Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Easter 2007, downtown Baghdad:

Easter 2008 in Florida:

What a difference a year makes.

That's Mike on the left and Jon on the right. It was a great weekend.

Mark has been on a fairly rigorous training schedule and hasn't had much time to write. But I expect to see something shortly and will post it.

Meanwhile, I will prattle on in his absence.

I've attached a link in the sidebar to the NY Times story about the 4,000 casualties from the Iraq war. It contains blog posts from six soldiers who died in Iraq. It is heart wrenching but there is a common thread that connects all soldiers who are or have been overseas.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fifth anniversary

From Airborne Dad:

Virtually every major news outlet has been featuring some sort of look back at America's last five years in Iraq. Lots of would of, could of and should ofs.

The comment that hit the hardest was from NBC's Richard Engel, who said the soldiers in Iraq believe that America has moved on despite the daily sacrifices of the troops.

"The only people who are paying attention right now are their families and friends, not the American people."

My comment: How have we let this happen?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Combat vets, part 3

From SPC Mark. Parts 1 and 2 are below.

We had been sitting in the corner of the field
waiting to get back on the birds. Finally the birds
began cranking up and we were back on our feet getting
ready to re-board the aircraft. As we walked back
slowly to the helicopters word came down the line:
the Air Force would be dropping a couple JDAMs (joint
direct attack munition) on the container yard at 0350
right after our guys flew out. I thought to myself
"Hell yeah." But I soon forgot about it in the noise and
confusion of the in-fill phase of a mission.

Since we were there to bolster Alpha Company’s
numbers, I think we got the short end of the stick as
far as jobs goes. We were to hit a house on the edge
of the village and set up a blocking position there watching
over the main road into the small town. Part
of that blocking position called for us to set up a
road block using concertina wire. So we were given a
couple spools of wire that are really big sharp
circles about four feet across. There was no way to
carry it but by hand. So in classic paratrooper style
we found an old bed frame along the way, broke off a
metal pole, put the wire on it and two at a time took
turns carrying it.

When we finally hit the ground we
found that this system had a couple flaws. One: the
wire is fairly heavy and added to our more than a
hundred pounds of gear, ammo, food and water. . . not
fun. The second problem we found is that not everyone
is the same height. So those of us less than 6 feet
tall really got screwed. Following the laws of
physics and gravity, the wire slid towards the smaller Joe
so that hands, arms and faces were cut. The two or so
miles to the objective ended up being very awkward and
painful for some.

It was time for the next two to take the wire so
my partner and I passed that stupid contraption off,
which literally had to be ripped off of me because the
sharp ends were stuck in the fabric of my uniform. I
passed it off and moved back in to my position in the
formation as we walked through the muddy little
village. Breathing heavy and completely worn out, I
wiped the sweat from my face. Feeling very sorry for
myself, I followed along with heavy footsteps,
SGT Medina yelling at me the whole way, "Pull
security, face out!"

We stopped for a moment on a
short security halt and I went down to a knee. Right
then my ears caught a distant noise: the unmistakable
sound of a friendly fighter jet somewhere above in the
star lit heavens. In spite of everything hearing that
cracked a smile on my face. Knowing that there was
someone up there watching over me was very comforting.

Listening closely, I looked down at my watch and hit
the light button.


"Guess we've got air cover," I
muttered to myself. No sooner had I said that then

I lifted my NODs off my face and saw what I can only
describe as a volcano erupting about two miles away.
A huge ball of yellow and orange leaped into the sky.
It was so bright that we were no longer cloaked in
darkness and I was now casting a shadow. Half a
second later, the shock wave made it to us and shook
the very ground, slapping us on the chests and
rattling all the metal roofs around us. The initial
blast was quickly followed by another and then
another. Each equally powerful as the first. With
hell breaking loose upon the earth in front of us, my
squad leader turned to me and said something I'll never

"You're goddam combat veterans now."

