Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Trip Home and Posting Turning a Bit Dark

This is the last sunrise for me in Iraq.

Have you ever gone on a vacation and the travel part was more interesting than the destination itself? That was how my trip back from Iraq was. We took off from Iraq in the standard “rocket launch” take off that this tour is known for. Hajji was generous enough to celebrate our departure by shooting off a few rounds in our direction. Thanks for the memories you jerk! We landed in Kuwait a while later.

The funny thing about landing in Kuwait when you’re coming from Iraq is that it doesn’t look any different. This gets you a bit paranoid because you have the nagging thought that “Maybe we just flew in circles and the pilots dropped us off in a different part of Iraq”. That’s happened to me in the past but it involved a crash-landing. Anyway, we get off the plane onto the tarmac (runway) and wait for our bus to pick us up. What do you do while you wait on the tarmac in the desert? You play Spades or Poker, sleep, read, rehydrate, or look around to make sure you’re still not in Iraq. Yep, we’re in Kuwait!

Waiting on the tarmac

They loaded us onto a bus (complete with gun-truck escort) and took us to some base in the middle of nowhere. Of course that’s been one of the running gags of this tour, always being in the middle of nowhere. The bus was awesome! It had cushioned seats, A/C, and music. I hadn’t ridden in a bus since I left the states. All I had ridden or driven in was a gun truck, a road clearing vehicle (EOD) and a go-kart I made while I was there.

They took us to tent city for our stay in country. If you’re wondering what this is like, it’s like sleeping in a giant circus tent with 150 of your closest friends. At least all of us smell the same (rotten armpits and sand). This isn’t a problem because most of us are accustomed to worse conditions. The tents had wooden floors, cots, A/C, and 110-volt electricity. If you’ve never been overseas, even on a normal European vacation, every country runs on 220-volt electricity unlike the US which runs on 110-volts. That means that if you plug your computer to an outlet without a transformer, you just fried your computer. Now, most computers come with a built in voltage regulator so this doesn’t happen. Why is this important? Because our stay was to last five days, this means that you can watch movies or play games until your flight date and time. They also had a chow hall that was made out of concrete (not a tent), and a McHajji’s (A McDonalds with the sign written in the local language)! Other food choices included Subway, Anthony’s Pizza, Chung’s Garden (Chinese), and a Java Joes coffee house. When you’re coming from Iraq, this is like staying at the Marriott.

Kuwaiti "Marriott"


We spent the time sending e-mail, calling home, and shopping at the local PX (Post Exchange). We also had a picnic with a real BBQ grill and real steaks. This little break lasted for a few days. I’m not sure if this is intentional or not but it was good to spend a few days “decompressing” there before the follow-on trip to the states. We also had a great time perusing through the amnesty box with the local MP in order to help them catalogue things that were turned in. This is a chance for the Joes to turn in stuff without getting into trouble. That burned the few days we were there.

Then came the magic day when we were told that we’ll be flying home. We were to stage in a cantonment area for the customs brief and inspection, and then wait there until transport to the airport. While you’re there, you also receive endless briefings that cover your return to the states. Most of the briefings center on customs do’s and don’ts; for example, we can’t transport booze, ammo, explosives, porn, animals, animal parts, humans, human parts (except your own stinking carcass), classified materials, cigars, bugs, reptiles, fish, foreign weapons, weapon parts (AK-47, etc), spiders, huge numbers of bootleg DVDs, or specific types of blunt weapons such as an ASP (look at the blog entry Defending the Ponderosa Part 2). I don’t know where most of my readers are from but all of that stuff would be the typical shopping list for a patrol in Iraq.

Anyway, they also peruse through your computers and port hard drives for the porn and classified material. Knowing this, I purposely placed a picture of myself with a few friends on the desktop background. In the picture were wearing our body armor, helmets weapons, boots and a light coat of sun tan lotion. Don’t worry; we had the “Femoral Artery Protection Pad” on so the “essentials” were covered. In any case that computer tech won’t be able to “un-see” that picture for the rest of his life. I don’t think he wanted to go on checking the rest of the computer’s hard drive after that.

