"I'm sorry I must leave, but I must do what is asked of me by my God, my Country, and my Corps.. and so, the war blog begins, again." ~B

04 December 2010

Haunting us, Daunting us, Taunting us

A powerful piece that struck a chord, hat tip to a certain accented gentleman.

Thomas Hardy’s 1899 poem – 

The Going of the Battery [Wives’ Lament] 
O it was sad enough, weak enough, mad enough
Light in their loving as soldiers can be
First to risk choosing them, leave alone losing them
Now, in far battle, beyond the South Sea! . . .

Rain came down drenchingly; but we unblenchingly
Trudged on beside them through mirk and through mire,
They stepping steadily--only too readily!
Scarce as if stepping brought parting-time nigher.

Great guns were gleaming there, living things seeming there,
Cloaked in their tar-cloths, upmouthed to the night;
Wheels wet and yellow from axle to felloe,
Throats blank of sound, but prophetic to sight.

Gas-glimmers drearily, blearily, eerily
Lit our pale faces outstretched for one kiss,
While we stood prest to them, with a last quest to them
Not to court perils that honour could miss.

Sharp were those sighs of ours, blinded these eyes of ours,
When at last moved away under the arch
All we loved. Aid for them each woman prayed for them,
Treading back slowly the track of their march.

Someone said: "Nevermore will they come: evermore
Are they now lost to us." O it was wrong!
Though may be hard their ways, some Hand will guard their ways,
Bear them through safely, in brief time or long.

Yet, voices haunting us, daunting us, taunting us,
Hint in the night-time when life beats are low
Other and graver things . . . Hold we to braver things,
Wait we, in trust, what Time's fulness shall show.

28 November 2010

Quote of the week

"Gotta love em, they talk in grunts and curse words, yell to speak, and sometimes smell funny but by God when it's time to step up they [Marines] sure as hell do it right. "  
~ Commenter on Blackfive

Sure got that right!  

21 November 2010

Empty Seat

Recently I had a birthday.  I had a great time with friends and family.  Enjoyed a lunch and dinner at two of my favorite places to eat.  Mostly I felt blessed by all the people I get to share life with.

However, the worst part of deployments are the empty seats where your loved one should be.  It is the second birthday that Bestie has missed because he is in a war zone.  He's missed several more being stationed across the country.  At the dinner and when we were goofing off and telling stories that night, I had fun.  I enjoyed myself.  But I still felt like his presence was missing in the whole affair.

I wish he could have been there to share in our fun and have some of the AMAZING cake that Sandy baked for me.  But he did what he could.  My heart was lifted by a slightly garbled phone call from far away and a energetic birthday wish from him.  Getting to here him and have him sound good is an excellent birthday gift, if he cannot be here to share the fun.

I am also aware in these moments, of those families whose empty seat was never filled.   My heart hurts for them in the knowledge that they won't get even the phone calls any longer.

Again, I am reminded of how blessed I am.

10 November 2010

Happy 235th Birthday, Marines!

10 November, 1775, the greatest fighting force in all the world, the United States Marine Corps, was formed.

Happy 235th Birthday to all Marines, past and present. A special Happy Birthday wish goes out to Bubs, D, Smity, Kelbs, Hernadez, Capt. Cal, the Colonel, Sgt. D, and all the rest of my favorite Marines. No better friend, no worse enemy.





08 November 2010

"Exactly" Moment

I was reading the fabulous Kanani Fong's blog The Kitchen Dispatch today and had one of those moments when someone else says something that you've been wanting to articulate, but you didn't know how or even exactly what it was.

People ask why I do all the military support work that I do and why it affects me the way it does. She said it perfectly. There is a bond there and once it is established you cannot look at war or those who fight them the same way again. You cannot go backwards.

They will always be a part of you. War will always be a part of you. You will always feel it.

"But the truth of the matter is there's a bond between those in the military, as well as with our supporters. It doesn't matter whether or not we have met. It doesn't matter whether or not we will ever meet. We will always be happy for one another; we will grieve for one another as well."

29 October 2010

The Junior Officer's Reading Club- Patrick Hennessey

I knocked out Patrick Hennessey's The Junior Officer's Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars in 2 day. Couldn't put it down. I think it could be fairly described as the British counterpart to Craig Mulanney's The Unforgiving Minute.

There was so much I loved about this book, from his humor to his battlefield descriptions peppered with pop culture and classic references. He tells a captivating story about the journey through young adulthood with stops along the way at Sandhurst, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

He talks a lot about his time as a trainer of Afghan forces and the connections he makes to those men and their officers. I think sometimes we forget when we talk about the wars and standing up an army or the deaths of Afghan soldiers that they are brothers in arms as well. Those that stand and fight forge bonds with our military men and British allies. Sometimes I think we underestimate that bond.

I am also fascinated by points in his story where the war and the outside world combine. A lot of people are so numb and/or ignorant of events that I always find it interesting when they are jolted out of their complacency.

The best example of this is a story in which Hennessey relates the aftermath of an attack and the evacuation of casualties:

The Chinook which comes thundering into the hastily prepared landing site turns out not to be the air ambulance but a diverted R & R flight, and I'll never forget the look of horror on the face of the young, possibly pretty journalist who's sitting in the back in gimpy blue helmet, unsure why her flight home has just dropped into the Green Zone, where the air is still a-rattle with fire form the ANA on the cordon, when suddenly the reality of Helmand charges on to her lap as four sweating, swearing, emotional soldiers drop a bleeding, naked, morphine-babbling black man on her brand new hiking boots.

I find myself wondering what her side of that story is. What did she take away from that experience? What were her thoughts and emotions? Did it change the way she reported on the war? Did it change her reactions, emotions, and relationships to soldiers? Did she see war in general with new eyes?

There probably are no answers to these questions but I think they are important to ask anyway. What do we do with the war when its realities are brought home? How do those realities fundamentally change us?

Those are questions I've thought about for a long time. I still don't have answers for them.

But I love this book for sparking my interest in searching for them again.

14 October 2010

Where War Lives: A Photographic Journal of Vietnam

I've been reading Where War Lives: A Photographic Journal of Vietnam by Dick Durrance. It is a collection of his photographs during his military service accompanied by an introduction by Ron Kovic of Born on the 4th of July fame.

The Vietnam war is, in many ways, the military history I grew up on. Stories from Vietnam were told by relatives who served, passed down in family legend. Its pictures, patches, and maps covered the walls of the VFW where we had so many family gatherings.

Yet its jungles and aging warriors seem far removed after so many years of the wars that have become my own.

Through Durrance's photographic journey of his service, I am reminded once again of the commonalities of war and of the men and women who fight them.

A war is a war is a war. A warrior is a warrior is a warrior.

The future photojournalist captures the humanity of his compatriots. In the black and white photographs of training I can see Bestie and a hundred friends reflected in the bearing and attitude of young men now thirty-plus years their senior.