We soon picked up and moved out to our objective.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Combat vets, part 2

From SPC Mark. Part 1 is below.

I'm not sure when but eventually I had passed out and I
was blinking awake now. Waking up in the Army is the
hardest part of my day. Usually I have a full poopy
face going as I sit collecting my thoughts. Took a
drink of water, strapped on my boots and headed for the
tent door. It's so dark in those tents that you have to
close your eyes before you open the door so as not to
go blind from the piercing sun light of the late
desert morning.

Stepped out, took a look around, stretched a bit, turned
and headed down the row of tents to the latrines. It
was nice with everyone gone. No one in the latrines. . .
hot water in the shower. . . I could get used to this. Yes,
it was going to be a good couple of days.

I finished my morning routine feeling quite good and cleanly shaven.
I stuck my head into my squad leader’s tent to see
what was what. Surprisingly they were up and already
playing video games. We exchanged a couple insults
and I sat down and picked up a controller.

“Hey, uh, where's Sgt. Medina?”

They all sort of moaned at my question. I had developed a bad
reputation for asking too many questions. I couldn't help it but I needed to know what was going on at all times. I blame my father, a former reporter, for that one.

“Uh, someone for the battalion TOC came by and was asking for him. probably some detail or something.”


I sank into my chair at that news. I had hoped to avoid details while everyone was gone but I
guess I wasn't surprised. Moments later Staff Sergeant Medina flew through the tent door. We all spun around in our chairs. I didn't like his facial expression.

“Start getting your shit together we’re going out
with alpha company in a couple hours.” His voice hada hint of anger or desperation i couldn't tell.We didn't move. We just looked at each other all puzzled.

“What do I have to do ask you please get fucking moving!”

His voice now definitely angry we all jumped to our feet and tripped over each other as we did. I
headed for the door and as I was half out, Sgt. Medina said something that changed everything.

“Someone got killed last night.”

It wasn't until the door closed behind me did it sink
in. My mind flooded with questions. Who? What
company? What the hell happened? Where are we going?

Despite the urging of every bone in my body to turn
around and find the answers, I walked quickly back to
my own tent. There were no answers back through that
door and my questions would only make him angrier.

Within only about an hour, I was ready to go. Two
days food and water. Machine gun clean and oiled.
Ammo belts neatly rolled into pouches. Extra chem
lights, AA batteries, zip ties and a couple
extra pairs of socks and t-shirts.

I couldn't take it anymore. I headed back to my squad tent in search of
some answers and to find when the mission brief would
be. There wasn't much to hear they really didn't know
that much.

The guys had gone into an old container yard near an abandoned power plant and had made
contact with the enemy. As the last hours of daylight
passed, more details came in. They had been out there
and had been in and out of contact with the enemy all
day. News that they had come under “complex” attack
was especially disconcerting. Complex meaning they
used coordinated mortar and small arm attacks. A good
sign that these were not your usual insurgents.

We were the supplement Alpha Company and occupy a
blocking position for them as they cleared a small
village about a mile from the rest of the force.

Nervous and antsy, we moved out to the LZ several hours
early. We propped up against the blast walls and
chain-smoked cigarettes as the sun melted into a sea
of gold and red.

We said nothing really. No real small talk we just sat deep in thought. Sgt. Medina
was the first to break the silence.

“You guys scared?”

No one said anything.

“I'm scared and if your not, I don't want you in my squad.”

We all eventually admitted the same. One of our
Sergeant Majors came out and spoke a few words of
encouragement. It did little but add suspense to the moment.

Hours ticked by as the sky opened and the stars lit
up brightly. The time for the birds to arrive came
and went. But we waited on. Finally two hours late, the
bird showed up in dramatic fashion as always. Thunder
and dust. We boarded, packed into the uncomfortable
cargo net seats.

I had started a little tradition for
that time. When the bird started to lift off and we
headed off to go who knows where. I had developed a little
way to keep my mind level. And to an extent it worked.

