Sunday, September 24, 2006

Finished Mural

The mural is (or so I thought) finished. Unfortunately, one of the design parameters I included will now have to be put into use. I purposely left space on the side “In Honor Of” in case our task force lost any other soldiers. Within 2 weeks of completion, we’ve lost three. Please realize that EVERYONE in our task force feels the loss when one of our own is lost. Their deaths impact all of us in that we feel pain and loss for who they were and who they’ve left behind.

To look at our task force would make one wonder, “how did they come into existence, much less work together in such harsh conditions and circumstances?” Our task force is a direct reflection of what the United States was founded on. “E Pluribus Unum” Out of Many, One. We have soldiers from all over America working as one single entity. These soldiers were from Nebraska and Minnesota. It didn’t matter to anyone where they were from they served the United States and freedom honorably, they were loved by all of us, they are missed by all of us.

At this time, I am still making the paint preparations to add their names but, I will include them in this entry.

They are:

SSG Joshua R. Hanson - Hanson died a hero while protecting his country and fighting for freedom on Wednesday, August 30th, 2006, near Khalidiyah, Iraq. A statement from his family said, “Josh was a wonderful and loving son and a great friend. He was proud to serve his country as duty called. We can’t express enough how proud we are that he was willing to lay down his life for all of us. He and his comrades are real heroes.” SSG Hanson was assigned to the Minnesota Army National Guard’s Alpha Company, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion 136th Infantry, based in Detroit Lakes, Minn.

SGT Germaine L. Debro - Debro, 33, of Omaha, Neb, died on Sept. 4 in Balad, Iraq, of injuries suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle during combat operations. Debro was assigned to the Army National Guard 1st Squadron, 167th Cavalry Regiment, Fremont, Neb. He leaves behind his Mother (Priscilla), Father (Alvin Sr.), and two brothers. He had been in Iraq for about 7 months, and was scheduled to come home in October to help celebrate his brothers 21st birthday.

SSG Jeffrey J. Hansen - 31-year-old Hansen of Cairo, Neb., died on Aug. 27, in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl, Germany, of injuries suffered on Aug. 21 from a vehicle accident in Balad, Iraq was survived by his wife, Jennifer, and his father, Robert Hansen of Bertrand who were with him when he died. The Guard said Hansen was born in Minden, Nebraska and graduated from high school in Bertrand. In 1997 he was awarded a bachelor's degree in athletic training from the University of Nebraska-Kearney. Hansen joined the Guard in January 2000 and had moved up the ranks to become a fire support sergeant. He served with the 167th in Bosnia as part of a peacekeeping force, from late 2002 until mid-2003.

My heartfelt sympathies go out to their families and their friends. I hope that they may find comfort in the fact that their loved ones believed in being part of something greater than themselves: Freedom.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

My Mark On Iraq

One of the interesting things to see when you're deployed around the world is how different units and their personnel “leave their mark”. Due to varying personalities, leadership, and situations, leaving your mark can vary from negative to positive depending on time, morale, and unit cohesion. The common thing you see here are murals painted on cement barricades designed to keep us safe. They can vary in size, texture, and location but, thanks to the local workers, all that can be adjusted.

Here in our corner of the Earth, I was given the freedom to paint what I wanted and as big as I wanted. Now, you have to realize that usually, units will set very restrictive parameters on the content of a mural such as unit patches, crests, and certain pictures. For example, I watched a unit artist paint a mural outside of a dining facility (the correct name for a chow hall). This mural had the unit patch, crest, and all of it was centered on a mountain of human skulls. Not an exceedingly bright idea on the artist’s part considering the location because you have all sorts of people entering and leaving the building to include people (male & female) from all four branches of the military, civilian contractors, and VIPs. I don’t think that the commanding officer of a task force bringing in foreign guests and visiting dignitaries found it too appealing to see a mountain of human skulls in front of the chow hall. Needless to say, that mural lasted one week.

I decided to design our mural so that everyone in our task force from the commander to the lowest ranking private would walk by, look at it, and fell a little more pride knowing that they are part of that particular task force. I added elements that would remind us and the world of why we were here in the first place so that we wouldn’t lose focus of “the big picture”. I also wanted to pay tribute to the fallen so that the families back home would not fell that their deaths were in vain or forgotten. I have attached the “in progress” photograph to this posting taken by a friend. Once it’s finished, I’ll post the complete work with the details. I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Simulate Iraq

The most common questions I get asked by friends and family back home are, “How bad is the heat there?” and “What is it like there?” I decided to combine the two questions and run a lab experiment using available household equipment and available US Army issue soldiers.

