"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

29 January 2010


"You can only go halfway into the darkest forest; then you're coming out the otherside."
~ Chinese Proverb

27 January 2010

To Live or Perish Forever

I just finished reading Nicholas Schmidle's book on Pakistan, To Live or Perish Forever.

Schmidle spent two years wandering around Pakistan, getting the lay of the land, and meeting local political leaders. The book was a quick read, as Schmidle keeps the narrative going smoothly.

Schmidle comes from a military family, one who was serving in Iraq and Afghanistan while he was in Pakistan. Yet he was routinely interviewing Taliban and al-Queda leaders as part of his journalistic effort to discover the soul of Pakistan. Schmidle treats these characters with extreme humanity. Despite his own inner conflict at the idea that many of these people could be organizing attacks that could injure the people he loved, he grew to like some of them, even to the point of considering a few friends.

These high placed contacts, coupled with the people on the street view he gains as he lives, works, and interacts with his neighbors, give true insight into the battle for Pakistan that is playing out.

Will Pakistan be able to hold on to a secular identity in the face of rising Islamist power? Will its many ethnic minorities stay united with Pakistan, or will they seek to control their own fates in nations of their own? Will corrupt intelligence and government institutions ultimately break Pakistan?

These are questions Schmidle doesn't have answers to. But what he does learn makes one point very clear. If peace is to find the region, we must have a greater understanding of the culture, history, and power brokers. We must also think regionally in our strategies. The questions of Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot be solved independently of each other. Gretchen Peters book Seeds of Terror also illustrates this point quite dramatically when analyzing the connections between drugs, money, weapons, and militias that flow through the porous borders.

Good book. Certainly gives you lots to think about.

26 January 2010

Remember the Fallen- Cpl. Jamie Lowe, USMC

A local Marine was recently killed in Afghanistan. He was laid to rest last week. May God be with his friends and family.

Photo Credit: Denny Simmons- Courier Press

Ashbah by Brian Turner

The ghosts of American soldiers

wander the streets of Balad by night,

unsure of their way home, exhausted,

the desert wind blowing trash

down the narrow alleys as a voice

sounds from the minaret,

a soulfull call

reminding them how alone they are,

how lost. And the Iraqi dead,

they watch in silence from rooftops

as date palms line the shore

in silhouette,

leaning toward Mecca when the dawn wind blows.

From Here, Bullet. Copyright 2005 by Brian Turner.

23 January 2010

Riding in Cars with Boys

I was thinking about ways war changes people today.

I was hanging out with a buddy recently, who just returned from a year in Iraq. He spent most of that time driving a humvee up and down the crazy roads of in and around Anbar Province.

Anybody else have that first experience of riding in the car, with the boy (or girl) driving--after the deployment?

Things are going along fine, you're deciding where to eat and just catching up. Then all the sudden, out of nowhere, you are on the other side of the road, half in a ditch. The boy is screaming and cursing, reaching for a weapon that isn't there, and you are left trying to figure out what the heck just happened.

In retrospect, it makes sense. The insides of an old cassette tape and a little loose wire running across the road. A discarded bag of fast food trash.

Freaking IEDs.

Needless to say, I drove the rest of the trip.

It has been a few weeks now, and it is a funny incident that we all laugh at, and he pokes fun at himself for.

Thing is, it's really not that funny.

It's the war, in the After.

17 January 2010

The Strength in Us All

I have met some amazing women in my life. This one is for them, they know who they are. The poem was written by Vera Brittain, after the loss of her brother and husband in the Great War. Vera was also an amazing woman, for she also served as a nurse during the war. Then, having lost almost every important man in her life, she rebuilt to become an author and poet. To the Strength in us all....

Perhaps (To R.A.L.)

Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of You.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.

Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to Christmas songs again,
Although You cannot hear.'

But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.

16 January 2010

Go Colts

Can't wait for the Colts game today.

Talked to the bestie last night. First time I've really gotten to talk to him for any length of time in the past couple of weeks. The Marines are keeping him crazy busy in final prep for the deployment.

But there is always time for football. We are both rabid Colts fans. Hoping they do better than they have in previous playoff games and that the whole resting the starters drama doesn't come back to bite us.

Bestie says to wear the Freeney jersey for this game, so #93 it is.

Go Colts!

13 January 2010

Remembering Gunnar

I wanted to take a moment today to remember Pfc. Gunnar Becker.

Gunnar was from Forestburg, South Dakota. He joined the army after high school, and soon found himself headed off to war.

Two weeks before he was supposed to go home, January 13, 2005, he was killed in Mosul, Iraq. He was just 19 years old.

If you have a moment, please go visit his online memorial page In Memory of PFC Gunnar Becker. There, you can learn Gunnar's story and see what he meant to his family and friends.

Walter M. Schirr, Sr. said "You don't raise heroes, you raise sons." Some people raise sons who become heroes. Gunnar's mom was one of those people. Go visit her blog, leave her a message, and let her know that you remember her son.