From there you move to the “holding area”. It’s pretty nice because it has hard buildings with A/C, movies being played, board games, and Java-Joes. The last one is a “poor man’s Starbuck’s” coffee house. The wait lasted 14 hours but we didn’t care because we’re headed home. We left there around 1900 local time. At the airport, we got to load our baggage and load the plane. Unlike a “normal” airline flight, we have to provide a baggage detail and a “pusher & counter” detail. Why, because our gear is heavy and we can pack a plane like champs. As far as the other detail, once the baggage is loaded, we “push passengers to fill every seat from rear to front as others are taking a count of personnel on the plane. I LOVE this detail because, unlike a civilian flight, manners are optional when “motivating” a person to move to the back of the plane. Also, if you’re on any of the details, you sit in first class seating regardless of rank. It makes me feel good to send a colonel to the back of the plane while a private gets a bigger seat up front.

We took off from Kuwait around 2100 at night with the temperature holding steady at 102°. We landed in Shannon, Ireland about 2130 (local time). This leg of the flight lasted about four hours. If you’ve never been to Shannon, Ireland, I can tell you that it’s one of the most well thought out airport plans ever. We got off the plane, walked down a long corridor and straight into the bar. We’re still under General Order Number One at this point so this means that we still can’t drink. Fine, but when you walk out of the bar, you run into the Duty-Free store across from the bar. What would you buy in a duty-free store; locally produced booze, liquor, and souvenirs; in that order! Anyway, some of us bought what we wanted and made the mission happen. What was pretty cool was that the locals that were there were greeting us like we’re their family members. To date, I’m not sure if Ireland has sent troops to Iraq but I’d gladly welcome them to fight alongside me. After three hours enjoying the conversations and visiting with the Irish, it was time to move on. We took off for the next leg of the trip.

We arrived about six hours later in Bangor Maine around 0630 local time with a temperature of 42°. Yes, you will feel the 60 degree difference once you get off the plane. For those of the male species with protruding parts, it goes up into your body cavity and yep, the turkey’s done! Anyway we got off the plane and were greeted by the Maine Troop Greeters ( If you’re not familiar with this organization, here’s what I know. Bangor, Maine is the first and last stop on U.S. soil for hundreds of thousands of us going off to war. A group of locals have been putting their politics aside to say “Thank you” to us virtually every day. The planes arrive with little notice at all hours of the day and night but that doesn’t stop them from being there. When we get there, they’re waiting to greet us when we touch down. They started doing this for us (troops) in 1991 with hundreds of people gathering to greet and praise us, however, when flights en route to and from Iraq and Afghanistan started in 2003 the Greeters needed to become more organized for security reasons. This is when the airport, chamber of commerce, and local veterans organizations took the lead and made it possible for the greeters, (sometimes a dozen - sometimes many dozens) to do what they do best. Each and every plane, carrying one or more soldiers, has been met with cheers, hugs, applause, salutes, and handshakes; these strangers are giving us love and gratitude we aren’t accustomed to. We’ll be handed cookies, candies, toiletries, books and cell phones (for free calls home) in the old duty-free shop that has now become their “welcome-center.” You won’t find any of the indifference or hostility that some of the Vietnam vets faced. These Maine Greeters are determined that troops are met with respect and appreciation.

First morning in the US

Sorry I side-tracked but it’s important to me that you know about this group and what they’re doing every day for us. We left Maine for an undisclosed airfield on the east coast. When we landed, we were greeted by a bunch of generals, politicians, high-ranking officers, and several command sergeant majors. If you’ve never been in the military you have to realize that for an assembly of that much brass in one place usually means that you’re in a parade, the Pentagon, or at Arlington so you know we’re really not accustomed to this. The most exciting part of this was that a few of us made it a point to take off our boots and walk barefoot in the grass, others rolled around in it, and a few even kissed the ground. I hadn’t seen lush, green grass in almost 18 months so you can imagine that this was fun for me.

From the airfield, we were taken (in school buses) to a huge airplane hangar. The bus ride was weird because we’re allowed to roll down the windows. This is something that you’d never do in Iraq because it can get you killed. Everything was very green, fresh, and clean and not a hint of any burning trash. I have to admit, I’m still feeling like a rock star at this point. We get there and have to turn in our weapons to the units that will be inspecting them for re-issue. This is a problem for me because I carry multiple weapons and they’ve been my constant companions from the start of this nut roll up to now. It really hurt (emotionally) to say goodbye to them. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one with this problem. The bonus part is that now you get to feel “lost” because you’re not armed. Imagine how you’d feel if you’re in a public place and suddenly you realize you don’t have pants on, that’s how it is with a soldier and his weapon. To some of us the pants are optional the weapon is not.

