Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

I hope everyone is having a wonderful day. While we are relieved to have our son home from Iraq for Christmas, we are mindful of those who are overseas and our prayers are with them.

Mark was home last year but a pending deployment to Baghdad was in the room with us. Everyone is much more relaxed today. No talk of a redeployment.

A good friend of ours who had a story published in USA Today Friday was the focus of The Florida Times-Union Christmas edition. I've attached a link on the sidebar.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

War memorial is full

This is from Kevin Maurer from the Fayetteville Observer:

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Wolf Amacker can tell a story about almost every paratrooper whose name is etched into the 82nd Airborne Division’s memorial to the war on terror.

He can tell you about a woman helicopter pilot shot down over Fallujah. He knows how a rifleman died in the mountains of Afghanistan, how a soldier jumped into a canal in Iraq to save his buddies trapped in a Humvee and never surfaced.

When Amacker dedicated the memorial in 2005, three of the sides were blank. Today, the monument is full.

“We’re out of room,” Amacker said. “I really thought it would be big enough.”

Some of the division’s former and retired sergeant majors and officers, led by Amacker, are trying to raise money to expand the monument.

Eighty-nine Fort Bragg soldiers —more than 60 in Iraq alone — have been killed in 2007. Three times in 2007, seven or more 82nd soldiers died in Iraq in a single incident. The division has lost more soldiers this year than in any year since the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq began, according to 82nd officials.

The memorial — a 26,000-pound granite column — is located behind the 82nd Airborne museum on Fort Bragg. “In memory of the Paratroopers who gave their lives in support of the Global War on Terrorism” is written across the front.

USA Today

A good friend of ours, Madeleine Tavares, had a piece published in yesterday's USA Today called "As my kids serve, I feel pride and panic." Her son is in Army in Iraq and her daughter is in the Peace Corps in Kenya. I've posted the link in the sidebar on the right side of the blog.

Madeleine organized our Military Support Network here. It is made up of mostly parents of Marines and soldiers. We meet occasionally for coffee or drinks and swap stories. It has been a big morale booster for all of us....and her story yesterday kind of sums it up.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A request from the "other war"

Letter from Jesse Koehler, FOB Hades, 82nd Airborne

As you may know, one of our missions in Afghanistan is to win the hearts and minds of the people. The United States being in the Middle East gives us the chance to show the Islamic community what Americans are all about. It opens their eyes to see the compassion that we have as a society, not just for our own people but, for ALL people regardless of religious, political, or cultural views.

They see something more than what MTV or soap operas show them. We are asking for your assistance to help accomplish this mission.

If you would like to make a huge difference with something so small, here’s how. Our local elementary school needs 1st grade level reading material. Anything you can come up with would be greatly appreciated. Remember, the Afghani people are amazed by the simple things that we take for granted. So, sky’s the limit.

Our district sponsors a local soccer adult soccer team. These guys are extremely talented. It’s only a matter of time before they are in the World Cup. However, they could use some equipment to help make them elite amongst the districts in the province. Some of these guys have so much love for the game and play without shoes because they are so poor. Even used uniforms would be welcomed with great admiration.

Again, anything you can think of would be more than what they have now. We just had an new orphanage open up. Many children become homeless either to illnesses, unsafe living conditions, or the Taliban killing their parents for taking pro-government jobs. The very people who risk their lives to help make Afghanistan a better place are targeted for not allowing the Taliban to suppress them or their children.

Before International intervention, these orphans would go homeless. They would either be recruited by the Taliban or starve to death. Now, we can offer a community for these young boys. However, we need to get them clothed this winter. As I mentioned in the newsletter, Afghanistan can get down to 30 below in some places.

Obviously, most of Afghanistan does not have central heating. At best, families can hover around an old small pot belly stove. That is if they can afford any type of wood. Unfortunately, wood is considered a luxury. I understand that the cost for shipping such items can be unforgiving. If I could recommend a group participation. That way, no one person will have to take the blunt of the cost. I really do appreciate anything you all can do.

GOD bless you all.

Jesse Koehler , HHC 508th STB 82nd FOB


Jesse Koehler

HHC 508th STB 82nd


APO AE 09354

Monday, December 17, 2007

Off topic: Hopeless romantic

My oldest son Mike beat the cold front and headed to Key West for his birthday with his girl friend Tara and his brother Mark. On Saturday, at sunset on Mallory Square, he got down on one knee and proposed to Tara. The crowd around him was chanting "Say, yes. Say, yes." She started crying and, of course, said yes. Soon we will have another Mrs. Middlebrook in the family.