Even though he is gone, Gunnar is still touching lives. He is a major influence my decision to pursue my current career path.

God bless the Becker and Senska families on this, and every day. You are in my prayers.

I remember.

We are soldiers.
We are soldiers in the United States Army.
We are trained to be all we can be.

We fight for the freedom of many citizens of the United States.
We are all ready to meet our fates.

We all volunteer to defend the red, white and blue.
Not only the flag, but for the citizens of our great country too.

Since our country's birth for all these years,
we have been trained to be the best on Earth.

Many times we have went to war.
We will be involved in many more.

Generation by generation soldiers continue to enlist.
Some of us will got to war and definitely be missed.

Some soldiers will return and some won't.
Those who do not, we won't forget and we hope you don't.

Many of us are going to Iraq.
Some of us won't be coming back.

We have loved ones we are leaving behind.
They will always be in our prayers, hearts and mind.

If we don't make it home safely at the end of the war,
just remember we died defending the beliefs of those of many more.

Gunnar Becker , 23 Nov. 2003

12 January 2010

Local Marine KIA

A local Marine was killed in Afghanistan Monday.

Cpl. Jamie Lowe, USMC, age 21, was the son of Kevin and Teresa. He was the brother to Cody and Hunter.

Teresa's father was killed in the Vietnam war, now her son has been killed in another war.

Jamie, may you rest safely in the arms of our Father.

Many prayers going out for his family and friends.

The Marines' Hymn

If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven's scenes;
They will find the streets are guarded

10 January 2010

Trauma Stewardship by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky

I have been making decisions about my future. I am taking the steps needed to get into a graduate program to work towards a Masters degree in Social Work.

It is something I have contemplated for awhile, but had to be sure of before I committed. I believe this is my calling in life. Many things have pointed me in this direction, working with military veterans as a career. But after 6 years of doing it as a volunteer, I felt wary. Burned out. Unsure that I had the emotional reserves to do it as a career.

I have spent the past year really examining my heart and praying about what God wants for my life. I have made a conscious effort to examine the events that have stacked up in my volunteer work, to accept them and to process them.

It is not easy to work with military personnel in a time of war. It is not easy to work with Veterans. It is not easy to work with the wounded. It is not easy to work with families. It is not easy to build intense relationships while also knowing these people may be killed in combat. It is not easy when they are. The entire military family has to deal with things like PTSD, catastrophic injuries, worry, fear, stress, anxiety, readjustment issues, and the chaos of multiple deployments.

What I have come to accept is that those who work with these people must also deal with these issues. Each situation is traumatic for the soldier. They are also traumatic for those that love the soldier, and those that stand behind the soldier.

Though we that work with soldiers are very good about pushing awareness of PTSD and urging them to talk about the hard things that happen during their deployments, we rarely consider the effect hearing about these things has on us.

It is easy to understand that a soldier is changed by firing his weapon, killing an enemy, being ambushed, watching a friend be wounded or killed, being hit by an IED, being forced to be constantly alert to the danger in his environment, and being away from his friends and family while their lives continue on.

Less thought is given to the person the soldier calls at 3:00am, sobbing, confessing that he killed a man. Less thought is given to the person who goes about their day knowing the soldier might be hit by an IED at any time, or knows the soldier was on the helo the news reports has crashed. Less thought is given to the person who answers the emails detailing the way the battle buddy went down, the way it feels to wake up to gunfire everyday, the split second decision to fire or not fire on a 12 year old pointing an RPG at the vehicle, how much missing her son's birthday for the 3rd year in a row hurts.

Those of us that work with soldiers do so out of love and good intentions. But rarely is the price spoken of, certainly it isn't mentioned when I first got involved, and even now, it is only spoken of in hushed tones. After all, maybe these things upset us, maybe we notice that we have more anxiety now than we did, maybe feel a little down, but it is nothing. What right do we have to complain, it is the soldiers suffering the real hardships. There is an often unsaid but implied notion that you should just suck it up, tough it out. And so we stay quiet, often until we burn out.

This is something that has been bothering me for years. I didn't know what it was, or what questions to ask, but I had the nagging feeling that something was wrong. I hit the burnout point after 4 years and personally interacting with over 300+ soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. But like a good soldier, I carried on, I found ways to cope. For me, I built walls to protect myself. I tried not to feel so much when I heard a sad story, or found out a soldier I had connections to died. I ignored the feelings of sadness, fatigue and anxiety, but I knew I didn't feel right. I found myself wishing I had someone to talk to about all this, but felt like I didn't deserve to draw any attention to myself. I felt like there had to be a better way to go about things, I just had no idea what that way was, or how to go about finding it.

I have spent the past two years trying to find it.

It started with an undergraduate research project that I eventually took to conference.

Reading Laura van Dernoot Lipsky's Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others was the the first time I found a name to what I was experiencing.

It is called secondary or vicarious trauma.