After some initial in processing, we were taken on post and housed in the “VIP” housing. It was actual VIP housing which means luxury and privacy; something we’re definitely not accustomed to. The rooms are one-man rooms with a shower connecting to both rooms; each room has a TV, bunk, desk, microwave, armoire, 110v electricity, basic cable, fridge, and a window. This is the nicest accommodation I’ve had the whole tour. The funny thing is, the VIP housing isn’t really because we’re important, I think it was because the buildings are located far away from where we would come into contact with “normal” people. My compliments to the post commander for this idea, it was a smart one. The fatal flaw in this plan is the fact that we don’t care if we’re on foot. We’ve just spent 22 months on tour walking everywhere and this post is no challenge to us. We’ll walk as long and far as we have to.

Priorities first, we have a place to crash out so now we need food and drink (alcohol or non-alcohol) I’m indifferent at this point. I stroll to the closest chow hall and ask to talk to the mess sergeant directly. I explain that we’ve been back in the states less than six hours and we would like something “special” for chow. He asks me “What?” I tell him I’d like two fried egg sandwiches and a glass of milk for dinner. He looks at me strangely until I explain that since I’ve been gone, all I’ve had has been powdered eggs and powdered milk. Therefore, I want REAL eggs and milk. He laughed and cooked it personally for me. I’m a real rock star!!! On the way back to housing, we stop by the commissary and pick up some food to store and eat at our leisure. It’s amazing how much time you can spend in there looking at everything and not buy much.

Two hours later, we continue our stroll “home” and run into my boss from the deployment who tells me that he’s procured “drinks” for us back at the building. He explains that we don’t have to be anywhere until 1000 hours the next morning so we have some buffer time to sleep in. GAME ON! I have to tell you that I cook with more alcohol in a week than I drink in a year. Just the fact that we “can” now; I made it a point to get very drunk. ¾ of one beer later, I’m good to go. I notice that the floor is rocking back and forth, like a swing, but not spinning. I stagger back to my room and turn on the TV just to hear real commercials for a change. Before I fall asleep I have the epiphany that I’ve become a cheap date but after that long in the desert sober and being dehydrated, it wouldn’t take much.

Turning a Bit Dark, Informative, and Realistic

Morning comes too early, as always. I woke up very confused because I didn’t recognize where I was, my weapon was missing, and no on was shooting at me. How sad is it that those morning parameters are considered normal to me. I look around in a panic not really knowing what I should be looking at or looking for. I’m not really sure of what a “formal” or correctly defined panic attack is like but I think I was in the middle of one now. See, for us (combat veterans) we’re either OK or in panic/fighting mode. There really is no happy middle ground. It takes me about ten to fifteen minutes to calm myself down and make sense of what’s around me. I get past this little episode and start my day with briefings and medical processing.

Medical processing is where you enjoy going through a physical (without the dipstick treatment) with about two hundred other soldiers. The doctors check your hearing, breathing, reflexes, and other “normal” body functions. The most frustrating part for me was the hearing test. They place you in this sound booth with headphones and hand you a button on a cable. They tell you to listen carefully and when you hear a tone in the left or right ear, press the button. Long story short, I didn’t hear much. The part that irked me was when the tech told me my results; he stated that my hearing was still within “normal” parameters; never mind that I had dropped five points across the board from my last hearing test given to me before I left. Put practically, I have to turn my head slightly so that my left ear is facing you in order to hear clearly. It’s especially difficult when there’s background noise. The other tests went OK but I had similar results throughout the physical in some form or another.

After the physical, you get to spend time with the shrink. I really don’t like shrinks. The interview includes how are you feeling, any changes from when you left to when you returned, blah, blah, blah! All of this is being documented in order to track your health and to be able to improve on research and treatment for other soldiers. What’s the point? The answers include the following: I have nightmares pretty much every night, I can’t stand to be around people in general, I’ve become apathetic towards pretty much everything under the sun, I have no tolerance for anyone, I can go from zero to hostile at the drop of a hat, and I find that I don’t operate as sharp as I used to. After talking to guys that were in Vietnam, they reassured me that this is normal.

Let me give you some examples.

1. I’ve always been one that makes list in order to stay organized and accomplish tasks. Now I can’t operate without them at all. I lose focus or the drive to get things done.

2. I had blood work done because of feeling so jacked up and uneasy for so long. The doctor informs me that my cortisol levels are through the roof. Cortisol is the hormone secreted from your anterior (front) pituitary gland that takes over when adrenaline is used up.