He called his mother later and summed up the weekend:

Great birthday;
Getting married;
Jaguars beat the Steelers.

All-in-all, a memorable weekend. What a romantic.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Time flies

Dec. 15 is always a big day for us. My oldest son Mike was born on a snowy day in Williamsburg, Virginia 26 years ago.

Last year, as we prepared to celebrate his birthday, we received a call from his brother Mark. We had just returned from the Green Ramp at Ft. Bragg seeing Mark arrive home from Iraq with the rest of his battalion. He had arrived six days earlier.

The phone call? At formation, they were given a pre-deployment notice. They were going back in less than three weeks, this time to Baghdad.

So today, we celebrate Mike's birthday but we are not answering any phone calls from Ft. Bragg.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Moon over Iraq

SPC Mark weighs in with another post:

The guy next to me leaned to my ear and said, "One

I turned to my left and repeated it to the
man next me.

Sat forward and strained to untangle
myself from the cargo net on which I was sitting. Reached
down and opened the feed cover tray on my M-249 SAW.
Ran my hand across the feed tray and grabbed the charging
handle. With a little force, I locked the bolt the
rear. Fumbled in the darkness and finally grabbed the
belt of ammo hanging from its pouch. It was so dark
my eyes may as well have been closed. Blind and
alone surrounded by my fellow paratroopers, I loaded my
light machine gun. Slapped the cover shut and placed
the weapon on safe.

The bird banked hard and shuddered back and forth. I
could feel the rapid descent in my stomach and then
through the noise someone yelled "THIRTY SECONDS!''

Adrenaline shot through my body. I took a deep
breath, looked up and asked God to spare me. The
bird seemingly crash landed and hit with a solid

"GO! GO! GO!''

Guys are falling over each other. Blind and
confused, I stood and turned toward the ramp. On my
feet, my body strained from the heavy load. I began to
run off the helicopter.- everything in slow

I couldn't tell whether the loud thump was the
chop of the bird or the heavy beat of my own heart.
When I got to the the ramp, I was stopped dead in my
tracks from what I saw.

In that short hour on the helicopter, I had been
teleported to another world. I was no longer in the
desert but in a lush jungle. Ten-foot tall grass
being fanned out in every direction from the massive
rotor blades. A brilliantly lit full moon
illuminated everything from the clear sky, giving it a sort of silver lining.

I stepped off the ramp and dropped straight to my knees.
The ramp, which I totally misjudged, was at least two feet off the ground.

Under several layers of thick grass were a couple inches of water and, in a half second,
my boots and knees were already soaked.

"AHH!" I thought.

For a second, I thought I was in Vietnam in a rice paddy. Picking myself
up, It started to run off at a 45-degree angle from the ramp. All the men were falling into a half moon around the tail of the aircraft. Found my spot and crashed in the mud. Extended the tripod on my weapon and flipped my night vision down over my eyes.

The bird throttled hard and the wind and grass and
dust whipped violently. In an instant
the bird was gone. All was quiet. The grass stood
back up and I disappearred. Breathing heavily and nervously. Time slowed as a bead of
sweat rolled down my forehead.

With a blink, I look down at the beer I'm holding in hand as a drop of condensation rolls over my fingers. The wind starts to blow and the cold moisture a chills my face. With a deep
breath, I look skyward at the full moon looking back at
me. I peer into the clear starlight sky over Ft.
Bragg, N.C., blinking slowly.

With another deep breath, I lower my head and turn back to the barracks, beer in hand.

I can still smell the grass.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Off topic: The one percenters go to Washington

On Wednesday, Gayle attended a reception for artists who had decorated ornaments for one of the many trees in the White House. It was our first - and probably only - invitation to a White House function. First Lady Laura Bush chose National Parks as the theme this year and we have two here in Jacksonville. The superintendent asked Gayle to do the ornament for Fort Caroline National Memorial.

Mark was the first choice as the guest but he had to jump out of a perfectly good airplane at Ft. Bragg Wednesday and couldn't make it. I was the guest of last resort.