Take the trees out of his helo shots and the door gunner could be the one that sits in my hard drive, flying over an entirely different battlefield.

Flipping through the photographs, I am drawn to their eyes. Eyes that reflect too many hours without a decent sleep. Young men burdened with the weight too much gear and too many memories. Eyes with a certain hardness and sureness of attitude.

I have seen these eyes before. I will see them again soon.

I find it interesting that Dick Durrance waited twenty years after he left Vietnam to publish this book. I wonder what we will learn about our wars and from our warriors in twenty years.

"Nothing can repair the damage caused by war, but returning to the memories and pictures has connected me to those experiences, which, in spite of my efforts to ignore them, have done so much to shape the rest of my life (143)." ~Dick Durrance

08 October 2010

Continuing and Beginning Again

Bestie is back is the sand.

The weight that I felt lift when he called and said he was out of the country and on his way home for leave has settled again on my shoulders. I am sad that he is back there, away from his wife and all of us who love him. I am already miss not being able to pick up the phone and harass him with the the trivial details of my day.

War is freaking painful.

I spend a lot of time trying not to think about the possibilities and the emotions. I want to ignore risk, fear, and the ache that settles somewhere in my heart. The one that will persist until he leaves Afghan airspace for good and touches down on US soil.

At the same time, it is easier this time than other times. Maybe I have toughened up. Maybe it is just a internal protection mechanism that makes me think that. Maybe it is because I know he has more support this time around and that makes a substantial difference.

What I do know is that even if it is easier, it still hurts.

The lump in my throat as I told him to "travel safe" as he prepared to reenter bad guy land was the size of a softball.

That hasn't changed.

He is my best friend. My brother. I love him and want him to be safe. To be happy. To not carry the weight that I hear in his voice.

We are halfway done.

So much time has passed.

Yet so much remains before this one comes to a close.

Miss you brother bear.

Be safe.

07 October 2010

The Silly Things

I have a bag of Jelly Belly jelly beans sitting in my room.

The bag is two thirds empty but plenty of jelly beans remain in the bottom that I never got around to eating. They've been there since Christmas, so they are rather stale at this point.

The bag itself is getting ragged, the plastic starting to pull away from the zip lock top. It is covered in duck tape which prevents any holes from forming.

It still holds the sweet scent of sugar when I sit down to the computer or pass it as I grab my make up bag in the morning.

I really should throw it away. After all, isn't that what you are supposed to do with stale jelly beans that have no hope of being consumed? But I can't bring myself to put it in the waste basket because Bestie gave it to me.

A bag of jelly beans from my best friend who is so far away.

Is it superstition? I'm not sure. I don't really believe that changing the location of a bag of jelly beans will, like the mystical butterfly that flaps its wings in China, alter the course of events across the world. By holding on to that bag I am not keeping him safe from harm. But isn't that an awesome concept...a magical bag of jelly beans blessed with the powers of protection.

Yet I cannot get rid of it. I can't throw it away. Not yet.

Maybe not until he is back for good.

Because he gave it to me.

He gave it to me.

So the Jelly Belly jelly beans bag remains on the desk.

A reminder of one who is away.

01 October 2010

R&R Leave

The Bestie is on his R&R leave, enjoying a vacation with the Bestie-in Law.

I am hoping that this time away recharges his spirits and allows him to get some rest. It has been so good to hear from him consistently and to be able to talk to him whenever I want. I don't have to worry where he is, what he is doing, or what is going on in his part of the world.

He sent a picture. His smile said it all.

I wish that this was it. That he was home for good. But we are only halfway done.

When he goes back, my phone is going to feel unloved with out all the texts he sends.

The thought of him going back makes me miss him all the more.

Love ya Brother Bear.

12 September 2010


Robert Frost

The heart can think of no devotion
Greater than being shore to ocean -
Holding the curve of one position,
Counting an endless repetition.

29 August 2010

WTF Moments Bestie Missed List

2. Elvis is on the escalator. Really. White jumpsuit. Beer gut. Sideburns. Too much hair gel. The King lives.

28 August 2010

WTF Moments Bestie Missed

I will be so happy when Bestie is back and I can just pull out the cell to text him about all the ridiculous things that happen in day to day life.

Nothing funnier then getting halfway through a text before going CRAP! Yep, he's not going to get that. After all, what is a Bestie for if not to be the person one texts when they need to quote random movies or share the most ridiculous things they've just seen at the mall.

Instead of just joking about it, I am actually starting it now in honor of all the stupid things he has missed that just have to be shared. That way, he has a record of them to read over when he is bored.

This is for you, Bestie:
The Best WTF Moments You Missed List:
1. Location--Mall. Situation: Epic Mullet.
You know the ones. Beer gut. Sleeveless shirt. Burt Reynolds circa 1970 in the front. Billy Ray circa Achy Breaky Heart in the back. Two-toned even. Brunette with a little bit of blond highlight. Epic.

16 August 2010

3 Years: Remembering Will

On August 16, 2007 Cpl. Willard M. Powell was wounded in action near Tarimiyah, Iraq after his unit was attacked. He succombed to his wounds and passed away in Balad.

Word traveled across the globe to the home of his mother, to his father, to his best friends, his friends, and to all those who knew him.

Will Powell, who had just weeks ago turned 21, was gone.

I made a promise to never forget Will and
that promise is something I take very seriously. Will was a good soldier. He was a better man. We cannot let his memory fade away.

I wrote a long post on this subject last year. You can read that here: Coming Together.

This year, I am just remembering his smile. His competitiveness. His sacrifice.

One thing that Will has taught me with his death is that each day is sacred. We must take it and use it for all that it is worth. We don't know how much time we have left on earth or how much time we have with those that we love. We must be present in the moment. We must love each other with all that we have. We must live life fully and faithfully.

Will did.

Will gave up his life so that we have the chance to do so in a free country, safe from the threat of harm.

Let us not waste it.

Will, you are loved. You are missed. You are not forgotten.

See you when I get there.

If you are able,
save them a place
inside of you
and save one backward glance
when you are leaving
for the places they can
no longer go.
Be not as
hamed to say
you loved them,
though you may
or may not have always.
Take what they have left
and what they have taught you
with their dying
and keep it with your own.
And in that time
when men decide and feel safe
to call the war insane,
take one moment to embrace
those gentle heroes
you left behind.

Major Michael Davis O'Donnell
1 January 1970
Dak To, Vietnam, KIA

14 August 2010

The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War

I just finished David Laskin's book The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War.

Laskin tells the story of America's involvement in the Great War through the stories of 12 men who immigrated to the United States not long before the conflict began. It is a perspective that we don't hear enough about when learning about that war. It is easy to forget how the nation was still being formed and molded into what we know it as today. Laskin illustrates how immigrant experience cannot be untangled from America's experience in the war.

