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 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' 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.