With all of its history, the White House can be a very intimidating place. Wolf Blitzer from CNN was interviewing the President upstairs in the Map Room while we were there and the leaders from Israel and Palestine had been in the Rose Garden earlier. Yikes.

The picture below was taken by acclaimed wildlife artist Michael Glenn Monroe who happened to be walking by with his family. He did the Holiday in the National Parks booklet artwork for the White House. His work can be found at www.mikemonroeart.com

At the north entrance to the White House.

Looking out from the State Dining Room

It's up there somewhere.

The Fort Caroline National Memorial ornament

First Lady Laura Bush welcomes the artists, decorators and their guests.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Soldier's Wife

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette has put together a very thoughtful multi-media story that follows the family of an Arkansas National Guard soldier during his 15-month tour in Iraq. It's called The Soldier's Wife and it is referenced in two places on the blog sidebar. The photographs are very, very personal and say much about how much families must endure during a deployment.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday

I'm not sure when the media termed the biggest shopping day of the year as Black Friday. I don't remember that term when I was wandering the floors of the newsroom way back in my first career.

At any rate, 23 years ago today at eight minutes past Thanksgiving Day, our airborne trooper arrived in this world. Little did we know then.

In 1984 with Vietnam still fresh in our memories, I don't think we could have ever imagined the events of 9/11 and the wars that have followed. Or that we would ever have a son who went off to war.

But he his home now. And we are very grateful (and mindful of those who are still overseas).

So today he and his brothers are out doing their part to make sure retail sales are not so bleak. No Black Fridays here.

What do you give a soldier son who appears to have everything? This year it will be a hug and a "Thank God you are back!"

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Military Appreciation Day

Sunday was Military Appreciation Day at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. We were lucky enough to have a few tickets to see the Jaguars take on the San Diego Chargers. There was the requisite flyover by four A-10 Thunderbolts and lots of fireworks.

The featured hometown hero was a soldier from the 82nd Airborne who sent a video message to the fans and his family from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

At halftime, 125 young men and women took the oath of enlistment for all branches of service administered by a general officer from White Sands, New Mexico. After the oath, Phil Stacey, of American Idol fame and a sailor himself, sang "Proud to be an American." Needless to say, Gayle and I were a bit overwhelmed.

As part of the ceremony, fans in six sections in the north end zone (left hand side of the picture) where we were sitting were to hold up cards on cue that would form a giant American flag. The stunt would take all of 60 seconds.

But the seven folks in the row ahead of us couldn't be bothered. About halfway through the song they bolted for the concession stands.

Gayle and I were both a bit incensed. After all, these 125 men and women, this was an important day. They deserved more than a dash for food.

A woman behind us tapped Gayle on the shoulder.

"They just don't get it."

She was right.

Her husband is a helicopter pilot who had just returned from Tikrit.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Still smiling

It's been a very busy week. Lots of meetings with cranky folks still reeling from the effects of last week's new moon. Normally by Friday, I'd be a little cranky as well.

But as I sat down at the computer, I noticed my deployment countdown calendar gathering dust on the bookshelf. Hadn't touched it two weeks. No reason to. And I had to smile.

The smiles are tempered with the notion that there are still thousands upon thousands of sons and daughters still overseas and thousands more going. Our military support group meets tonight at a local restaurant. We will toast the sons who are home and pray for the those who are there, have just left or are going.

If there is an upside to all of this, it is the truly remarkable and courageous people we have met in the last two years. God bless them all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Coping strategy, number one

Getting through last 15 months with a son in Iraq wasn't easy. To help us get through it, we devised a couple of "coping" strategies to keep our minds off what we were seeing on TV. Here's the first one:
Her name is Olustee and she is a three-year old border collie (much younger in this picture). If you know anything about border collies, you know they are very busy dogs and not the best fit for everyone. But she is perfect for us. She is always eager for a romp in the yard. Because Gayle and I both work out of the house, we are always here and she is ready to play at a moment's notice. She is a great distraction.

Of course, when we got her, we were with the 99 percenters and the war was over there. She was the runt of an 11-pup litter and my oldest son has her sister, Bodie. Both dogs were so small when they arrived in Florida, we had to keep them in a covered pen for fear that they would fall prey to our neighborhood broad-winged hawk.

My airborne trooper is partial to our older pound puppy who never learned to play with people. She was two years old when we adopted her. She is very friendly malumute-German shepherd mix with a ferocious bark.