3. I find not only do I not care for daily “events”, I’m apathetic towards things around me. It’s not that I’m not putting out effort to fit in or interact with society; I just don’t care to do so.

These are some of the many examples of what I, and many others, am going through. This is also the main reason I started to blog again. I wanted to feel a sense of normalcy. Blogging while I was in Iraq was a fun pastime for me, so I figured it would help me now. I just hope it provides my readers with some first hand insight and understanding as to why we behave the way we do after combat. Some soldiers become addicted to the adrenaline high so they do stupid things like speeding or reckless driving in order to achieve that high again. Others turn to alcohol, drugs or other paraphernalia in order to escape the memories, nightmares, feelings, and insecurity we’re not accustomed to. It’s truly an emotional roller coaster teetering between hostility and sorrow.

I find that sometimes I’m overwhelmed with sorrow and guilt because some of my soldiers died and I didn’t. Then the guilt doubles because I think of where would that leave my parents, my brothers and my sisters. I find that I’m not interested anymore in things I used to enjoy. Then I have the complete opposite in that I see something that acts as a trigger (a guy slapping a girl) and I’m filled with absolute rage. Not anger, not hostility (although that can come into play later) but complete and utter rage. If I’m confronted by the triggering mechanism (person, etc) I am already planning my escape route after either crippling him or killing him. I haven’t acted any of this out but I still have the emotions. What do I do to fight this? In my case, I had to be proactive. Like I said earlier, I had the blood work done and the doctor prescribed meds. One to pill was made to help wean me off of the cortisol (hormone) and the other to help me sleep. Some days are easier than others. What it boils down to is the fact that I had become so accustomed to the chaos, terror and horror of living in a combat zone that it had become normal for me to thrive in that environment.

After two weeks with the medical and administrative processing, I went home. Now that I’m back here I still don’t feel like “me”. I go through the motions of daily life as if I’m on autopilot but with no real interest in what I do. It’s as if I am going through my “role” only because it’s what’s expected of me. I don’t interact with too many friends outside of the Army because I just don’t have much interest in doing so. I work and I go home. I’ve been told that I’ve become “stand-offish” and it really doesn’t bother me. The sad thing is I’m one of the less severe cases that my family doctor has to deal with.

Now I realize that this posting has taken a dark turn from my normal, jovial, postings but I feel that, by sharing this, it might help someone else in my shoes or a family member trying to understand why their soldier is behaving so differently. My other goal for posting what’s going on with me is, I honestly don’t know. I know I feel better when I write but I’m frustrated at the same time.

I will continue to post on the changes in my life since I’ve been back. I hope that you will be patient and tolerant of these postings and I look forward to your feedback. See you soon.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Returning to Blogging

Dear Readers,

Yes, I realize that it’s been almost six months since my last posting. I have returned to the states and am still going through the “readjustment” period. I knew it would be a while but I honestly didn’t expect it to be this long. My doc (family doc not head shrinker) suggested I return to blogging as to provide me with a sense of “normalcy” as a pastime. Anyway, I am posting this along with some pictures from the completed mural with all the names on it and I've also included a video I completed before I left Iraq. I will start to add more postings to update you on the trip home, life since I’ve been back in the states, etc. I look forward to hearing from all of you again.


The Completed Mural

Details From Left Side

Details From Right Side


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Riding Off Into The Sunset

Dear Readers,

I'm sorry I haven't posted for a while but there's a pretty good reason. I've been training my replacement. So this will be the last posting I will make while I’m on the ground in Iraq. We’ve been gone from home for almost two years. Our task force has lost a total of 20 soldiers and even more have been wounded and sent stateside for their recovery. The “family” I’ve been with throughout this deployment has almost come to an end. At the current time we have not been told exactly when we’re leaving or arriving due to security reasons but we know it is somewhere in the next few days. Shortly after that, we’ll arrive in the states, and then back to our homes, our families, and our “lives” that we left so long ago.

I’ve spent my entire adult life as a soldier defending the principles America was founded on. My career with the Army has been mixed with different experiences, friends, and memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. In twenty-two years, this journey has taken me to all seven continents, fifty-six countries, and across cultures only read about in books. I’ve been to places that are considered significant for different reasons throughout history. I’ve lost friends along the way and gained more as life continues.

