are in a different place. Yet the place does not matter, but it is the Company we keep.
230 years, and counting. I was once told by a mentor of my progression into the commissioned Army ranks; that in order for me to succeed, I need only remember that I am a Marine. Though I am not a Marine (in uniform now), my heart still beats with the intensity that it did when I was a younger man, when I was a Marine! Now I am a soldier, and though the uniform and title have changed. The blood that beats within my heart, has not. Though today I be a soldier, forever my spirit shall remain that which was born on the hallowed ground, of MCRD San Diego. Though tomorrow I am a Soldier and proud as hell to wear the uniform of a commissioned officer in this the Army of these United States, on this day, once again I am and honoured to be a Marine.
Happy 230th Marines!
Today we paid tribute to the fallen:
COLWilliam W. Wood
CPT Michael MacKinnon
CPT Raymond Hill
SPC Shakere Guy
The tree of liberty has yet again been watered with the blood of patriots, true Americans, men of an all-volunteer Army, who sadly sacrificed the most precious gift of all, their very lives. Sadness, and misfortune has followed this Battalion, and we have sacrificed so very much for the ideal of liberty. I have been quiet as of late for I have had no real words to express the depths of despair I have felt. The sight of a helmet atop an inverted rifle with bayonet in the ground, and empty boots means a soldier is being honoured. Today there were four helmets, four rifles inverted with bayonets in the ground, and there were four sets of empty boots. Today we paid our final and everlasting respects to four more of America’s sons who died here in this land. Today, though soldiers have fallen, we held the line. The mid day breeze was crisp, Summer has finally faded and fall now claims the air. A gentle breeze cascaded across the field, where we gathered to remember, and respect those no longer amongst us. The chill in the air was not so much from the air that surrounded us, but from the reason we had been gathered once again.
COL Wood came to us, not sure who we were, or if the whispers of our battered battalion were true. He was guarded, distant and unsure of what to do with us. So he did what leaders do he united us, he was as hard on us as a hammer to an anvil, he demanded that we not wallow in our woes, he made us pull ourselves up and soldier on. I went on a patrol with him, a few weeks ago, and came to see this man as our leader. Circumstances beyond the control of we mere mortals saw us forced together, after three months “we” were his battalion, and he was our commander. The first time I met the man I stood on his carpet 6 and centered. He told me then that being a soldier meant sacrifice, today as I stood at his memorial service I began to feel the knot in my throat grow larger. Yes sir, I knew it then when you said it to me, but today it echoed like thunder in my ears. There is so much about the way he died that I cannot bear to think about; so here now, I'll remember how he lived. Know this though, that on that day, the silence of disbelief thundered in our ears, minds and hearts, we lost not just our Commander but also our source of inspiration and our hope for what was to be. COL William Wood believed with all he was that our cause was just, and our sacrifices were worth the price we pay. In your honour sir, we soldier on. The last time I saw him, he slapped me on the shoulder and asked me what I did for my country today, now just over 100 hours later I cannot recall what I said. I can recall him standing there briefing his men on the mission they were about to undertake, he stood tall and erect, his command presence undeniable, now where he once stood only a memory of him remains. Honour sir. Though my mind is weighed down by sadness, the fire that burns in my heart it not for revenge, but for something far more fulfilling...justice. At his memorial service, COL Wood was quoted as saying; “Soldiers have fallen, we hold the line.” Despite our sadness at this unfathomable loss, I truly hope he is still with us, for sir, though you are gone, we continue to hold the line.
CPT Michael MacKinnon, a truly exceptional soldier and a decent man. I did not know him well, but I remember this, when I first met him he was so ill he could barely stand, yet when I a mere second lieutenant, entered his command post, he rose despite being very sick. He rose to take my hand. Each life we lose in this war leaves us hollow, in some way. Not getting to know this man, this fellow officer, this American, this father, and husband I feel slighted by the harsh reality of war yet again. Now, for us here only his memory remains. Mike, we hold the line, and you will never leave our memory. Dan, now picks up where Mike left off, Dan is a good friend of mine, yet he and I both know the shoes and short lived legacy Mike left behind shall indeed be hard to fill. Duty...