I enjoyed how he weaved the stories of these men together with their place in their family histories as well as the greater American history. He clearly shows how the draft brought together all these men of different nationalities, ethnicities, and histories who before did not interact with those outside of their neighborhoods or enclaves. The war takes these men and makes them suffer together, bleed together, and die together until their differences are less important than their commonality as soldiers. Post-war Laskin shows that this did more for integrating immigrants into America long term than perhaps anything else.

In the words of their relatives these men "came home American." Most were proud of their service and it was a touchstone throughout their lives. For many, that legacy of military service continued in their families and still continues through the wars we fight today.

Great read that further illustrates that suffering in war is the same kind of hell be it in Ypres, Normandy, Chosin, Khe Sahn, Kuwait, Fallujah, or Marjah. It always leaves its mark, both positive and negative, on the men, women, and families it touches.

08 August 2010


It is easy to forget just how long a deployment is.

In the last few weeks the length of this seems never ending.

I don't know how to explain it other than to say it is the distance. A lot changes in the course of a week, a month, six months. 365+ days? Wow.

I try to keep him updated on the day to day happenings of my life. Sometimes it is easier than others, depending on how regular the contact is. But it is hard to decide what to share and what to leave out. How to pick and choose what is noteworthy, or exciting, or funny when he wasn't here to share it? Is it still noteworthy, exciting, or funny now?

I send the notes. I pack up the care packages. I am on a first name basis with the people at both the post office and B-Dubs--gotta send the sauce, ya know?

I think I got spoiled on the last one because it was shorter. We both feel the distance more this time, both geographically and emotionally. He has much less time to check in. I have a lot going. It all leads to distance.

He summed it up best: ."... it's just... easier to remain disconnected to a point?"

Sometimes it is easier to pull back. Try and forget (not possible) where he is and what he is doing. I am sure it is the same for him--easier to put some distance between his current world and home.

The acute feeling of distance makes it more apparent that someone I love, my family, my brother, isn't around.

It miss him.

Be safe Brother Bear, I'm thinking of you.

31 July 2010

Fading Echoes by Mike Sielski

I just finished Mike Sielski's excellent book Fading Echoes: A True Story of Rivalry and Brotherhood From the Football Field to the Fields of Honor.

When I picked it up I wasn't sure if it was a football book or a military book. Turns out it is a little bit of both.

Mike tells the stories of two boys who grow up on the football fields of suburban Pennsylvania, with all its tradition, rivalry, and community. He tells about Colby and Bryan, two boys are a passingly familiar with each other, who play for rival high schools, and play football at a high level. We meet their families, their friends, teachers, and coaches. We ride the ups and downs of their senior seasons and beyond.

Both boys have drive, determination, and leadership abilities that set them apart. We follow them as they grow into young men, struggling to find their paths in life and in football. They play football in college with varying degrees of success until they find the curtain closing on their football lives. Bryan and Colby must find their way as men in their post football careers.

For both Bryan and Colby, the path led to service in the post-9/11 military. Brian became an Lt in the Marine Corps. Colby became an Army officer and an Airborne Ranger.

As family and friends adjust to the mixture of pride and fear having a loved one in uniform brings, fate drops both men in the sands of Iraq.

Bryan Buckley made it back to Doylestown, PA.

As a community comes together to mourn and remember Colby in the fields, bars, and classrooms that helped build both young men, we are reminded that each man and woman in the service is more than their uniform.

Everyone has a story and the uniform is only a part.

1Lt Colby Umbrell has a story and the stone in Arlington National Cemetery is only one part of it.

Mike Sielski helps tell us the rest.

In a way, this idea is why I blog. Bestie, Bestie in Law, and I all have stories as well. Someone has to tell them. Someone has to tell the stories. Good on Mike Sielski for telling this one.

27 July 2010

Road Trip Lessons

I am recently back from a cross country road trip with friends, which was a fantastic and badly needed vacation.

One of the goals of the road trip was to get away from everything I do and deal with on a day to day basis. No cell, no email, no news.

I also took a break from all things war-related, as much as that is possible with Bestie still over there.

What I learned is that the war, the wars, are in inescapable.

A lot is made about how much this war is different from others, how detached the general population is, how the American public isn't at war, the military is. That is true to an extent. What I found on my road trip is that while America generally may be able to ignore the war, it has slowly become a part of the fabric of a thousand small communities.

It is in new, shiny signs that declare a patch of interstate or highway a memorial to a LCpl, a Pfc, a Sgt in Illinios, Missouri, and Kansas. It is in the newly unveiled GWOT memorials that have sprung up in front of VFW posts and downtown next to WWII and Vietnam memorials.

It is in the somber passage of family and friends headed to a funeral in a city in Colorado on the day I passed through. A Marine was laid to rest and I couldn't help but think of Bestie. May you rest in peace, Cpl. Harris.

In a few months, a few years, maybe there will be a stretch of highway bearing his name.

Maybe there will be a banner with his picture on it in a town just off the interstate, his name added to the list on the plaque honoring his state's lost in the rest stops.

These wars are a part of us now.

21 July 2010

Just Another Day

Bestie is now 65 days away from his mid tour R &R. He and Bestie in Law will be going on a getaway, which excites them both to no end. I know that they will both be so happy to have the time together.

This is the lighthearted stuff. If you look close, if you are let in, you can also get a glimpse into the darker side of this struggle.

I hit a breaking point this month that Bestie was able to talk me through, for once. I'm not particularly proud of it, but it is what it is, for both of us.

I had a series of run-ins with people who I call "mall people," referring to the quote "The Marines are at war, America is at the mall." These mall people have to tell me their opinions on the war, on strategy, on how those boys should just come home because why are they over there anyway. If you continue after my hostile response of "gee, I don't know, maybe cause a bunch of ideologues in Afghanistan attacked our country (again) blew up a couple of our buildings (again), killed (again) a few thousand people, and decimated the FDNY," well, you deserve whatever happens after that. I cannot escape the war, I see it in everything. The mall people only see it if it inconveniences them in some way, if they trip over it, and even then, only see the tip of the iceberg, if they see it at all.

I had a run in with a couple of groups on the 4th of July who wanted me to do tributes to the troops, but "you know, keep it light. Don't focus on death or fighting, or any of that stuff, it is too depressing. We don't want to see that, it's a downer." My usually contained temper exploded at that point. I saw stars. My ears turned red. I got tunnel vision. My heartbeat pounded in my ears. A friend later told me she had never seen that look on my face before and she sincerely thought I was going to punch someone. I wanted to. I didn't. I just walked away. But some cosmic shift in the universe must have taken place because Bestie's spidey-sense was tingling. I get an email that night asking if everything was ok.