At any rate, whenever we felt a bit down, a thirty minute frisbee toss with Olustee would cheer up all concerned and we could move on.

Both dogs like to ride in trucks, especially new ones. But I don't think they were so lucky this time.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. There is a chorus of voices today across the country who will pause to say "Thank you" to those who are serving, those who will serve and those who have served before us. Please join that chorus today and thank a veteran for all they have done for us.

I've attached a link on the Recently Read sidebar called "Wounds of War." It's a story about three Red Falcon soldiers who were wounded in a mortar attack 13 months ago. It's a sobering reminder about the meaning of Veterans Day.

Economic boomlet

Fayetteville, N.C., home to the 82nd Airborne Division, has been on hard times because the entire division has been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq for the better part of a year. After all, Ft. Bragg is a $4.5 billion a year economic engine for the city.

But 3rd Brigade is back and the Red Falcons, 1-325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, arrived Nov. 3.

So after 15 months on deployment, an amazing display of penned up, restrained consumer desire of thousands of soldiers was unleashed on Fayetteville and points near by last week. The targets of opportunity? XBoxes, HD televisions, and, of course, the pick-up trucks. And who can blame them.

But for all of us parents who believed it was the care packages, letters, and thoughts of loved ones that helped get them through deployment, think again. .....It was the dream of a new pick up truck.

Truck of choice for our trooper: 2008, extended cab, 4X4, GMC Sierra 1500 with a Z71 package. It's big enough to carry him and his whole platoon. :)

Friday, November 9, 2007

To do, don't do lists

Everybody has to-do lists. But with the arrival of our airborne trooper back to the U.S., our daily to-do list has changed dramatically:

  • Don't have to keep a countdown calendar (On Oct. 31, the calendar showed he had 71, 63, 57 and 12 days to go based on what we had been hearing. In fact he had three days left);
  • Don't have to keep a clock set to Baghdad time;
  • Don't have to watch CNN;
  • Don't have to check about a dozen different Iraq websites;
  • Don't have to read Stars & Stripes or the Fayetteville Observor on a daily basis;
  • Don't have to write a daily letter or make a weekly video newsletter;
  • No more shopping for care packages;
  • No more manning the telephone seven days a week;
  • Don't have to check Baghdad weather (It was always hot);
  • No more cruising around Baghdad via Google Earth;
  • Don't have to compare Baghdad news stories with a Baghdad street map.

In short, we have a 12-month vacation ahead of us and we are much relieved.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Family get-togethers

Bravo, Delta and elements of HHC companies arriving at the Green Ramp on Saturday.

At Sports USA Sunday afternoon

To paraphrase an TV advertisement (I hate doing this, but it works):

Jacksonville Jaguar jerseys: $80

Beer, wings, onion rings, cheeseburgers, etc.: $85

First family get-together without a deployment in the future: priceless.

We have been fortunate to have several family gatherings in the past, but for the last two years there has always been the specter of an overseas deployment sitting in the room with us. Last year, before Mark's unit was scheduled to redeploy to the States, there had been persistent Joe rumors about being extended. When they finally arrived in the States, they had been here for six days when they were told they were heading back. Block leave was cut short and they took off on Jan. 4.

At least he was home for the holidays.

This year, no rumors. So we are allowing ourselves to relax and knowing he is going to be around for awhile.

But we know that for every ounce of euphoria we feel, there is a pound of anxiety being felt by a family whose son has been sent back overseas.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Boots on the ground

SPC Mark is on the ground and turning in equipment. Family status: Mom - jubilant; Dad - numb; Brothers - happy. SPC Mark is worn out, as expected.

Friday, November 2, 2007

More smiles to come

This was taken in June at Jacksonville International Airport when Mark was home for R&R. We are counting hours now.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween Ponte Vedra Style

I moved from Gloucester Point, Virginia to Jacksonville, Florida on Halloween 24 years ago. I had taken a job with The Florida Times-Union as a reporter and expected to be at the paper for three to five years on a career path that would have landed me with a national daily in Washington D.C. (glad that didn't happen).

When Gayle joined me two months later, we moved into a Ponte Vedra Beach neighborhood of squat, solid brick ranchers, home to many retired military. We were the new kids, part of a new wave that would transform the neighborhood.

