Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Son in Baghdad

A former colleague of mine, Sig Christenson, now at the San Antonio Express News, posted these while reporting from Baghdad in April 2007.

"BAGHDAD, Iraq — Something like 1 percent of our population is in uniform. Even fewer carry the burden of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army is full of guys like Staff Sgt. Scott Plavney, 36, of Temple.

He was among a team of 1st Cavalry Division soldiers that last week checked on an abandoned clinic in Baghdad. Plavney and Staff Sgt. Sean Clark, 35, of Schenectady, N.Y., spied the neighborhood. The voices of children at play could be heard, but the street appeared deserted.

That's a bad sign, like in the westerns when everyone clears the dusty main drag as the bad guys ride into town.

"This is a perfect example of how well it's going," Plavney said, prompting me to think he was nuts. "There's a boy walking down the street with a bag of food."

My paranoia meter shot up. Maybe that kid was out there to lull the soldiers into complacency. There is danger everywhere in this city and, for that matter, all of Iraq. Earlier Tuesday 16 GIs were wounded and four Iraqi army soldiers killed in a daylong central Baghdad battle.

So when I think of how small the military is, the many sacrifices it makes and how unlikely most Americans are to know anyone on the front lines, I wonder about the wisdom of an all-volunteer service.

I wondered some more after reading a message from an old boss at The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Mark Middlebrook. He reminded me that he has a big stake in this war.

"I hope you are doing well," he wrote in a message left on my blog. "My son is in Baghdad at the moment with the 82nd."

That would be the 82nd Airborne Division. My heart sank. A longtime friend in Houston has a son in the war zone, too, I think in the 82nd. We grew up in Bellaire, an incorporated city just west of the downtown Medical Center, as Vietnam raged. I have a stepson who has been to Iraq twice.

Now in our middle age, it's our turn to watch the kids get shot at. They call or e-mail to say everything is fine. They make small talk. They don't tell you about the doors they kick down or the roadside bomb that barely missed them. They figure you don't need to know about that, and they're right.

I think about these things more when covering funerals for Iraq and Afghan veterans at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. It's especially difficult when a Pentagon death notice crosses my desk, and we do a story about a San Antonio kid killed in action.

The weight of this war falls as much on the parents, spouses and siblings of those back home as it does here. In some ways, perhaps, it's easier on the soldiers and Marines in the war zone because they bond together so tightly.

It's an amazing thing to watch. These guys are tough, well trained and motivated. And they're great to write about.

This is a brave bunch out here, but my heart goes out to their loved ones back home. It takes a lot of guts to be a soldier's dad.

Just ask Mark Middlebrook."


MightyMom said...

yup lot of guts indeed, have the other dad's seen this yet? hope so!

ABNPOPPA said...

Yep, this Dad has seen it. Comments like these are what keeps us parents going while our soldiers are in Harm's Way. We know there are millions of people who respect and support. That my friend is why they are called

The One Percenters!



Infantry Dad said...

Nice article.
It's difficult to find the words to respond.
Only those of us who live day to day with a loved one serving in Iraq, or Afghanistan can understand what we go through.
Try as we might we can't explain it. Not and do it justice.
It's great to see the kind words, and know that they come from the heart.
I pray for the day that no parent has to experience what we have, because that will be the day that our children can be children longer.
How wonderful would life be if there were no wars?

Airborne dad said...

Thanks all for stopping by.

Sig Christenson, the author, is a very talented writer and story teller. He is heading back to Iraq for a sixth time and probably would stay there full time if he could.

I thought he summed up the feelings of The One Percenters nicely.