No. No it was not ok. It hasn't been ok since G took a round to the head, since J left his left leg and half his blood volume in the desert, since L hung upside down and bleeding next to her dead Sgt for an hour after an IED while they tried to extricate her from the vehicle, since C killed the man shooting at him, since J went down in the helo crash, since S's 12 year olds with RPG launchers, since J had a mortar land on his chest, since BD held the hands of a hundred dying soldiers, since M spent 18 months driving up and down the roads of the the Sunni Triangle, since Bestie was ambushed and tried to keep the blood of a fellow Marine from seeping through his hands, since an AK round collapsed W forehead, since a thousand Phils, Rays, Michaels, Chris', Ambers, Kellys, Shellys, Jacobs, Mikes, Glenns, Donalds, Dereks, Stevens, Brians, Kathys, Maggies, and their stories.

I can't put it away. I can't go to the mall. My heart, my soul, is with the Marines, with the Army, at war.

I keep all of this inside me somewhere. I push it to the back and it sits there most of the time time. But it is a darkness that seeps into your very soul. It is fear and anger and anxiety and helplessness. It is there and it is something that you have to deal with eventually, even if you don't know how to begin. It eats away little pieces of something unknown. Most days it is a non-factor but once in a blue moon, you find only your nose above water and it is all you can do to breathe.

That is when my Bestie throws the life ring.

It is what we do for each other.

He also knows the darkness intimately, for he too, has feared drowning in it.

I can share with him and he will give me neither the blank stare nor the horrified look of the sheltered.

He goes where others fear to tread or are simply not welcome.

My best friend returned the favor this month, for the many times I have thrown the ring to him.

He jumps into the darkness with me and says,
'I have been there and we will get out together.'

He empathizes:

"this is, believe it or not, still a war. sure, it's different from any other war ever fought by our military, but it is a war nonetheless. bad things happen to good people, and not bad enough things happen to the bad people. if you want to talk about being cynical, i sit here some days and...
i laugh at these little people on the screen... but still, that i laugh at watching people die, other human beings... it's just something i never thought i would do."

He consoles:
i'm here with you on the boat across the river to senility and cynicism. maybe you just need a break? and it's alright if you do. you don't always have to push yourself 120% for this all. you have earned your right to take time to yourself when you need it, or take time away from thoughts of these places and these people. no one can blame you, and no one who truly knows you like i do, or who truly respects and loves you the way i do, could ever think anything less of you. you're a heroic individual, and you're worth more to the world than any of these people who don't understand you, kid. Keep breathing."

We turn off the chat, get off the computers.

He begins another day in Afghanistan, one closer to being home.

I head to bed and say my prayers of safety and thanks, hoping my sleep is dreamless.

Maybe I need a break.

Maybe he does.

Just another day at war, at home, and abroad.

18 July 2010

DH Lawrence

On vacation and catching up on my reading. Read a DH Lawrence piece that was recommended to me and this quote stood out:

"DH Lawrence: "The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer...it has never yet melted."

Too bad I found that after the 4th of July festivities.

02 July 2010

Independence Day

It is easy to forget what it took to get a holiday on the 4th of July. It is remarkable when you think about it. A group of people came together and did more than talk about how they wished the world to be. They took their beliefs about limited, representative government, about faith, tolerance, humanity and unity, and actually made that world happen.

Think about how much courage it took to sign that Declaration of Independence. By signing their names on that document, they became wanted men. The King wouldn't have minded at all if each one of them was killed for their rebellion. It is breath-taking. Yet these men and women of the not yet free United States of America stood together. They fought a battles they probably shouldn't have won. Yet, they did.

The Founders saw their vision to fruition. They achieved their freedom and generations of Americans have fought to keep it through numerous challenges.

As I prepare to enjoy my family and a long weekend, I remember the men and women who helped make this nation happen. I also remember the men and women who have taken the torch and defend our nation today. We will save a plate and a lawn chair at the fireworks for our friends who are in harm's way and can't be here to celebrate with us. Miss you. You are in my prayers.

25 June 2010

Happy Birthday, Bestie!

Bestie is spending yet another birthday in a combat zone. Instead of celebrating, he is working 16 hour days, every day. He is feeling a little under the weather, but doesn't get to spend the day in bed.

No, on his birthday, he is protecting our nation. Protecting freedom.

But strip away the gun, the uniform, the desert, the jarhead, and he is still the awkward, goofy kid who somewhere between Ring Pops, AP Lit, and Batman rollercoasters, became my best friend.

Happy Birthday, Bestie! Wish you could be here and we could have a proper celebration.

Know that we miss you, we love you, and we are so proud of you.

Be safe.

Be happy.

23 June 2010

If You Are Able

I came across this today and it touched me deeply.

If you are able,
save for them a place inside of you
and save one backward glance when you are leaving
for the places they can no longer go.

Be not ashamed to say you loved them,
though you may or may not have always.
Take what they have taught you with their dying
and keep it with your own.

And in that time when men decide
and feel safe to call the war insane,
take one moment to embrace
those gentle heroes you left behind.

Major Michael Davis O’Donnell
1 January 1970
Dak To, Vietnam
Listed as KIA February 7, 1978

10 June 2010

Love and Brotherhood

E.B. Sledge on war in With the Old Breed at Pelelui and Okinawa:
"War is brutism, inglorious, and a terrible waste. Combat leaves an indelible mark on those who are forced to endure it. The only redeeming factors were my comrades' incredible bravery and their devotion to each other...it also taught us loyalty to each other- and love (315)."
Photo from 9 June, 2010 The Wall Street Journal

Hat tip: Rich Lowry

31 May 2010

Price of Freedom



Wonka Bar.

Chocolate Chip Cookies.


When men are old, and their friends die,

They are not so sad,

Because their love is running slow,

And cannot spring from the wound with so sharp a pain;

And they are happy with many memories,

And only a little while to be alone.

But we are young, and our friends are dead

Suddenly, and our quick love is torn in two;

So our memories are only hopes that came to nothing.

We are left alone like old men; we should be dead

--But there are years and years in which we shall still be young.

~Margaret Postgate

28 May 2010

Memorial Day 2010

I have been working with soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines deployed overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan for over 6 years. That is a really long time. There are times where I feel each and every day. One of those days where I feel it most acutely is Memorial Day.

Memorial Day has always been associated with a picnic that brings the entire extended family network together to celebrate the beginning of summer. There is joy, laughter, swimming, horseshoes, and baseball in the field. It is a small town and it is well known that this spot is ours on this day, yet occasionally we still have to fight off those who would swipe the tables...even then, we always end up sharing our food with them.

From the early days of my adulthood, Memorial Day has also become something else. It has reverted to its historical origins and become a day that brings with it the sharp twist of mourning. It is when I feel each and every day of the six years in the ache of my heart, the set of my jaw, and the bags under my eyes.

It is a fact that when nations go to war men and women will die. They will most often be young. Their deaths will cause a ripple effect that rips across the nation, tearing the hearts of brothers in arms, parents, spouses, siblings, children, grandparents, best friends, relatives, school mates, teachers, caregivers, pediatricians, neighbors, former employers, the guy that used to deliver the pizzas on Friday night, and any number of people that cross paths in the course of living.