By the time our airborne trooper was 10, our neighborhood was wall-to-wall with kids and Halloween was the event. Refugees from nearby gated communities would come here because it was the place to be.

About five years ago, the kids started disappearing. They had all grown up, gone to college or to work and some to war.

Last year only two trick-or-treaters showed up.

But a new wave appeared last night. About 50 assorted goblins, ghosts and their young parents came to the door. The kids were all younger than 10, including one in a stroller. The highlight was a well-spoken fairy princess, barely three years old.

When she came to the door, she stumbled and fell.

"Are you OK?"

"I'm fine," she said. "It happens all the time."

When she disappeared into the dark with her parents, she called out, "Bye, Big Man!"

Big Man indeed. Gayle and I laughed. Looking at my waist line, the fairy princess was dead on.

But this Halloween, the Big Man is somewhere over there sleeping in a cramped charter flight with his M203 and his assault pack or waiting for the next flight with 125 other Big Men.

Last Halloween, he was stuck in an irrigation ditch carrying a SAW gun, 1,000 rounds of ammo and a spare barrel. This Halloween, he is fiddling with his IPod on his way home.

What a difference a year makes.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Jumped the gun but it's OK

Yesterday, I posted that Mark was in Kuwait awaiting transport back to the States. It turns out that I was wrong. I misread the fact that he hadn't checked in as evidence that he was in transit.

While we were out to a luncheon yesterday, he left a message saying he was still at BIAP as in Baghdad International Airport.....as in BAGHDAD.

Needless to say, I started the day today in a very dark, poisonous funk. Even my little border collie couldn't cheer me up. But the Family Readiness Group (FRG), God bless them, weighed in a little while ago and said all of Bravo Company is Kuwait.

And Mark followed with an e-mail to his Mom: "well i'm in a place i've been before... it starts with a K and ends with UWAIT." He will be out bound shortly and on schedule for a Saturday arrival at the Green Ramp, Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina.

Me oh my!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In Kuwait, Ain't it Great!

We've been up well before dawn this morning trying to figure out where the Red Falcons are. Based on the e-mail traffic from the Family Readiness Group (FRG) yesterday and the lack of e-mails and phone calls from Mark, we believe they are in Kuwait.

In Kuwait.

Not in the CZ (combat zone).

15 months.

455 days.

27,300 hours.

We'd exhale but we are breathless.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Honorary One Percenters: The bank girls

Early in our son's first deployment to Iraq, our good friends at People's First Bank here in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida decided to adopt Mark for the duration of his stay overseas. They shopped and cooked for him. They sent supplies, brownies and kept a wall of pictures of him in Iraq. When he came home from R&R, there they were with signs and banners out on A1A. On more than one occasion, I dropped by the bank and he had just called or they were talking with him as I walked in.

We have been very blessed by the support Mark has received from so many people during the last 15 months. As Tiffany correctly pointed out in "Halloween Iraq Style," that when he got home from his Halloween mission, there, on his bunk, was a box of Halloween goodies from the "bank girls." These folks are special and we can't thank them enough.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Team colors

Every year, Jacksonville plays host to one of the great football rivalries, the Florida-Georgia game a.k.a. the world's largest cocktail party.

So in making my rounds this a.m. - convenience store, post office etc. - almost everyone is wearing team colors: Blue and orange if you are a Gator, red and black if you are a Bulldog.

Today, I am wearing my team's colors that happen to be red and white - for the Red Falcons, the 1st battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

New era communications

Recently, there was a rocket attack on a U.S. facility in Iraq where the son of a friend of mine is currently posted. The official U.S. Army press release noted that no one was injured in the attack. But she hasn't heard from him so she was a little worried.

That brings to point the wide variety of experiences parents and spouses have in communicating with their soldiers and Marines on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan. In remote areas, access to phone or Internet maybe nearly impossible. In other areas, soldiers may have access to web cams for direct conversations with loved ones.

My wife and I are among of the lucky ones.

Our son has been in Baghdad. He has a cell phone and cell service and calls almost every day.

The conversations goes like this:

Dad: "What's going on?"
Son: "It's going."
Dad: "What are you up to?"
Son: "Talking to you."

At this point, the conversation reaches checkmate. He can't tell us what he is doing. And we don't really want to know what he is doing. For the last 15 months, he has been living the war and we've been following it. Not much else to talk about.