How bad and how hot is it here? There are two things you need to realize about Iraq before you begin this little experiment. One, you’re always going to be dirty whether it’s a light coat of dust or never showered nasty and two, you’re always going to be sweaty or sweating. For those who can’t stand being either, you’re not going to enjoy this simulation.

*Pick the hottest day on record to do this outside.

Here is what you need to gather for the experiment:

One industrial strength blow dryer
One landscaping leaf blower
One large flat baking pan (like the kind from a chow hall 28” x 32”)
Three pounds each of the following ingredients; corn starch, all purpose flour, and playground sand
One BBQ grill with briquettes already started
One small bowl (cereal size ideal)
One picnic table about 30” tall
One set (top & bottom) of thick long johns
One very baggy denim jacket
One very baggy pair of jeans
All cotton socks
One pair of construction boots

Here’s how it works, put on all the clothes plus goggles, a hat, and gloves to “protect” your skin. Go out and find a pile of dirt and roll in it to put on your base coat. Then, have your friends (a minimum of three) go do the same thing. The way the Army works, misery is funnier when it’s shared.

Now, on the baking pan, combine the corn starch, flour and playground sand. Mix the ingredients well for maximum efficiency. Place the pan with the mix on the picnic table at the end closest to you. At the farther end of the table, place the lit BBQ without a cover. Have one friend work the leaf blower and the other will work the hair dryer and bowl.

The friend with the leaf blower will stand on the furthest end of the experiment just past the BBQ with the blower set at random speeds. He/She will aim the blower so that it launches hot ash and the pan ingredients in you direction. Your second friend with the hair dryer will be approximately three feet from your face with the dryer set on “high” temperature and varying the speed from low to high at random. With the bowl, friend number two will scoop up bowls of pan ingredients to be lightly dumped on your head and in your face. At this point, if you’re really aggravated, sweaty and dirty, you’ve achieved the desired effect and you should look like the illustration below.

Goodbye Jeff

So I’ve been debating for quite a while what I should write for my first posting on this site. Many ideas came to mind but nothing really struck me as “significant” for a first posting. Then I decided to share some thoughts based on recent events.

I recently attended a memorial service for SSG Jeffrey J. Hanson. The basic information in the bulletin about Jeff was that he was an Army National Guard soldier from Nebraska. He was, by MOS (Military Occupational Skill) a scout. He had received several awards for performance and previous deployments; he was college educated, married for three years, etc., etc, etc. The information read like a standard, newspaper printed obituary. But you can’t really know a person until you look further than what’s been printed in a bulletin.

As I sat at his memorial service and listened intently to every word that Jeff’s friends had to say, I couldn’t help but think about something my parents told me when I was younger. “Son, you can tell what kind of person someone is, by the type of people that they surround themselves with”.

Jeff was a funny, caring, devoted man that took pride in being a part of something larger than himself. He excelled at physical fitness, teaching & mentoring his soldiers, and staying upbeat & motivated even during the most difficult of times. He had a deep love and commitment for his wife and their marriage. His soldiers shared stories of things Jeff did to inspire them to improve themselves. Things he did to make them laugh and pass the time in this forsaken place. Thoughts he shared with them and they with him.

As the service progressed, I saw men that have survived and endured ambushes, indirect fire attacks, IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), and so forth, weeping openly for a friend as if he had been an integral part of their lives since childhood. They were open and honest with their hearts in telling us how they had been blessed to have such a great person in their lives. Their ages varied from their early twenties to early forties. Yet one of the common traits that held them together was Jeff.

As I looked around, I noticed that some of the attendants at the memorial seemed to be contemplating the “what if” possibility of their own lives. Things that come to mind like, “what if I had done this or that? I wish I would have told them this or not said that.” The list can go on and on. My point is not many people take the time to tell their loved ones what they think or feel about them until the opportunity isn’t there or it’s too late. In this line of work, we can’t afford to let those opportunities pass us by. I know for a fact that if anything were to happen to me, my family would know without a doubt that I love them without reservation. I love them no matter what. That I am proud of what I do for my country and those I am surrounded with.

In closing, I had never met Jeff but I found myself weeping for him, his wife, his parents, and his soldiers. Seeing everyone that Jeff surrounded himself with was a testament to the type of man he was: A good man.

Coconut Commando