These deaths also rip into those who care deeply for their nation and their nation's armed forces, the people that join military support organizations. People like me, who build relationships with these men and women, knowing there is a chance that this new friend may not make it back. Knowing that the more people you befriend in a war, the greater the chances are.

I have not escaped this phenomenon. When I first started writing soldiers I was a bit naive about it. It would be cool to write soldiers and they are doing this brave and noble thing. I knew people could get hurt, even killed in a war, but it didn't seem real. I didn't really think about it happening. That naivety shattered with that first name I recognized on a casualty list. Then I recognized another, and another, and another. As Lucas Holt wrote: "nothing threatens the romance of war more effectively than war itself."

I have my list of people to visit, names to engrave, when they get around to building memorials for our war. It has been six years and it seems that each year the list grows longer.

They are "My Guys." The funerals I have represented at. They are the people behind the sacred stories I have been entrusted with. They are the Fallen. They are my fallen.

It is not my place to judge what their deaths mean in terms of big-picture war or policy strategy. I don't really care how history judges the conflict in which they fought. They lived lives of honor and service. Many died for something they truly believed in. That is enough for me. Each one has taught me something in life or through their death about living. I have had the chance to meet some of their families, something I am humbled and honored by. It is a reminder that behind each name, each number, is a unique individual.

Each and every individual deserves to be remembered on this Memorial Day weekend. I encourage you to visit a site like Honor the Fallen to do just that. But if you can't or won't do that then borrow a portion of my list and remember them.

They were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Each name means something specific to me.

One is a childhood friend. One was the first military funeral I ever attended. One was a name on the letter I never got send. Each one I am connected to in some way.

Even if I didn't know them in life, today I miss them.

I will carry each of them, and many others, in my heart forever.

It is our sacred duty to remember. We must not forget.

May you have Peace and Rest, my friends. I remember you.

Pfc. Gunnar Becker
Sgt. Jessica Housby
Pvt. Jonathon Pfender
Pfc. James Brown
Pfc. Chris Dixon
Spc. Joseph Ford
Pfc. Aaron Gautier
Pfc. Jonathan Hamm
Cpl. Will Powell
Lt. Miroslav "Steve" Zilberman

We shall find peace. We shall hear the angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.
~Chekhov, Uncle Vanya

26 May 2010

103 Days

We are now 4 months, about 103 Days into this deployment. It always amazes me how much time really goes by and how many things change in that time. I know I try to keep Bestie updated on the happenings on this end, as does the Bestie-in-Law on hers, and he to us and his dad, but there is no way to cover everything. Our worlds keep turning. So many significant changes have already occurred since he left.

He misses his wife deeply, with an intensity that at times has surprised him. He says deployment is significantly different with a spouse waiting at home. He wishes he could keep her from worrying and wishes he were there to take care of the life little challenges, like fixing the truck and sorting out problems with the phone company. So much of deployment is distance and fear of the changes distance can lead to.

Overall, Bestie has had a better couple of weeks and I am happy to report that communications have been more consistently restored.

Bestie and Co. are recovering from the large fire that broke out at the main base last week. It is very fortunate that no one was killed or severely injured in the attack, though supplies were lost. After the recent attacks in Bagram, I am thankful that he is safe. Like many people, I want to create an image of the bigger bases as being invincible, but this is another reminder that nowhere at war is completely safe.

Bestie is trying to remain focused on the future to remind himself that this deployment is only temporary. He has asked for music theory workbooks to be sent to him so he can begin preparing for life after the Marines. He is working with the Bestie-in-Law on plans for their church wedding and his mid tour R &R.

He has been a great encouragement to me in the past week after some difficulties. There is nothing like knowing your best friend has your back. It is even more comforting when that Bestie happens to be well armed at the time he is offering assistance. Just adds a little extra something.

As in Iraq, music is his outlet and his way of filtering and processing things. This past week, he sent the lyrics of a Camera Can't Lie song. He had a chance to see them open a Straylight Run show before deploying.

Since he sent it, I haven't been able to turn it off. It really applies to all of us who are counting the days. For the extended military family, there are always days to count, be it towards leaving, towards coming home, towards getting out, getting better, or something else.

I am counting the days until my best friend comes home. Counting the days until I call him up whenever I want to talk about the important things in my life. Counting the days until he is reunited with his wife and they can begin the next chapter of their lives together. I am counting the days until my cousin joins him in Afghanistan. I am counting the days until Memorial Day, when I will head to Will's grave to remember and count the days since he was KIA. I am counting the days since Pfc. Gunnar Becker was killed-- a young man who taught me the meaning of sacrifice.

I am counting the days since I sent my first letter to a soldier at war, since I got my first response, since I made my first friend who was fighting a war.

One hundred and three days have passed since the Afghan Adventure began. Two hundred sixty two days, give or take, remain, God-willing, until it is over.

Days and Days- Camera Can't Lie

I've been missing you for days and days
I don't know how much this heart can take
A kinda feeling you can't explain
Like I'm lost along the way
Like I'm lost along the way
Come take me home
And unchain my soul
You could break my heart
If it meant that you would never be alone
Come take me home

I've been thinking about this game we play
Its a silly thing with much at stake
I don't know why we choose this pain
Without you I'm lost along the way
Without you I'm lost along the way

So, come take me home
Unchain my soul
And you can break my heart
If it meant that you would never be alone
just take me home, home
Just take me home, home
Just take me home, home

Come take me home
Unchain my soul
And you could break my heart
if it meant that you would never be alone
Come take me home
I've been missing you for days and days
I don't know how much this heart can take.

24 May 2010

John Reyes Rides for the Wounded

Yesterday I had the chance to meet John Reyes.

John Reyes is a cyclist who is riding from San Antonio to Boston and back to raise money for Fisher House, an organization that provides the families of wounded soldiers with a place to stay while their loved one recovers.

I met with some other Soldier's Angels and we had a chance to welcome him to town and talk to him over dinner. One of the neat things about being a Soldier's Angel is the chance to participate in experiences like this one. I get the chance to meet amazing people who I never would cross paths with otherwise. It is a privilege to experience the closeness that comes when a diverse group of people come together, united in one purpose. In this case, we all are working to aid the men and women who serve our country. There is a trust, an openness, and a general willingness to lend a hand amongst those in the extended military support networks. It is truly an honor to work hand in hand with groups like the Patriot Guard Riders, Rolling Thunder, and individuals with a good heart and a persevering spirit who seek to make a difference in the lives of those who serve.

When asked why he would ride all those miles on a bike, John answered-for the freedom. The reason he has chosen to raise money for Fisher House while on the ride is for that very reason. He understands and acknowledges that there are brave men and women who stand the line for us and allow us the freedoms we have in this country. If that sense of freedom moves you to ride your bike across the country, all the better. It must be an incredible way to meet people. It certainly will be a journey for him to cherish forever as he learns more about himself and the people that make up the United States of America.

Go here to donate to John's cause:

Good luck, John. May you have safe travels, no hard rain, and absolutely no run ins with stolen cars or crazy sheriffs.