But we feel very fortunate for the daily contact and, frankly, our day doesn't really start until he checks in (some days, he can't...so we speculate on what's going on and we are almost always wrong.)

A couple of Sundays ago, we received a phone call around 8 p.m. It came up PrivDirOff, which means our call blocker is off and it's the only way he can get through. At this time of night, it's usually someone soliciting contributions. But I bit and answered the phone.

He was there.

"Is there a problem, everything OK?"

"Everything is fine. We just got back in. How'd the Jaguars do?"

So here we are. It's 4 a.m. He's been out doing whatever he does and his top of mind concern when he's back is how the local NFL team did (they won by the way).

Unimaginable in wars past.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Butter and Sugar Sandwiches

Today's guest is Deborah Gianoulis Heald. Deb and I are old friends. I worked for her years ago when she was the co-anchor at our local powerhouse TV station. We hadn't seen much of each other over the years but the war in Iraq has changed that. Her son is a Marine and just returned from his first deployment. My son will be home soon, God willing. I doubt that we could have ever imagined two decades ago that our little guys would now be doing some very, very heavy lifting overseas.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to make us butter and sugar sandwiches. I loved the sweet gritty sugar creamed with butter on fresh out of the bag wonder bread. It was a treat.

My mother was a child during World War II and as we ate our favorite snack she would tell us that families had so little then, every family had to sacrifice to support the war effort. You had to learn to live without the staples like butter and sugar, she explained, so there was enough for everyone to share. Each time you did without something you remembered the soldiers, who at the time included all five of my mother’s uncles. Strangely, this doing without experience, was a happy memory for my mother.

I read a statistic the other day that brought that taste of butter and sugar sandwiches to my memory and a dry, sour taste to my mouth. In this war, the war in Iraq, less than one percent of Americans are being asked to sacrifice. We are the families of the all volunteer military. Many, like our son, signed up after our nation was struck by terrorists on September 11, 2001. He told us he believed young men without families to support should be the first to defend our nation so children will not be left fatherless by war. He simply could not imagine growing up without his dad.

I remember after 911 how all Americans, how the whole world grieved with the families who lost their loved ones that horrible day. We all wanted desperately to do something to help, to somehow share their terrible loss. But as the weeks went by and the TV and cable networks returned to regular programming, the President asked us all to go shopping to support the economy.

Now, the sixth anniversary of 911 has passed, and we have entered the fifth year of war against a country that we now know had no role in attacking us then, or developing the weapons to attack us later, 99% of Americans have never been asked to share the burden of war. There has been no doing without experience, except for the few families who are missing a piece of their heart. And with so many Reservists and National Guard fighting this war, there are children waking up every day without their fathers.

In the midst of his training, while home on leave, my son and I were driving on A-1-A near our home when he said, “ I would like to pull up next to all the cars with the “support our troops” ribbon on the back and ask, “What are you willing to do to support us? What are you willing to sacrifice?”

On behalf of my son and all the others serving who believe what we have in this nation is worth fighting for and believe in living a committed life, I ask you to consider his question. If you knew who the military families were in your neighborhood, would you offer to cut the grass, or watch the children so mom or dad would have a break, or write a letter to a soldier or send a care package? Are you willing to pay for the war now with your taxes so our troops will be taken care of for the rest of their lives and our children and grandchildren will not be saddled with debt? Are you willing to do without something as long as America is at war? Are you willing to share the sacrifice?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Halloween Iraq style

This is from our airborne infantryman in Iraq:

The stillness was suddenly interrupted by something hitting the back of my helmet. For a split second, I thought that it was someone tapping me. I almost turned around. But almost simultaneously something else hit my hand. It was large, fat raindrop crashing into my right hand, which was firmly grasping the pistol grip, index finger laid across the trigger guard.

"Great," I quietly muttered to myself.

I had been hearing thunder in the distance for some time now, even before we had set out to that field. Lying there in the tall grass being harassed by some sort of God awful bugs, I prayed for no more rain. But as my luck usually goes, my prayer was not to be answered that Halloween night.

We were strung out in a long line on the far edge of a farm using a dried irrigation ditch as a make shift trench. Hugging my M249 machine gun, I stared through my night vision goggles across the field- weapon at the ready, always at the ready. We waited.