CPT Ray Hill, I have known this man for 2 years, he was a
big teddy bear. His death, hits me like
a sledge hammer. I spent many hours with
him, over the last year. His heart was
kind, his soul warm, and his generosity unmatched by any I have ever met. We once had a conversation regarding my blog,
he said that trouble was heading my way. There was nothing he could do to stop it, but he just wanted me to
know. That is just the kind of man he
was. He was always there to help, in any
way he could. Ray, was a happy-go-lucky
man, he loved the Iraqi children most of all here, when he met his end, he was
on his way to deliver school supplies to them. That was just the kind of man he was. I will miss him more than I can say. This week has cost us dearly, and it is everything I can do to not let
myself fall into despair. Ray, I miss
you my friend, may God grant you peace, and may God show mercy to the vermin
who killed you for it is no longer in my heart to show any mercy or yield any
quarter to our enemies here. Ray was a
kind and gentle man, who rarely if ever showed malice in action or words, he
was simply a better man than me. Honour...
SPC Shekere Guy, I met him about a year ago, his smile was always genuine, and his jokes always off colour, and damned funny. We sat together after we were on leave, it was a long flight and we joked and watched the in-flight movies together. When we were at LAX, on 21 April 2005 we were to be stuck in a long line. I walked us up to the First Class counter, and told the attendant, since we were going back to pretty much the worst place on Earth I thought we should not have to stand in a line. Most people agreed and we bypassed about 45 minutes of standing in line. So, once we bypassed the line we grabbed beer(s). Hearing of his passing, as with all of our fallen brothers hit me, and again something inside passed away with him. Country...
I now know why veterans from wars past rarely speak of their experiences in combat. I am having difficulty expressing how this last week has made me feel inside. There is much that has been left unsaid. Yet the anguish and bitter anger remain. I know what hate looks like, and in the mirror I see hate. I see anger and I see sadness. To people “back home” who did not know them, they are statistics in an ever increasingly unpopular war (as if there has ever been a popular war), to us they were brothers. To us, they were flesh and blood, and the embodiment of why we are here, they represented the very best we had to offer, and they now represent the very sacrifice none of us hopes to make. There was a prayer that General “Howlin mad” Smith 1st Marine Division, had at the battle of Iwo Jima; he kept it in his journal, I find it appropriate here and now.
“Lord I know how incredibly busy you must be, but should I forger you, please do not forget me.”
The posts below seem like they were written ages ago, I have not edited them, so take them for what they are, an echo of what was days ago, for the feeling of elation expressed below, no longer reflect how I feel inside. We are soldiers, showing overtly how we feel is not our way. Yet we are human men cried today, openly and men reflected to day on the frailty of their own mortality. Our hearts are filled with grief, and that grief once again strengthens our resolve to soldier on, though the price has been high, far, far too high. Though our brothers and soldiers have fallen, we continue to; despite all adversity, anger, and that which lies beneath festering in our hearts we continue to “HOLD THE LINE!”
“If I die, well it’s just my time to go. But I pray to God everyday that I make it back home.”
A BREAK IN THE STORM 25 October 2005
Today was a gloriously lazy day; it was a break in what Ernst Junger called the “Storm of Steel”. Today was Organizational Day for the men of the 1st Battalion 184th Infantry. It was a day of reflection, sport, and food, a day where men; many of which are barely old enough to buy beer, dropped their armour, their weapons, and faded and dusty uniforms and played sports. For me it was another day of service, as the French author Andre Malreaux said; “To command is to serve, nothing more nothing less.” I command nothing here, no troops, no staff; I don’t command anyone’s respect, gratitude or other. As I have said in the past, I serve because here and now at this time, it is what I was designed to do.
Today I took pleasure in serving the men of this battalion. SGT S, or as we affectionately call him “Chef” (Every unit has one, we just happen to have the very best chef in the Army. Under his close scrutiny, I helped prepare and serve about 500 steaks, which had been marinating for about 2 days. The feast consisted of lobster marinated in garlic butter and herbs, the steaks bathed in Chef’s secret marinade, to divulge the contents of this culinary masterpiece would undoubtedly incur the wrath of the maestro, thus I dare not. Yet by the looks of sheer delight on the faces of the hungry soldiers who devoured the steaks before they had barely touched their plates, I dare say that Chef had once again performed his magic this day. Chef turned these average cuts of beef into the best meal we’ve had since we got here.
