Attached is my latest
from this part of the world. It’s been longer in sending because I
recently returned form a four day pass in Qatar, which after travel
days, I was gone for a week. It was great to get away, but as you will
see, I was ready to return.
Right now we are around 100 days
from coming home, for the second time. Things are starting to pick up
for us as we start to pack non-essential equipment and load shipping
Sunday, 25 Mar 07
Recently I was asked why I volunteered to come over to Iraq. Why did I want to leave my family and come to a dangerous place? Setting the facts straight, I did not want to leave my family and home. Why would anyone with sound thought and personal convictions want to leave the ones they love to go into possible harm? To go daily looking forward to the upcoming weekly telephone call, to cherish each e-mail, and treasure every letter and package that you receive. Why would one want to leave the comforts of your own home and the freedom to go where you please, and to do what you want? Trade all that for a cramped room shared with another soldier, eat what others cook for you and when they tell you to eat, walk a half block to go to the latrine or to take a cold shower, or go eight weeks without a day off, and when it finally comes–your options of entertainment are very limited, and knowing you can’t go too far just in case you need to go back on a moment’s notice. Not to mention that there is someone outside of camp (and a few that may be inside the fence) that want to do you and your fellow soldiers harm.
Well, my deployment is not about me, and it never has been.
There are two basic facts as to why soldiers and other service members do what they do. We do it for each other and we do it for those who need help.
Anyone who has ever traveled to a third-world country understands the second fact—there are countries that desperately need our help. Some need our assistance, some need our money, and, yes, some need our military.
Sure, I get disappointed when I see the ugly politicians using us as pawns for their personal gain, knowing full well many of them could care less about us. The only reason we are on their radar screen is to disgrace someone or some group, and to elevate their personal standing in the eyes of their voters. What they say does not bother me. Only their motives. For 232 years the American soldier has fought for our freedoms, so the protestor can say what they want, the newspersons can write what they want, the faithful can believer what they want, all without the threat of persecution. The freedoms that we Americans take for granted have only been given to us by the service member standing guard and defending every American’s rights.
It’s not about glory. Its not about ribbons and medals. And it definitely is not about the money. I believe in my mission because in this case there is only one nation in the world who can truly bring this country out of the 19th century and build a democracy. It is the US. Can we expect the neighboring nations of Iraq to build a democracy if we leave? It would not be in their best interests. Why would an autocracy or a dictatorship want a prosperous democracy on their border? Why would they want freedom flourishing right next door? They don’t.
So why do we do it? We do it for “them,” and we do it for our fellow soldiers. We do it to protect those that can’t protect themselves.
Thursday, 29 Mar 07
Iraq has a very distinctive smell. Dust. It has been about two weeks since our last rain and the daytime temperatures are now nearing 90, so the ground is totally void of any precipitation. Combined with the farm fields that surround the camp and the constant movement of soldiers around Anaconda, dust is now constantly suspended in the air. You can’t see it during the day, but at night you see the ever-present haze around lights. Not only is the dust suspended in the air, it also gets into everything, leaving a thin layer wherever it can settle. Left for a few days the dust film starts to become quite substantial. Constant wiping down of our weapons and electronics is a must.
Friday, 30 Mar 07
There are those days in the Army that you stop and go “Huh?” For the past four weeks we have been with the knowledge that we would change to daylight savings time with the rest of the region at 0200, 1 April 07. Tonight we were notified that the Army would change at 2400 hrs (midnight) on 30 Mar, a full 26 hours ahead of the region. We’re not complaining. We now get off work one hour early. But why the sudden change? “Huh?”
Monday, 2 April 07
It’s an odd thing to see addresses burning. Yep, addresses. Every letter I get, box I receive or document I want to throw away, they just can’t be put in the trash. They have to be burned. Why? To prevent insurgents from obtaining personal information about myself, my family, or of those I know. So as I stand at the burn barrel I watch the flames quickly consume all the addresses I have cut out of envelopes, clipped from newsletters and cut off of boxes over the past few weeks. Quickly the connection I have in the addresses of my life back at home have turned into ash. Odd
Thursday, 5 Apr 07
Today I got the most wonderful package in the mail—handmade Easter Cards from Emily’s class. I couldn’t wait to get home from Shift to hang them on my wall in my room. They are just awesome.
Sunday, 8 April 07
Tomorrow I embark on a five day, all expense paid trip to the Army Rest and Recuperation center located in the Emirate of Qatar. Qatar is a small Middle Eastern nation that is about the size of Rhode Island, bordered on one side by Saudi Arabia and by the Persian Gulf on the other three. It is one of the wealthiest nations in the Middle East and also one of the less volatile, which allows us soldiers to have a nearly stress free break from the war.
While there I will be able to swim, sleep, eat in real restaurants (including Chili’s, Dairy Queen and a few others), wear real clothes, sleep, go to movies, take a tour around the nearby city, sleep, read, get a massage, sleep. Well you get the picture. It is intended to be a totally stress free environment where soldiers can unwind and forget about the world for a while. It should prove to be a great break.
Monday, 9 April 07
The trip to Qatar is a long one. Show up at the airfield in Balad several hours early, go through customs, wait, and then board an Air Force C130 for the painful three hours flight. Imagine a semi-truck without a muffler running at full throttle, and you’re sitting on top of it. Your seat is a webbed lawn chair, which causes your legs and backside to go numb halfway through the flight. You can’t stand up and stretch your legs because the aisle is so narrow your knees are interlaced with the soldier sitting across from you. The only great joy is knowing you will be spending four days of doing nothing.
Sleeping arrangements, as it seems all places Army, are unique. The base here is an old supply center and equipment storage facility, which has many huge warehouses. In several warehouses are six huge GP Large tents that each has around eighty bunks and wall lockers. For temporary housing it actually is pretty nice.