I found myself nodding in agreement to something on just about every page of the first chapter. She inspired me to truly understand the nature of and responses to trauma and how it influences caregivers. This is something I want to continue to research in graduate school, but until I get there, I am learning all I can now.

In the Foreward, Jon R Conte, Ph.D. says "Most of all, trauma stewardship calls on us to remember that it is a gift to be present when people deal with trauma; it reminds us of our responsibility to care and to nurture our capacity to help... she helps us to understand our feelings and behavior as natural responses to that flow from our humanity (xii)."

van Dernoot says that exposure to other people's trauma becomes a part of us, changes us, and changes our view of the world as we absorb it (3).

She also explains her journey creating the book, and as one who deals with the trauma of others. She says, "First, I need to take responsibility for acknowledging the effects of trauma exposure within myself. Second, I had to learn how to make room for my own internal process -- to create space within to heal and to discover what I would need to continue with clarity on my chosen path. I had to find some way to bear witness to trauma without surrendering my ability to live fully (4)." What she discovers is the framework of trauma stewardship.

This is the journey I am on as I set out on the slow path to a new career.

I am learning to acknowledge the effects of trauma exposure within myself and learning my own internal processes as I deal with trauma exposure.

I am excited to be working my way through the book. It isn't always easy, but so far, it has been extremely helpful. Anyone who works with trauma, or who acts as a caregiver in anyway should consider giving this book a try.

05 January 2010

Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep

When my best friend was in town, we took time to do something I have wanted to do for awhile. We visited the grave of a fallen soldier.

There are many graves of fallen soldiers. What makes this one special is that I knew him.

I knew him as a child. I knew him as a teammate and a competitor. There were days I knew him as a pain in the butt. But I grew to know him as a friend. As a fellow believer. I knew his good heart and genuine spirit. I knew him as a classmate. I did not know him as a soldier.

He was one of those people I lost touch with after graduation. I guess I expected us to fall back into each other's lives at some point, as that's what always happened before. We had too many mutual friends and connections to avoid it. But he was killed by insurgents in Iraq before that had a chance to happen.

I regret we didn't stay closer. I wish the last memory I have of him...wasn't the last memory I have of him. But as last memories go, this one is sort of fitting. It is the end of the year. He is wearing jeans and a white tshirt, standing by an open locker, grinning. He is waving goodbye...have a good summer....see you around. In my mind, it is like this that he disappears into the mist.

I wasn't sure what to expect. I didn't know what I would feel being back there. I wasn't even sure I could find it again. Hadn't been back there since the funeral.

After all, this is the harsh reality of war, isn't it? A young man....simply gone from the world.

The greatest fear for anyone who loves a soldier.

The grave is located in the veterans portion of the cemetery. It is on the top of a hill, rather scenic as spots go. It overlooks the baby cemetery, as if these warriors stand sentry for the innocents, even in death.

It was windy, gloomy, bitterly cold day. Maybe because of that, my first thought was that it seemed lonely.

Compared to the graves around it, Will's still seems new. The grass hasn't filled in all the way yet. The ground is sunken a little bit, as if the ground is still accepting the fact that he now fills it.

There is a bench near it, where one could sit and reflect, on less chilly days. There was as Christmas tree and a wreath, all decorated immaculately. The small offerings left under it were testament to others who had made this holiday pilgrammage to see a friend.

I found that while I was assailed by memories, moved by them even, I wasn't emotional. I knew Will as gone, I saw the body at the funeral, saw them lower him into the ground. This was just where his body rests.

I guess that is what surprised me the most. What I felt was emptiness. It reminded me that according to our faith, the flesh is all that remains. The spirit has gone on to be with our Father. That provides comfort. But the emptiness remains.

What I kept returning to, standing there in the cold, staring at the grave of a fallen friend, were the words of a poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye.

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am
a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun
on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the
morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and
I am not there; I did not die.

03 January 2010

Lament by F.S. Flint


The young men of the world
Are condemned to death.
They have been called up to die
For the crime of their fathers.

The young men of the world,
The growing, the ripening fruit,
Have been torn from their branches,
While the memory of the blossom
Is sweet in women's hearts;
They have been cast for a cruel purpose
Into the mashing-press and furnace.

The young men of the world
Look into each other's eyes,
And read there the same words:
Not yet! Not yet!
But soon perhaps, and perhaps certain.

The young men of the world
No longer possess the road:
The road possesses them.
They no longer inherit the earth:
The earth inherits them.
They are no longer the masters of fire:
Fire is their master;
They serve him, he destroys them.
They no longer rule the waters:
The genius of the seas
Has invented a new monster,
And they fly from its teeth.
They no longer breathe freely:
The genius of the air
Has contrived a new terror
That rends them into pieces.

The young men of the world
Are encompassed with death
He is all about them
In a circle of fore and bayonets.

Weep, weep, o women,
And old men break your hearts.

F.S. Flint