18 May 2010

Love in a Torn Land and Paradise General

Of the books I read last week, two stuck out for me. One was Love in a Torn Land: Joanna of Kurdistan: The True Story of a Freedom Fighter's Escape from Iraqi Vengeance by Jean Sasson. It tells the story of the life of Joanna, who grew up in Baghdad during the rise of Saddam. As she grew, so did the tensions in her country. She lived through the Iran/Iraq War and saw many of her relatives forever changed by conflict and torture. She narrowly dodged run-ins with Saddam's security forces, made harder as she embraced her Kurdish identity. As she grew into a woman, she fell in love with a Peshmerga, a Kurdish fighter. Their love took time to develop, but grew deep in the face of hardship as she gave up her relatively comfortable life in Baghdad to live as a fighter in the mountains. She survives chemical attacks and bombings, as well as the treacherous and rugged mountain living, before seeking asylum in England.

Her story is a beautiful one, despite her hardships. It is a tale of someone who is committed to her people and her belief that they should be free from the oppression of Saddam's government. It is also a rich love story that challenges perceptions of relationships in the Middle East. One is left with the impression that Joanna is a complete woman, who knows herself and what she wants in life. She accepts the life she chose, even when it is unpleasant. Hers is a story that should be told and remembered.

That was the book I was going to write about but another grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Paradise General: Riding the Surge at a Combat Hospital in Iraq by Dr. Dave Hnida is a window into the world of military medicine. I completed the book in two days and couldn't put it down. As a reservist who signed up in his late 40s when he heard the military needed doctors, he stumbles a bit with the soldier aspect of his soldier/doctor role. The book mostly covers his second deployment, where he is at a combat support hospital with a team of other doctors and medical personnel. As he shares his war stories, he is part Hawkeye from MASH and part Baghdad ER. It is a look into the lives of the doctors who must treat the horrific injuries that war creates. These experiences bond the men and women who work on our soldiers in a way few can understand. Do we realize what we ask of these doctors and medical personnel? Their dreams are filled with the moans and the wounds of soldiers young enough to be their children. They, along with medics and corpsmen in their twenties fight death all day, every day, but will inevitably lose some. They carry those losses with them forever. Dr. Hnida makes it clear that behind the professionalism, confidence, and calm veneer is an endless second guessing and self criticism after each case, with doctors wondering if they made the right calls.

Each chapter tells a distinct story from his deployment, yet he weaves them together into a smooth, cohesive whole. I particularly enjoyed the chapters "Dante's Infirmary," " Rebels with a Cause," "The Wounded Wore Aftershave," and "A Picture Worth a Thousand Tears."

Favorite passages:
"What about my penance? I felt a duty to those I had failed in the past--the kids of Columbine, my daughter Katie, my own family, and the memory of my father (68)."

"But when done...Jesus. You were forced to watch a mental rerun of your every move and decision, and your movie snack wasn't popcorn, instead an overflowing tub of adrenaline-soaked fear (164)."

"I knew people back home saw and heard about the deaths and the wounds, but a screen or in writing it was all sanitized and sterile. Just numbers...They didn't see, feel, or smell what a broken body is like up close and personal. And they didn't have to make the decisions we did. Save the arm? Save the leg? Save the soldier? (165)."

"We were wounded by what we did and what we saw. But no more than those we cared for. (165)."

"We were leaving the war, but the war couldn't care less. All we could do was feel guilty about leaving the twenty-year olds behind in a war that would not have a Hollywood ending. No war ever does (276)."

As the distance between us and the base continued to grow, we realized we would never really leave. We'd revisit this place often in the years to come, traveling back in sweat-soaked dreams on our darkest nights. I now knew what my father, what every other man and woman who has seen the horrors of war, knew: you may leave the war, but it never leaves you (276)."

06 May 2010

Love in Condition Yellow by Sopia Raday

I stumbled across Sopia Raday's Love in Condition Yellow: A Memoir of an Unlikely Marriage this week and could not put it down.

As the subtitle suggests, it is an unlikely love story. A liberal, Berkeley educated peacenick falls in love with a police officer/West Point graduate/Army Reserve officer, despite her intentions to keep the relationship casual. It is the story of a marriage that bridges the cultural-political divide in this country of left and right.

Above all, it is a beautiful account of learning and growing into a relationship. Of learning to listen and learning to make oneself heard. It is an example of how our differences can ultimately make us stronger when we make the effort to embrace each other as we are.

The writing is spectacular and are phrases that are simply lyrical. It is filled with little life lessons that I know I can take and apply to my own life. There is a depth to Raday's writing that speaks of someone who had done the hard work of discovering her true self.

Love in Condition Yellow is a story of love,war, conflict struggle, success, acceptance, and ultimately joy. It is a book I think I will be rereading in the future.

Favorite passages:
"Perhaps we need to confront our fears in order to find our strength. Perhaps we need the darkness to help us see the stars (196)."

"Maybe true love is not having the same beliefs or even having the same goals, but supporting your mate in striving for his or her best self (196)."

"...completeness is not bestowed upon you by a perfect partner. It does not come from your lover figuring you out and taking perfect care of you. It comes from facing adversity, and through it, discovering your own inner strength and wisdom (198)."

From Tibetan Buddhist Lama Surya Das:
"To loosen my own attachment to opinions, I remind myself that if I really know everything there was to know--past, present, and future--about any particular person, subject or situation, my opinions and feelings about them would be quite different. Since I don't know that much, I have gradually learned to not be so judgmental and invested in my own views, although I certainly do have them."

03 May 2010

E.B. Sledge's With the Old Breed

I am trying to read all the books by the men who are depicted in the HBO series The Pacific. The latest one I finished was With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa by Eugene Sledge.

It was another powerful account of the war in the Pacific. Again, it makes we wonder why we did not learn these stories in school. I am fairly well versed in both WWI and WWII, but I did not realize I had such a gap in understanding the horrific nature of the island campaigns.

Sledge writes honestly and gives the reader a clear picture of his world with the Marines in combat.
I found that he was particularly insightful in the way he explained the mental aspect of war. He wrote, "fear is not just of being killed or wounded, it is the fear of something even worse- fear of not being able to take it and exhibiting the symptoms of cowardice to an audience of men who have trusted you (xiv)."

Many times he mentions the mental strain on men who were good combat soldiers, they simply had reached capacity for the amount of trauma they could absorb. They had had all that they could take. His stories make it clear that we should treat these men with an abundance of compassion. We cannot truly understand what they went through and should give them the benefit of the doubt in matters related to post-traumatic stress.

Sledge's account of his war is a remarkable one. One cannot read it and not be reminded yet again that the heroes of the Pacific were heroes, but they were also just men.