Tuesday, 10 April 07
I slept in today and then headed to the PX to buy real clothes. When I left Nebraska I brought a couple of long sleeve shirts and a pair of blue jeans because it was cold in Georgia and I would be returning in the spring. Now we are in Qatar with daytime temps already pushing 100 degrees. So a couple of shirts and a pair of shorts are in order.
Once I became human again, in real people clothes, I met up with a guy in my unit and we commenced to explore. Lunch at Chili’s (Yes, Chili’s. But no ribs or other pork products, much to my chagrin), checked the internet, called Nancy and Emily, and hung out and watched a movie in the theater. It was nothing special of a day, and it was everything I hoped for.
Later we went to the club and drank our limit of three beers and started to tell our stories. The only rule was no shoptalk. Words like Army, Balad, M-16, HMMWV were off limits. Otherwise the floor was wide open. Two of the guys in our group got into what I called a goat-roping contest. They got into a discussion about their farm trucks to see who was the truly hickiest of them all. One bragged about how he had put combine tires on his pickup, the other responded that his bed had rusted out so bad he took it off and put sheet metal in its place. For the next parley the first told of the steer horns on the front of his hood, where the second responded that his running boards were held on with bailing wire. This went on for nearly 10 minutes, where I learned way too much about their vehicles that they claimed were great. I duly declared that they both won the contest.
Wednesday, 11 Apr 07
It has been a great day of just doing nothing. I slept in, had lunch and then just hung around until my massage at 1500. I hit a bucket of balls on the driving range, surfed the internet and watched a movie. It was soooooo relaxing.
The massage was awesome; at least up to the point the masseuse re-cracked my ribs. OK, last week while working I had cracked a rib or two. By the time I left for Qatar they were healing pretty good and the pain was subsiding. But nobody told me the masseuse was going to walk on my back!
After the massage I met up with a few guys and we went to the club and had a steak. (Did you know that Qatar is not known for its fantastic steaks?) We spent the evening telling “war” stories and listening to karaoke night at the club. Because I need to keep my schedule (because I will eventually have to return to work) I watched another movie and read a book until around 0500 (that’s 5:00 a.m.) What a life
Friday, 13 April 07
It is such a small Army. The commander of the R&R Center happens to be someone I worked with twenty years ago while I was on active duty in Bindlach, Germany. I stopped in and chatted with Colonel Lynch. It was nice to reminisce of the old Army and catch up on the whereabouts of old friends.
It was another day of not doing anything of consequence. It’s great!
Saturday, 14 April 07
The American soldier is incredible. Their average age is around 20, and they are burdened daily with making life and death decisions at a blink of an eye. And then an hour later they can be smoking and joking with their buddies on important topics like the latest video games at the PX, their favorite foods that they miss their mom cooking, or what kind of car they’re going to buy with the money that they saved while in Iraq. I am truly amazed of the burdens of freedom that these young men and women accept.
But then, every so often, I become utterly disappointed with the actions of one soldier who somehow cannot handle the burden of responsibility given them. This evening was one of those times. Tonight, on what was my last night in Qatar, a soldier took the life of another over something as innocuous as a card game. With hundreds of Soldiers nearby, he acted on his rage and wrongly took the life of someone that in combat he was committed to protect. With nearly a dozen combat medics nearby, all were helpless in getting the victim the treatment he desperately needed.
Now, somewhere in America a family will get a notification telling them their son, husband, or brother has died while at the safety of the R&R center in Qatar, where the biggest worry we have here is if the Dairy Queen has enough ice cream or how long the wait is for the computer.
One soldier, through one stupid act, has tarnished us soldiers and ruined his own life, the life of his victim, and the lives of both their families.
What a waste!
Monday, 16 Apr 07
We were ready to leave Qatar. After being gone for nearly a week, and the bitter events of last night, our group was definitely ready to put Qatar behind us. The one thing we were not looking forward to was the nine hour trip (with the 3 hour flight) to get us back to Anaconda. I finally got back to my room at 0400 and commenced to put all the “stuff” back onto my body Armor, which is not an easy task. When we fly we have to remove all the pouches and add on armor plates, and then reassemble them before returning to work on the ECP. Later today I will pick up my rifle and pistol and clean them before work. Just sitting in a cage for a week, they still get dirty. Even though I may never fire a round from them, I always want my weapons in top condition.
Yep! I’m ready to get back to work and start counting down the days until I return home. Right now we are around 100 days left.
When I got back today I was greeted with my mail. In it was a package of more wonderful, handmade Easter cards from the 2nd and 3rd grade class from Emily’s school. What a great treat to cheer me up
Thursday, 19 Apr 07
The new day has just begun and we have just less than three hours left before the night shift arrives to take over the ECP. It has been a fairly uneventful evening except for a trip we took outside the gate shortly after coming on shift. Right after we took over, the operator of one of our little gadgets saw some men along a road possibly emplacing an IED (improvised explosive devise) about a mile from the entrance to the ECP. My team and I loaded our trucks to check out the area where the men had been. Luckily nothing out of the ordinary was found. Convoys go in and out of the base late at night and the last thing we want is to see them injured in an area we are responsible for securing. That is just our little part to ensure every soldier stays as safe as possible.
Midnight chow has just arrived and it is another disappointment for me. I have been attempting to eat a little healthier, but it seems the chow hall likes to send everything fried, which by the time we get it, it is no longer hot and crispy, but rather warm and soggy. And if the old adage “you are what you eat” is true, than I am a chicken nugget. Along with many items being fried there are always chicken nuggets, and on many nights they are the only semi-consumable choice of sustenance. I look forward to the day when I can once again choose what I would like to cook and eat.