I’ve been there to witness the worst of atrocities, violence, and behavior that mankind is capable of. I’ve also been there to see the spirit of human “good” in the best and worst of times. I’ve seen people put their differences aside in order to save children, families, neighbors, and countries. I have been there passing through time witnessing and participating in moments of our history that will be remembered, studied, taught to future generations and eventually, forgotten. I’ve witnessed the Challenger explosion, the invasion of Panama and capture of Manuel Noriega, the invasion (and subsequent) liberation of Kuwait, the fall of the Soviet Union, the dismantling of Checkpoint Charlie, the Balkans war, the war in Rwanda, the war for Somalia, the attack on the United States on September 11th, the fall of Saddam Hussein, the global war on terrorism, the miracle of the first generation of children being born into a free Iraq, the deaths of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and others that have played a poignant part in history. I’ve seen our country endure through the challenges of different administrations. All of these events have happened while I and others like me have remained in the shadows of our history securing your freedoms and liberties.

As I’ve been receiving letters, cards, and messages of encouragement from all of you I cannot thank God enough for blessing me with such wonderful friends and readers. I feel that I’ve entered the “twilight” of my military career with more than I deserve. In my short life, I have seen and done more than most people three times my age.

In closing, I will probably not post for a while once I get back as I will spend my time getting reacquainted with being home, with friends and with family. I will enjoy the last couple of days here turning in equipment, saying goodbye to my rifle, updating phones and addresses in order to try to stay in touch. I will see some of my friends and family but I will make it a point to fade into obscurity as I finish this part of my journey and start another. In time, people will read and remember some of the postings I’ve made, but (like life always is) they will move on with their lives. I will do the same. One of the greatest privileges I’ve ever had has been to be a soldier for the United States. I never want anyone to feel sorry for me being gone from home, going to combat, or suffering as I have because of being a soldier. This is a life I’ve been granted and a duty that I have upheld to the best of my abilities. I’ve kept doing it for as long and as hard as I could because I was compelled to do so. God doesn’t send us where we want to go, he places us where we need to be. Again, I thank you for your prayers and support and wish you and yours well.

Coconut Commando

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Statistics & Percents

According to the CIA’s World Fact Book, the estimated population of the United States (in July 2007) is going to be around 301,139,947. Of that entire number, some three million (3,000,000) men and women comprise the active, reserve and National Guard units that serve in our military and our country. That’s all five branches- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. These are the men and women that are at both deployed and serving at home. That’s roughly about one percent (1%) of our population dedicated to protecting our way of life.

We must often endure long periods of separation from our loved ones and are called upon to put ourselves at risk of serious injury or death in order to protect the rest of America. Rest assured, we are an ALL volunteer force and none of us were pressed to join or drafted.

It would be very naïve to believe that all of us are angels. From time to time, we are informed of allegations of wrongdoing and criminal acts committed by our fellow military members. In such cases, we always owe them the benefit of the doubt due to the nature of the job and what the demands are of you. If America owes the presumption of innocence to anyone, they owe it to us.

While I don’t support censorship to the level that it had been taken to by other countries, like Iraq where the wrong word would get you & your family jailed, tortured and executed, I definitely don’t support the “watchdog” role that the media has taken “for the greater good”. I do, however, believe it is exceedingly detrimental to allow isolated incidents to cast a wider suspicion on America’s military members through the sensational media coverage such cases frequently receive. This type of “reporting” quickly chips away at America’s confidence in the institutions and people that protect it. It is also very demoralizing to us!

Wrongdoing by our fellow military members is very serious, is not tolerated and is treated as such. But instead of so much focus on the specific incidents, the media should be watching and reporting on the effectiveness of the internal systems we use to bring our own to justice.

The two prime examples include the prisoner abuse at Abu-Gharib and the marines accused of murdering civilians in different parts of the country. I am certain that all of you readers have at least a vague familiarity on both topics. Unlike America’s “Justice System”, our system is one that should be studied and used as the standard. The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is respected, feared, and taught to us from day one in the military. It can be something handles at a level of administrative counseling, on the spot corrections/actions (push ups), demotions, extra duty, loss of pay, and (in severe cases) jail or executions.