My uniform smells of charcoal, and mesquite and my boots are stained with grease. My hands are burned from the grill, and my face is red from the sun. Yet my spirit has been lifted once again by the simple fortune of being in the company of soldiers. As I stood there serving soldiers today, I was struck at just how extraordinary these men are. Moreover, I was reminded yet again of how fortunate we are to have one another here in this place, because in the end, each other is all we have here in “this war”.
CHANGE (14 OCT 05) Eve of the Iraqi Constitutional Referendum
Over the last 15 months many people, my wife included have been concerned about change, namely and most notably significant changes to us, in out attitudes and our personalities. I have deployed in the past, granted never for more than 7 months at a time, but I never thought much of it until October 14th 2005. There was a 21 year old Soldier who according to her supervisor came from wealth, this young soldier gave the patrol briefing with as much ease as one might order food at a restaurant, yet she did it with as much practiced skill as any infantryman I’ve seen. She checked her soldiers, to make sure that their equipment was ready for action once outside the FOB. Yet that wasn’t what stuck out in my mind, it was the way she handled herself on the patrol. When we would stop and secure a given area. Her eyes, odd that it is always ones eyes that yield the most telling detail about a person. Her eyes moved from rooftop to rooftop, scanning windows, assessing onlookers, as they stared at this American “female” with a weapon. She never lingered in spot for too long, using people that were milling about to screen her from line of sight of military aged men who may or may not be a threat. When local males would ogle and whistle she ignored them, when some Iraqi Police would ask her what her name was her reply was ever so soldierly, and damned hilarious. “F*** you, that’s my name!” Laughing to myself and scanning my sector, I couldn’t help but be proud of this kid. She was tough as nails, and I guess the Iraqi Police knew it too because they stopped staring at her and moved on PDQ. All of us were doing this, we had been trained to, yet looking at a twenty-something who this time last year was probably trying to decide which shoes looked best with outfit, was now using shadows, to conceal her movement, making sure that she was in constant visual contact with the rest of her team, and that the up-gunner on the HMMWV was scanning the area for threats as well. It was all at once saddening and invigorating to see this soldier “work”. Sad because this “kid” is now a combat veteran, we heard gunfire in our immediate area, and like all soldiers do we all instantly turned towards it, braced to close with and kill if need be, after five seconds there was no more fire. We continued on. For the very same reason it was invigorating, that this young soldier, this “boot”, “rook”, “FNG”, green troop, had earned her stripes and paid her dues. For time served what is her reward, aside from having served? She like the rest of us will find the world we return to much different than the way it was when we left it. We’ll find that we have less in common with our friends, than we once did. To our amazement we’ll find that food and drink taste better than they ever have in the past. We’ll find that our tempers, rather our tolerance for rude people has diminished. Our ability to cope with life’s BS will fall in line with our tolerance for rude people if not less so. For me, above all other changes, I’ll cherish quiet, solitude, the stillness that finds you when you are all alone. More so than I ever have in the past.
“When you find me standing here, do not think me to be lonely, simply alone.”
When this young soldier finds her way home, I pity the young man who attempts to win her favor by boisterous display of manhood, for he will most assuredly find himself looking into that 1000 yard stare of a combat veteran, a look that will stop him dead in his tracks and see him back gingerly away as if he had just come across a coiled pit viper on a trail. She, like many of us will find we are slightly out of place at home, we have lived the last year of our lives in a hyper stressful and dangerous place, we have been running in the red so fast for so long that all at once when we are home and safe, we will not be able to adapt. Once again we will find ourselves strangers in a strange land. Caught in a Catch 22, thankful to be home, but unsure of how to re-integrate into the very place we dreamt about for so long. Unable to communicate feelings, unable to release tension, unwilling to drop our guard, many feeling alone in what we once thought was a dream now seemingly a waking nightmare of freedom, with no one to talk to but those who know, those who are feeling the same uneasy feeling that home is no more. When I was home on leave I felt it, not to a large extent, but it was there and it had the same effect on me as when I was a child stepping into the deep-end of the pool for the first time, I felt uneasy being safe. Like I was moving at a speed just a little faster than everyone around me, and the level of aggression that was just beneath the surface within me was somehow something to be ashamed of. I looked across the table at my wife who was smiling back at me and for the life of me I cannot fathom why I couldn’t stop thinking about being back inBaghdad.