I have had the great privilege of meeting a Marine, who served in numerous island campaigns with the 1st Marine Division. Sledge's book gave me an even deeper appreciation for the man and his efforts. This humble, gentle, remarkable man was a part of something historic, for both its brutality and its ultimate success. But like Sledge and Leckie, after the war he built a life for himself. Despite a full, successful life, the war remains an ever-present shadow.

Like Leckie, Sledge closes by attempting to figure out what his war means to him. He concludes, "War is brutish, inglorious, and a terrible waste. Combat leaves an indelible mark on those who are forced to endure it. The only redeeming factors were my comrades incredible bravery and their devotion to each other...But it also taught us loyalty to each other--and love (315)."

If there is one thing I have learned about Marines from my family, my best friend, and the incredible men of the Marine veterans group I worked with, it is that Marines know how to love, each other and those they embrace.

Marines are a special breed.

Sledge shows us that the Marines of Peleliu and Okinawa were more special than we could have imagined.

27 April 2010

Troops Who Fade

Bestie has had a tough couple of weeks. If you pray, now is a good time to send up some words to encourage his spirit.

"I'm pretty sure I'm reaching the breaking point emotionally... mentally..."

The things that cross his path, every Marine's path, are things that haunt. Washing the blood out of a Marine brother out of a vehicle. Analyzing the aftermath of a battle in an outpost somewhere. The devastation war brings to the innocents...and the not so innocent. Traveling the roads, limbs pulled close to body armor, like a turtle, waiting...waiting...waiting to be hit. Shoot? Don't shoot? Take a mission? Send a subordinate...what if he is wounded or killed and it should have been me? Saluting the bodies, the flag-covered transfer cases of Marines and ISAF as they begin their final journey home....

All things we would protect our loved ones from if we could. All things, if we are honest, we want to protect ourselves from.

Isn't that why most Americans switch the channel when the war comes on? Can we be bothered to look through the window at their lives?

The Afghan Adventure is moments of terror, ugliness, and fear. Then it is long days, weeks of repetition. Same bad food. Same clothes. Same scenery. Same ache of missing family and home and friends. A roller-coaster of ups and downs. It is the slowly shutting down of emotions and humanity in order to get from one day to the next. To get home.

Wilfred Owen, Eugene Sledge, and a hundred other soldiers have said it..."Compassion for the sufferings of others is a burden to those who have it...those who feel the most for others suffer most in war." E.B. Sledge, With the Old Breed


Happy are men who yet before they are killed
Can let their veins run cold.
Whom no compassion fleers
Or makes their feet
Sore on the alleys cobbled with their brothers.
The front line withers.
But they are troops who fade, not flowers,
And some cease feeling
Even themselves or for themselves.
Dullness best solves
The tease and doubt of shelling,
And Chance's strange arithmetic
Comes simpler than the reckoning of their shilling.
They keep no check on armies' decimation.

Happy are these who lose imagination:
They have enough to carry with ammunition.

Bestie has compassion in spades...

War is helplessness. There is a nothing a person can do back here for their best friend or their spouse but pray. Send a package. Send a letter. Hope that it raises his spirits. Hope that it eases your own fear for that person. Hope it eases your own desire to take away their pain, their struggle, in some way. Because you cannot see his face, or hear his voice, you cannot tell if he is feeling better after venting, or still struggling. Somehow, you must make peace with the helplessness.

"One of the LCpls is singing the 'Oompa Loompa song from Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory. The movies got the soundtrack all wrong. War isn't rock...war is nursery rhymes, TGIF theme songs, and Nirvana tracks. War is the music from your childhood. " Chris Ayers, War Reporting for Cowards

War is the tv shows that acted as your babysitters. Marines gathered around a laptop watching Boy Meets World, crying when Chet abandons Shawn. Laughing at the cherry bomb episode. Fee-eee-heeneey!!! calls. Back to a time without war, without worry.

"Because war, when it's not making you kill or be killed, turns you into an infant." ..even as it turns you into a man.

3 Months down.

22 April 2010

Congratulations and Best Wishes

I would like to take a moment and say a big CONGRATULATIONS to my friend Maggie.

Maggie is graduating from BMT at Lackland AFB today.

If that's not enough celebration for one week, she is also getting married this weekend.

I am proud of you, Airman Maggie. Way to go!

Leave her some love at Maggie Joins Up.

21 April 2010

Bestie's Adventures

Bestie is now well over two months into his deployment. He has settled into the routine and his responsibilities. I have actually had a chance to talk to him for a couple of lengthy periods of time recently, which was comforting. We talked about the things all best friends talk about-relationships, worries, future plans, our favorite childhood tv show, the current projects of our favorite bands.

Then, as is inevitable, we turned into us. We discussed Lt. Col. Grossman's book On Killing: the Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. It is one of his favorites and I had just finished rereading it. It served as a segue into more serious topics, like "how are you." The answer is, as good as can be expected. He talked about doing missions and standing guard. The potential of orders that could end the lives . He of the responsibilities of his job and its outcomes. He spoke of courage and cowardice. He stated offhandedly that he doesn't feel much of anything out there in the way of emotion, just numb.

Delia Falconer wrote in The Last Thoughts of Soldiers, "There was a part of his soul that would always stay out on the plains. It was so frozen he thought a little bit had been torn off." These are heavy burdens we ask our men and women in the military to shoulder. And we ask them to take them up again and again. Then we ask them do it one more time. To paraphrase Sgt Cruz-- What is a Marine? His uniform? His stature? A Marine is a human being, a man or woman--one asked to do extraordinary things, and then move on from them. Robert Leckie wrote in his WWII memoir, Helmet for My Pillow, " It is to sacrifice that men go to war. They do not go to kill, they go to be killed, to risk their flesh, to insert their precious persons in the path of destruction." What then, do we owe these men who have inserted their precious persons into the mountains and plains of Afghanistan and now risk their flesh on our behalf, on our request? We owe them a debt we cannot pay. We owe them our attention. We listen to their stories with compassion, not judgment. We send the letters and Ring Pops when requested. We take a moment of our day to read or write these dispatches so our friend overseas knows that we remember him. That we love him. That he is not invisible, nor has he disappeared. We read, and write, and send to reassure him that he is still in our hearts and minds. And that we will be there for him when he returns home.

10 April 2010


Two months down.

I had a chance to speak pretty extensively with the Bestie this week. It was such a comfort to talk to him, catch up, and in general just have my best friend back for a few moments. We didn't even speak about anything important, just the little things like bands reuniting, news events, and developments in the lives of mutual friends. But for a moment, it was easy to forget that he was far away and in a dangerous place.

Deployment always carries that weight of distance and danger. Yet it is something that you cannot dwell on. There is nothing you can do to change either. Life does not stop just because someone you love goes to war. The world keeps spinning, the days keep passing, and things keep changing. You have to keep moving forward with it and do your best to stay in step with the ones you love who are so far away.

My world changed again today.

I wish I could just call my best friend up and tell him my happy news. I sent an email, but it is just not the same. It is hard to convey the sheer joy (not to mention the squealing and jumping up and down that ensued) in an email.