The punishments here fit the crime. Did you also know that “A jury of your peers” is exactly that? The jury isn’t chosen base upon how little they know through the media, how neutral they are on a topic, or how much the book rights will sell for (OJ jurors). They are chosen based upon the experiences, careers and similarities of both the prosecution and the defendant’s background. For example, if one of my soldiers were to be brought up for a court marshal (UCMJ speak for trial or pre-trial) the juries would likely consist of males between the ages of 19 to 35, combat MOS (Military Occupational Skill-your job in the military), combat veteran, have been deployed to the same theater my Joes have, and have been in the military at least seven years. If it was me, my jury would have different parameters to match my jury as “my peers”. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Did you also know that the UCMJ has the death penalty for certain cases of rape? And the media calls our justice system “outdated”.

We do have problem soldiers and criminals in the military. I would be lying to you if I said different. We have our own justice system for dealing with them. Remember that we make up about 1% of America’s population. Soldiers that commit crimes while in the military make up an even less percentage than that. What’s a small percent of 1%? I’m not sure, but you get the idea. It’s a pity that all of this is overshadowed by the sensationalism that the media presents.

Unfortunately, reporting the sensational brings in the ratings and is better for business. I have witnessed a reporter here stating, “My editor taught me that if it bleeds, it leads”. The funny irony is that I wonder if he would like to make the headlines for being punched in the mouth for saying something stupid like that. I didn’t do it but, I really fought the urge to. I don’t think that all reporters believe the same way but sometimes you wonder.

We have accomplished so much good in this country that it would make your head spin if you were to compare the numbers and actions from before Saddam and after. We will continue to do good things here to the best of our ability. All that we ask is that, in the future, you hold the media accountable for their “Leading Stories” and don’t judge us by the few rotten apples we have in the batch. Remember, there were more murders in New York during the last few months than there were GI deaths in Iraq (cheap shot on Sen. Clinton but you get the point). We will handle our own criminals, keep the media out of it!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Remember Memorial Day

As many of you know, this is another Memorial Day away from home but closer to the real meaning of the holiday than most will ever know. We had a break in that we were able to stop for about two hours to remember our fallen brothers and sisters that aren’t here with us any longer. They are the ones that have joined the ranks of many that came before them. Last night (or rather EARLY) Memorial Day, we were greeted with 95˚ temperatures at 0100 hours and a sandstorm with hurricane (Category 1) strength winds. Once the sun was up, we dug out and repaired the damage all the while keeping an eye out for those that are trying to kill us at every opportunity. This is just a fact of life here. For me, one day is exactly like the rest. After being gone so long, it just gets that way. At times I can tell you what the date is but still have no clue as to what day of the week it is.

Across America, different celebrations will kick off with family gatherings, meals spent together and (my personal favorite) everything on sale because the sole purpose of veterans dying in combat is for people to save a buck on a new mattress or refrigerator. As the celebrations are starting, we’ll continue to aggressively search for our four MIA (Missing in Action) soldiers that have been lost to us. As we search, I find myself praying for them, their families, and the others soldiers here that are not giving up hope of finding them.

Despite the horror of the recent kidnappings, there is a lot of good coming out of Iraq. You won’t see it or know about it back home because it doesn’t get ratings. Al Qaeda is having very hard times lately as the locals have grown increasingly tired of the bombings and have now begun to openly hunt Al Qaeda in multiple areas of Iraq. Iraqis are standing up in defiance of this extremism and beginning to fight back and kick Al Qaeda’s a** from town to town, literally putting them on the run. The news seems very reluctant to report on this progress, and those “supportive” politicians running for office are conveniently oblivious to any shred of truth going on in Iraq. As we remain vigilant and aware of the big picture here, we place our real focus on our piece of the pie and count down the days until our time here is done.

As I finish this posting, I can tell you that we've had a total of twenty (20)soldiers that have sacrificed their lives that others may live. Please take the time to stop and remember, pray for and thank those that have given all for your freedom. Don’t let their lives, their sacrifices and their families be replaced with a “Four-day holiday weekend and sales”.

Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two-dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War: a hymn published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping" by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead".

While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it's difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860's tapped into the general human need to honor our dead, each contributed honorably to the growing movement that culminated in Gen Logan giving his official proclamation in 1868. It is not important who was the very first, what is important is that Memorial Day was established. Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order Number 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 - 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays), though several southern states have an additional separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee.

In 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields”, Moina Michael replied with her own poem:
We cherish too, the Poppy red that grows on fields where valor led.
It seems to signal to the skies that blood of heroes never dies.

She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Ms. Michael and when she returned to France, made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children's League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help. Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans' organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their “Buddy” Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms. Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3-cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.

Traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored, neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country.