Every-time when the helicopter throttled up and the
bird shook its way up, I pushed the light button on my
watch to see what time it was. Did the math and
figured what time it was at home. Right then, at that
moment, I pictured what was happening at my house.

"It's 0100 here. . . that means its. . . it's 1700 back
home. Five o'clock. It's five o’clock. That means that
Mom's sitting on the couch watching the news. Dad
should be home and is probably finishing up the last
of his emails. Jon. . . Jon hopefully is doing his
home work. But no, he's probably surfing. Mike. . .
Mike is at his house, home from work and he's definitely
drinking a beer and thinking about doing his homework.
its five o’clock.”

That usually did the trick. Put me at ease for a
bit. Bridged that gap between opening jitters and
total focus.

Before I knew it we got the six minute
warning. Weapons could be heard clicking as they were
loaded. I followed suit and loaded my SAW. The bird
banked and jostled and without any further warning the
bird slammed into the ground and the ramp opened.

Everyone jumped to their feet and hustled off the
bird. The only problem was that somehow the fact that
we had a two hour layover at another airfield hadn't
made it to most of us. So when we ran off the bird,
we were not greeted by the enemy but a rather portly
and confused staff sergeant holding a glow stick.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Coming soon

My airborne correspondent has commanded me to post part 2 of Combat Vets. I will do the best I can to post it today.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Combat vet, part 1

This is a long post so SPC Mark broke it into three parts:

There was never enough room for the whole company to
go out. Usually one squad was chosen from a platoon
to stay behind.

To be honest I really didn't mind being left behind that week. The rest of the company would
be gone for a couple days and we would sit and watch movies and sleep. Sort of a mini-vacation, no one to bother us.

And so it was that night I caught the camp
bus back from midnight chow, which technically had
become lunch since we were on a reverse schedule. I
got off the bus and walked the short gravel road up to
our little compound. In the clear, crisp desert night
the moon reflected off the windows of a now silent
Chinook helicopter that had appeared while I had been

My eyes never left it as I crunched by. I could see
several more lined up perfectly one behind the other.
The moon was so bright I could see each separate chalk
line against the 10 cement blast walls lining the LZ.

There was little to be heard but a few stressed NCO's
and officers frantically trying to square everything
away in the little time they had remaining. I kept
walking turned my head and looked toward the ground.
In my heart I wish I were with them. I hated not
being with them. I hated not going out. I'm not a war
junkie and I'm not a super hero either but for some reason I
didn't feel comfortable letting them go without me.
Not that I could do anything more if
something happened but I only trusted myself with my
buddies lives.

I had no sooner looked toward the ground when in
unison the birds made that hair drier noise. Massive
fans kicking on as the powerful engines began to roar.
Kept walking and past through the little gate that
was little more than a hole in the blast wall. I
stopped, Styrofoam to-go-box in hand, and turned back
towards the gate. The giant rotors started to turn
and I found a spot against the wall and crouched down.
the engines now in full swing i could make out lines
of paratroopers shuffling towards the open ramps.
Rotors spinning so hard the bird looked as though
they wanted to leap off the ground. They stayed
faithfully on the ground waiting for the pilots to
release them into the air. Finally the time came, and
when you thought that those things couldn't get any
louder, they wound up more and began to look skyward.
Five of six Blackhawks took off in the distance and
the four or five bus-sized twin rotor Chinooks all
lifted up and turned away. The wind generated from
those fans is enough to blow you over. I may have been
if it weren't for the concrete wall against which I was leaning.
The birds thundered off and left a thick
dust cloud in their wake. even though it was my turn
to stay behindI still felt very low. One of the
lowest points of my Army career was sitting there with
my cheeseburger and French fries in my hands watching my
brothers head off with out me.

I patted the dust out of my uniform as I stood up.
Walked into the tent without saying a word. I laid on
my cot staring at the floor. And somehow I was on
that bird with them. That calm excitement. Wondering
what was going to become of us all.

Combat vet, part 2 will appear shortly.