I know when he reads it that he will be jumping up and down with me.

I have taken a major step forward. It is scary and exhilarating at the same time.

I have achieved another major milestone in my life and I can't wait to share it with the Bestie.

03 April 2010

Lt. Steve Zilberman-Remember the Fallen

I received an email and phone call this week from a lady who attends my church. I organize military support there and we have a big board filled with the names and pictures of all the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines that we support.

She was calling to ask me to pray for her grandson, who is an E-2C pilot deployed in support of operations in Afghanistan. She said his plane had crashed. Her grandson and two other crew members were ok, but his co-pilot was still missing.

After days of searching, the Navy has called ended search and rescue efforts and declared the co-pilot deceased.

The Navy has also released his name: Lt. Steve Zilberman, Columbus, Ohio.

I have been praying for this man all week and now I pray for his family as they deal with his loss.

I am also praying for J and the rest of his crew. They have lost a brother.

May we never forget.

Fair winds and following seas, Steve.

01 April 2010

Gray Land Soldiers on War by Barry Goldstein

Book of the week this week was Barry Goldstein's Gray Land: Soldiers on War.

The book is a combination of photography and reflections on war by soldiers of the Third Brigade Combat Team, 3ID.

The title comes from Sassoon's poem from the Great War entitled "Dreamers." This is one of my favorite WWI poems and the line borrowed to create the book's title is particularly powerful:
Soldiers are citizens of death's gray land,
Drawing no dividend from time's tomorrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.

Warriors do exist differently from the rest of us. To paraphrase Owen, they have walked along with death and he has become their companion. It is a reminder that no matter the time period, war is still war and warriors remain warriors.

What Goldstein does brilliantly is distill the many experiences and stories of individual soldiers into digestible chunks. He does not tell each man or woman's entire war story. He and they share only pieces that give glimpses into the whole.

He further distills the stories by pulling out profound statements by the soldiers and accompanying them with his photographs of the individuals and their battlefield.

Each story reminds the reader that behind the uniforms are people. The war for each of them is different. Yet, the result is a life changing experience for each of them and those that they love. As Spc. Diacogiannis points out, "That is a lot of people affected by just one person going over there (26)."

There is so much insight that can be gleaned from these interviews. The soldiers talk about the unnatural experience of going from a war zone to home in 24 hours and being expected to flip the switch that quickly. The officers speak of the responsibility that rests on their shoulders and the burden they carry with them each time they lose a soldier. They talk about the toll deployment takes on their families and the bonds they create with each other.

These are all recurring themes in war literature. Yet their stories are also unique to our war. They are important because they help create a history of this war. They also help those of us who work to help soldiers transition back to civilian life identify the major issues they are facing. We cannot know what they have gone through because we were not there with them. But Goldstein's work allows us a window into their world.

Goldstein's book is beautifully collected and arraigned collection of individual stories. It is powerful look at the world through the eyes of the soldiers he followed.

Things to contemplate:
"I wasn't scared of going to Iraq. I was scared that as soon as I left, things [at home] weren't going to be the same (42)."

"I may waiver on it at times, but there is a reason why I'm here, and in some sense it's a privilege and a burden (50)."

"And it's hard to come straight home and look your mom in the eye and give her a big old hug knowing twenty-four hours ago this is what I was doing. It's just a very strange, awkward, unnatural feeling, and it took some time. (32)."

"But what is a soldier? His uniform? His stature? A soldier is human being, one who has made a decision to sacrifice certain rights (15)."

"A soldier has been an integral part of the history of this country. At times soldiers have been invisible (12)."

"Maybe someday I'll take time from grieving (66)."

"But you can get burned out. You know, this is my 34th month in Iraq (76)."

27 March 2010

Seven Years

“For all his attention to my historical education, my father had neglected to tell me that history’s terrible moments were real. I understand now, decades later, that he could have never told me. Only history itself can convince you of the truth. And once you’ve seen the truth — really seen it — you can’t look away.” from The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova pg. 37

Recently, the 7th year of the war in Iraq passed, with some, but little reflection. I have been thinking about it since then.

I have been thinking about how long seven years really is. About how long 9 years in Afghanistan is. I have been thinking about all the things I have done in those years and all the ways I have grown and changed. It occurs to me that we are creeping up on something that is rather disturbing. My country has been at war almost half of my life.

Some people say that our war, the GWOT or OEF/OIF, whatever you want to call it, isn't like past wars. We have a voluntary military and a smaller percentage of people serve. It is true that people perhaps have less of a connection to the military and its actions than in the past. It is true that we, the protected, do not ration our gasoline or produce. It is easier to forget about what is going on far away, if you want to.

But what has struck me the past few weeks is just how much a part of our lives the war has become. Among my peers, it has become woven into the fabric of our lives. Maybe that is abnormal. Perhaps it is more a reflection on small-to-medium town USA. But at least for some, it is the truth.

I was at work when a moment of powerful recognition hit me. I was standing around with my coworkers, most of whom are close to my age. I work with a former high school classmate of mine and we were talking about mutual acquaintances. We started talking about someone we both knew who is serving in Afghanistan. That led to updates on other people we know who are in the service, and where they are and what they are doing. I have a friend in Ramadi and my coworker remarked that they knew someone who spent some time there. About six or seven of our other coworkers wandered into the conversation and we all compared notes on friends and family, high school buddies, and friends of friends who are serving or have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. We talked about those we knew of who had been wounded and those from our hometown who had been killed. Someone mentioned that we needed a memorial for our war, like there is downtown for Vietnam.

Then the conversation drifted to other things like new movies, music, and if the economy would ever get better so we could find better jobs.

The moment of recognition came before that though. It came when we noticed we had an audience. Five of our coworkers, including our two supervisors, had stopped what they were doing, gathered together, and were listening to us talk. They were all older and grew up after Vietnam and before 9/11. They were staring at us kind of funny. One finally said, "You guys say that like it is so normal. You say, M spent some time there, like Iraq is Florida or something. You just transitioned from Iraq and Afghanistan to a show at the place and the merits of the newest Twilight movie without pause. Like it is just another part of your day to discuss which of your friends are over there."

I guess we did. We transitioned from updating each other on friends and family at war to the other general topics you discuss with people you work with. It was just another thing, just another part our lives, to have friends fighting a war someplace sandy. After all, my best friend is on round two-Afghan Style. By now, so many people I know have joined the service, gone overseas, come home, gone back, come home, gone back, come home, got out or reupped that it is kind of normal.

The war is something we have learned to live with.

The idea that some people, somewhere, wish us harm is something that has almost become normal.

There is something sad about that.

There is that old saying, I think it is a curse, "May you live in interesting times." It seems my peers and I do live in interesting times. We have seen life changing moments of history and been changed by them. Some of us have had the course of our lives changed by them.

Sometimes you don't realize the significance of your own history and the realities of what those historical moments have wrought until something happens to make you reflect.