There are a few notable exceptions. Since the late 50's on the Thursday before Memorial Day, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. In 1951, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts of St. Louis began placing flags on the 150,000 graves at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery as an annual Good Turn, a practice that continues to this day. More recently, beginning in 1998, on the Saturday before the observed day for Memorial Day, the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts place a candle at each of approximately 15,300 grave sites of soldiers buried at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on Marye's Heights (the Luminaria Program). And in 2004, Washington D.C. held its first Memorial Day parade in over 60 years.

To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution was passed on Dec 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans "To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to 'Taps."

The Moment of Remembrance is a step in the right direction to returning the meaning back to the day. What is needed is a full return to the original day of observance. Set aside one day out of the year for the nation to get together to remember, reflect and honor those who have given their all in service to their country.

But what may be needed to return the solemn, and even sacred, spirit back to Memorial Day is for a return to its traditional day of observance. Many feel that when Congress made the day into a three-day weekend in with the National Holiday Act of 1971, it made it all the easier for people to be distracted from the spirit and meaning of the day. As the VFW stated in its 2002 Memorial Day address, "Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day”. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day."

On January 19, 1999 Senator Inouye introduced bill S 189 to the Senate, which proposes to restore the traditional day of observance of Memorial Day back to May 30th instead of "the last Monday in May". On April 19, 1999 Representative Gibbons introduced the bill to the House (H.R. 1474). The bills were referred the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Government Reform. To date, there have been no further developments on the bill.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Interesting Survey Questions

Dear Readers,

One of our soldiers has a cousin that is involved with an online discussion group about the war here -- she (the soldier’s cousin) asked for feedback on the questions below. After it was mentioned to a few of us, I thought it would be interesting to see what my readers think, so I'm posting the questions with my answers for all of you to read. If you have the time (and interest) please feel free to answer the questions and sent your responses to me. I am very interested in your feedback and thoughts on this one.

1.) After having been there now for a while, why do you think we are there? And has your feeling/understanding changed at all about why we are there?
If nothing else, to help the Iraqi people move forward in order for them to insure a positive solid future for themselves, their families and their countries. This will insure at least one more ally in the Middle East for future joint endeavors. My feelings on the reason why I was deployed have not changed one bit.

2.) Do most of your comrades want to be there?
Yes and no, "Yes" for the same reason stated in question number one and no because none of us enjoy being away from our families. But we do the job anyway because we are compelled to do so.

3.) Do most of you think you are doing a good thing there?
Yes! Since we (Coalition Forces) have been here, they have had democratic free elections, appointed a mixed governing body, been allowed to freely express their thoughts and ideas through television, radio & newspapers, have started to genuinely rebuild their infrastructure (water, electricity, health care, etc) and the first generation of "Free Iraqis" has been born. These are things that a lot of Americans have taken for granted.

4.) Do you think people can support the troops, but not the war? Do you find it contradictory?
People can support the troops but not the war is the same asinine ideology of "I smoked but didn't inhale". How can you support me but not what I do? My job is not one that many people can (or won't) do. I do my job to the best of my abilities and the people here that have experienced the suffering from Saddam's regime see us as their liberators. They also understand that it took decades for the country to get to this state and the recovery is not going to be overnight. The American public (as a whole) enjoys instant gratification and this is something that is being sold to them by politicians. Now that the war hasn't been "short", they are all jumping on the bandwagon in order to insure their future reelection employment while under the guise of "support the troops". It would be the same if I were to say that I support firemen but not what they do because they speed through traffic and break things to get the job done. Or I support the police but not the fact that they will arrest me when I break the law. You can't have it both ways.

5.) What would you tell someone who thinks it is ONLY about oil?
Give up your life in comfort, time with your family, civilian career, freedom and sanity. Enlist, then do a year-long tour over here, then come and talk to me about the oil. Or stay faithfully married to one of our soldiers, raise the children while we're gone, take care of everything at home for us, and pray every night that we've survived to see another sunrise. Until you've done all of that, you haven't EARNED the right to express any opinion on what is going on over here.

6.) If you had ten minutes on CNN, what would you find most important to convey to the American people about Iraq?
I wouldn't trust CNN to get me a slurpee at 7-11, much less with anything as important as reliable news. They tote themselves as being "The Most Trusted News Source" on the air. If you believe that, send me all of your money now so I can invest it on beachfront property for you here. If you want the truth, talk face to face with a veteran that has just returned from here.