“When I was home after my first tour it was worse, when I was there I wanted to be here, when I was here all I could think about was getting back into the jungle. I hardly said a word to my wife until I said yes to a divorce.”
CPT Willard Apocalypse Now.
I was determined that would not be me, yet now six months after being home, I can feel the uneasiness returning. The elation of finally leaving Iraq, the light at the end of this tunnel, yet at the same time, I have to go back to a world that has only existed in my dreams. My expectations will surely lead to disappointment. I care not for accolades, nor do I care to be adorned with decorations, or march in parades. I just want to move forward, my service is nearly at an end, and I am glad to have sacrificed yet again for my nation. I am honoured for having served this time as an officer and all I ask is that I be allowed to go on with my life as peacefully as I can. Yet as a soldier, sadly I know better… After every battle sharpen your sword. I know how I am going to cope with all of a sudden being a civilian again, but there is a small part of me that looks around a room for comfort when I am feeling boxed in. As when I was home on leave in April, I found comfort across a restaurant. A veteran, our look must have been unmistakable to the other, our eyes locked only for a moment, he nodded to me, and I gave a boy scout salute in return, then as if the shades had been lifted I felt better and the room was mine again. This too shall pass.
The cost of liberty is high, in “this war”. I hope, beyond all hope that Iraq is worth the cost in blood. We cannot fail here, we owe far too many Americans a debt that can only be repaid by nothing short of total victory.
In Shadow I Remain...
To all of the wives, husbands, children and friends of those of us who are here. Thank you for being there for us. Keeping things steady on your end of the line...
When I was in 1st Battalion 5th Marine
Regiment, we were deployed to fight fires in Washington State
We were gone for about 45 days, and in that time we walked about 300 miles over some of the most arduous and gorgeous terrain of the American North West. We hated each and every second of it, we suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns, heat exhaustion, home-sickness, blisters, splinters, concussions, fractured and broken bones, and in general we were sick and tired of each other. Through it we saw an entire mountain literally explode as the flames raced zig-zag up and down the mountainside igniting trees sending them shooting high above the firestorm below. The sap from the super heated trees acting as a propellant, in peace time it was one of the most awesome displays of destruction I have ever been witness to. The raw power of nature was incredible, Earth, Wind, and Fire united in a torrent destruction completely engulfing the landscape and rendering it devoid of life. In less than two hours where lush green forest once stood remained nothing but smoldering ash. I stood witness to the wrath of Mother Nature, and I stood in awe of the sheer power of it. We had spent most of the previous day, well in to the night digging a line in the sand if you will, a fire break to stop the wrath that we knew was coming, we spent the night in a fire camp watching the fire sweeping all before it, just as the Legio XXI “Rapax” once did, nothing was spared. We were briefed that the mission before us was to draw that proverbial line in the sand and in doing so we’d be saving peoples homes. At the time all that meant to us was more work, and more hills. Being Pendleton Marines, we were quite used to climbing hills. Yet to date, we had climbed nothing like the mountains we were about to ascend and as usual we were fighting against the clock. But in this case, our enemy would not succumb to fatigue, fear, doubt or pain. Fighting fires is a war wholly different from anything any of us had ever experienced, before or since.