It was then that someone unzipped the night's sky and I now lay in a monsoon. I didn't move an inch. The cold water poured off my helmet down my neck and b-lined all the way down my spine, continuing on into my pants. I could feel my pant legs now sticking to my legs and the unmistakable feeling of a cold sensation on my feet. I was completely soaked in a matter of seconds.

I let out a sigh. . . heard only by me for it was drowned out by the roar of the rain.

The rain then stopped just as quickly as it had started. It was as if the insects in that field were angered by the deluge and took their frustrations out on me. I could feel them biting and gnawing at the only exposed skin on my body. I didn't move an inch. I watched my sector and waited. The temperature dropped what felt like 10 degrees. My breath appeared and I began to shiver. I heard curse words as they whispered down the line.

The thunderstorm, or I should say lighting storm, because, despite the dazzling display of light, it made no sound, moved out in front of me. Through my night vision the lightning was truly impressive.

Then a thought occurred to me and my heart sank. There surrounded my my brothers I was totally alone in my mind, "Would they still be coming to get us?"

"Pilots don't like to fly in bad weather," I thought. And in my short time in Iraq, this was the worst weather I had seen.

I looked at my watch - 43 1/2 hours. In the past two days, I had eaten less than two meals and had less than three hours of sleep. I was ready to get back to the rear.

I continued to stare off across that field watching my sector when I heard what over the last few months had become the most beautiful sound in the world - the heavy chop of an in-bound Chinook. I lifted my head out of the three foot grass and there it was to my 10 o'clock a tiny blinking light - an infrared strobe light only visible through my night vision.

Someone down the line called quietly from their radio,"Birds in-bound." I smiled on the inside. I watched as the blinking light moved closer and a dark shape grew underneath it. The chop became louder and the ground began to shake.

"One minute out," someone said through the darkness. Using both hands, I pushed myself up, straining from the weight of my gear now twice as heavy from the rain. I posted up on a knee facing away from the in-bound "shit hook" with my head down.

The ground shaking and the wind beating on my chest, I braced for the impact of the coming hurricane force winds. The two giant sets of rotors have the ability to knock you down if you aren't ready for it. I had learned that the hard away a few months earlier when a landing Chinook flipped me over my gun into a ditch.

WHOOSH! The wind hit me pushing me forward and pelting me with wet grass, sand and rocks.

The bird throttled back and the wind died down. Just as I had done so many times without prompting, I stood up and turned left and began running in two long lines out of the palm grove on the edge of the field. Even when perfectly executed, loading is never easy.

The heavily irrigated fields were very difficult to traverse with night vision and a full combat load. Tripping and falling, helping others up and being helped up, I made my way to the bird.

Inside the Chinook, the high pitched whine of the engines deafens those foolish enough to forget "ear pro."

Running the length of the bird, I made it to the front and sat down.

"HA!" I thought, "a seat"

(With my luck, I usually end up on the floor of the bird. Sitting on top of each other in the darkness its a hellish ride. It usually takes more than a hour and you are lucky if you can walk by the time you land - your legs cut off from blood go beyond sleep to numb.)

The bird throttles hard and, within two minutes of landing, she lifts off with about 50 beleaguered paratroopers, tired and cold and now totally relieved after surviving another mission in one of the worst areas Iraq has to offer. We flip up our nods as the bird turns for home. My muscles relax and I put my head back and look at my watch again. It's 3 a.m.

Right now my Dad is on the couch relaxing after work. My Mom is in full Halloween mode and impatiently waiting for trick-or-treaters.

Not sure what my brothers would be doing. Jon is now at the age where Halloween isn't cool anymore and he is probably on the computer.

Mike is now at the age where Halloween has become cool again is probably trying to go out. I guess I was GI-JOE this year.

The bird jostles and jumps, then bucks its way through the churning air surrounding the lightning storm. What a Halloween to remember.

I blink and it's a year later and I'm staring at the bottom of the bunk on top of me. This year is way better than last I think to myself. Who could argue with that? - in the rear with the gear at a staging area waiting to finally re-deploy home... I pause my Ipod and sit up, look down the endless rows of bunks, sigh and close my eyes and try to imagine a Halloween before the war.

Nothing comes to mind.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Party Here, Sacrifice Over There

Will Bardenwerper, a former Army infantry officer, has an op-ed piece in today's NY Times that gets to the heart of what the One Percenters are all about.

See: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/20/opinion/20bardenwerper.html?ref=opinion