7.) Do you feel you have the support of most Americans?
Yes I do, I just feel sorry for all of the Americans that are following the "Sheep" mentality and believing the politicians who haven't bothered to change their course of idealism (bordering on fantasy) about what being at war means or to fight for the principles and freedoms they wield without any forethought to the outcome as long as they remain elected. As you're reading my answers, stop and think to yourself, "What did I feel on September 11th as we were being attacked?" Always remember this because politicians seem to have forgotten it in favor of popularity and election results.

The additional questions I have for all of you are these:

1)Do you honestly think that we are “losing” the war as politicians say?

2)Do you think that a complete American troop withdrawal is the solution to what is going on here?

3)What do you propose as a reliable plan for “ending” the war?

4)Do you think that the US should put pressure on other coalition forces and the UN to “step up” and be more proactive about their roles here?

5)Do you support us (the troops) but not the war, and why?

6)Should reporters be embedded or allowed access to soldiers and operations as they are now, or should they be “reigned in” like in WWII and other wars? Why?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

No More Blogging For The Commando?

I received an interesting question from Conservative Beach Girl, whose web blog can be reached at-

“I just heard Army has said no more blogging from Iraq. Is it true or false?”

Currently, that I’m aware of, the Army has not instituted a “no-blogging policy” for us (at least here). If they have, we haven’t gotten it through distribution, yet. We do have to submit all of our future postings for screening to our local IMO (Information Management Officer) in order for him to advise us of any OPSEC (Operational Security) violations, comments aimed at specific personnel in order to undermine their authority, or any other issues with the posting that would reflect negatively on me as a soldier. We, as leaders also remain proactive in assisting the IMO if he’s not sure or he needs help screening postings and blogs in general. Now I feel this doesn’t limit me in any way because of the topics I post about but it does provide me with a challenge in order to inform the general public about things that are going on here without giving away things that my readers simply just don’t need to know. And as much as certain politicians, policies, media, and other topics tend to get under my skin, I make it a point to wait a few days in order to calm down and generate a posting that remains clear, informative, funny, and entertaining to all of my readers.

With that being said, I will admit to you that some of the people I’ve been stationed with in the past haven’t seen eye to eye with me over different issues ranging from books, cars, fishing, surfing, art, history, leadership styles, mission parameters and specifics. But that’s not a license for me to “drop the dime” over something trivial which can potentially cost lives here and at home. Remember, TERRORISTS HAVE ACCESS TO THE INTERNET TOO!!!! Besides, the same terrorists have cells and sympathizers in the states too which would allow them to target you while we’re here. Yes, this is true so don’t go fooling yourself into thinking different.

I’ve listed some of the excerpts from the MNC-I (Multi National Corps-Iraq) policy covering web sites, blogs, and blogging. Here are the two key policies that jump out and we stress on our soldiers:

MNC-I personnel who post web logs must register the URL at which the blog is posted with their unit.

Service members in violation to this policy may be subject to adverse administrative action or punishment under the UCMJ. DoD civilians and DoD contractor personnel may be subject to adverse administrative action.

In short, it means that you need to register your web site and/or blog with the IMO for approval and subsequent monitoring for any violations. The second one lets you know that if you don’t follow the first rule, you’ll be held accountable.

This is a link to the Military Information Technology web site that covers an article on this topic published in September of 2005 (the most recent one I could find). I think you should read it to gain a better insight as to the reasons why the Army pushes this policy. It’s not because of being an “Overlord” army; it’s for the safety, concern for the soldier and the CYA factor.

As much as I've enjoyed blogging in order to share a majority of the experience, I agree very much with the policy for several reasons. First, security, if the general public reads blogs for their own information, so does the media, and so do terrorist. It’s an easy venue for gathering information. Two, it teaches and instills the discipline and self-responsibility for the soldiers that have never been deployed to a combat zone before to think before they speak/write. Three, it also allows for the IMO (Information Management Officer) to not only insure that the OPSEC (Operational Security) protocols are being adhered to, and he will also “advertise” your blog as a safe blog to visit within the network of web sites that apply to your unit. For example, my blog is listed as a link on several different military, family and troop support blogs and web sites.

As I am a big supporter of freedom of speech and expression, I (and my brothers & sisters in arms) gave that up when we swore in. That in itself has taught me self control and clear focus when I speak verbally and write letters, blog postings and memos. I hope this will grant you a bit of insight form a Joe on the ground. I hope this note finds you and yours doing well.