As we descended the mountain having at least reached detente with our fiery nemesis as we crested yet another lesser mountain ridge we were over looking Lake Chelan Washington, the sight was one of the most magnificent and breathtaking visions of the majesty of American scenery I have ever been witness to, the stark contrast from what lie behind us was beyond description. As we stood there with soot, and ash clinging to every square inch of our uniforms, kit and exposed skin, we stood there at the point of exhaustion. Yet, each of us stood a little taller looking at the homes that we’d helped to save, when we reached the road, a Jeep pulled up and a Captain from the Washington National Guard stepped out in a clean starched uniform, and he promptly told us there was to be no swimming in the lake. He continued on about this and that for nearly 10 minutes, none of us really listening to him. Finally he got back in his Jeep and drove off. Our Platoon Sergeant, looked around and said with a look on his face I’ll never forget; “The hell with him, I’m going swimming!” It was a mad dash to the water, Marines jumping in, in various stages of undress, what was behind us just over the hill was almost immediately forgotten. When we emerged from the water, there was a van parked there and several women were standing there, Marines being Marines, began approaching the women, it looked rather like peacocks dancing about trying to gain favor. Yet the ladies had other intentions; opening the back of their van they produced the largest submarine sandwich I have ever seen, and more importantly BEER! We of course were forbidden from consuming alcohol during this time, but as all good Marines do, we embraced the locals and their strange customs so as not to offend. We didn’t offend them to the tune of consuming the whole sandwich, and 18 beers between us. It was a feast worthy of kings. I dare say I have eaten so well in the last 9 months. That day we did a good thing, we didn’t do it for thanks, not for free food nor beer (which helped by the by). We did it because we were asked to.
What is my point in this little aside to where I am now? Only this, Lt Col Bonwit gathered us at the end of our deployment as we prepared to return to our lives; he often gathered us together to “give us the gouge” as to what was what in our little world. I used to dread those massive formations, having to “bring it in, and sit, kneel, and bend so all could see, be seen, and hear the “old man” speak. He always told us like it was, he never fluffed the situation, or sugar coated things for us. He treated us like men… no he treated us like Marines. If we asked he’d always be honest, never taking out his anger, or frustration on a subordinate. He always found something positive to add, even after he or his XO Maj Dan Trout removed a piece of ones ass. He always admonished in private, but his was always the first hand to pick you up. He had a decent way with words, he spoke softly and plainly, never condescending, or short. He stood smiling before us and he said simply; “That sucked!” We all laughed out loud with a thunder that echoed all over the camp, he always told it like it was, and his humor was never lost on any of us. He said that he knew that it had been hard going, but that’s how Marines liked it, and that’s why they sent us. He said he’d be glad to be away from this place, but that in 5-10 years from now, each and every one of us would look back at the job we did here, and be proud. He was right. So, that is my hope for this place, for our struggle here in Iraq that in 5-10 years from now I’ll be able to look onto the fields that our blood was spilt and see a new Iraq growing from the turmoil of the old. It will not abate the sense of loss we all feel for our departed comrades, friends, brothers, sons, Fathers, and husbands, but it will lessen the sting and anger of their passing and their children can know that it was not in vain.
In three or four month’s time, I will do my best to forget
this war, and leave it behind me. That
of course will be short lived as the events of my future will not allow
it. What will the future hold for the
men I have met here that I know call friend, that are now and forever more
brothers. What will become of us as we
separate from the “big Army return to the world of the National Guard, or
retire, or separate altogether from the Army? Where will the path then take us, will we become like the men who stand
at rapt attention as the colors pass by on Memorial Day, and the 4th
of July, whose faces bear the scars of wars past, and whose eyes burn with
intensity beyond explanation. Already a
member of the VFW, at 23, and now again at 34, I look at my face and wonder
where the time has gone. It is of course
rhetorical, but I ask nonetheless. Will,
Dan, Murph, Greg, and I be those old warriors who stand on the side of the
road, as the parade passes by? What will
the coming year bring for us? Children,
return to careers and family, finish PhD’s, maybe try a new career, but what I
do know is this. As Dan said all of us
have changed in many ways, some changes we aren’t even aware of yet. All with one thing in common, we were here. Lt Col Bonwit’s words still ring in my ears,
in 5 or 10 years we will look back on what we did here with pride. Young for his years, Luke Stricklin aptly
stated, “I don’t care why Bush went into Iraq
THE CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM (THE SOUL OF A NATION)
Last night I went on a patrol with Civil Affairs, our
mission was to see if everything was ready for today’s vote. We drove around from site to site accessing the
security of the polling sites, what we found was an Iraqi population that was
calm and eagerly awaiting their chance to vote once again, and take part in
their own destiny. The day passed
virtually without incident, and once again the Iraqi people took a step towards
complete independence. Today didn’t
belong to the insurgency, or the Coalition, it belonged to all of Iraq