"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

23 February 2010

Good Luck, Maggie!

My dear friend Maggie joined the Air Force.

Maggie is the reason I am blogging now, as it was her encouragement that made me follow through with starting my own.

It has been a bit of a process for her to get everything ready and her contract straightened out, but everything came together for her. She has had the additional blessing/burden of planning a wedding while preparing herself for Basic.

She left yesterday for BMT.

She was anxious, but she was also ready. I know she will do well and I can't wait to celebrate her graduation with her.

I am praying for her mother, who especially needs a little reassurance that everything will turn out ok. I don't think she expected to have a daughter in the military.

Go wish her well at Maggie Joins Up.

Good Luck Maggie!

18 February 2010

D Joins the Corps

My cousin D is going to be a United States Marine.

Signed the papers for DEP.

Ship date is this summer.

Love ya D.

We are proud of you.

Semper Fi.

17 February 2010

Illegitimis non Carborundum

Well, that happened sooner than I thought it would.

In every deployment, there is a moment when something happens. Whatever it is, it makes you reach for the phone to call the person. Sometimes it is a funny thing, sometimes it is a sad thing, sometimes it is a happy thing.

Yesterday, I lost my job. "Downsized" after 5 years of loyal service. Completely blindsided.

Stunned, upset, and anxious all I wanted to do was call my best friend and talk it out.

But I couldn't do that.

I can't do that.

I'll tell him, at some point, when he is able to communicate. And when the time is right for him to hear it.

But I can't just pick up the phone and be reassured that everything will turn out ok- by the person I turn to when I need to be reassured that everything will be ok.

That's what sucks about deployment.

Yesterday I was stunned. Today I am wallowing. Tomorrow I turn on the determination and figure out my next step.

Miss ya Bestie.

14 February 2010

And so it Begins...Again

"The next 12-14 months of my life will be spent away from my wife, away from my home, and hoping each day to see the next. Someday I will look back on this year to come as a tremendous life experience, where I learned valuable lessons and came away a better man, but I am not yet to that point. Instead, I am only at the point of sorrow for the months that lie ahead, and for the woman and home I leave behind...I'm sorry I must leave, but I must do what is asked of me by my God, my Country, and my Corps..." ~Bestie, USMC

A short time ago, the day that has so hung in our collective consciousness for the past few months-D-Day-arrived.

I essentially began the process of goodbye the when he left home after his last leave. It was the last time I got to hug him, to say the important things. But now the time has come for real. He has said his goodbyes to his wife, the sea bags are packed and loaded, the final phone calls in the United States have been made.

And so it begins. Deployment. Again.

Having been through this with him once before, at least I know what to expect. I can better predict his moods, what to send in care packages, and when he will need cheering up. There is some comfort in that.

But this deployment also has it's unknowns. It is a new country. New, perhaps more volatile, situations will be faced on the ground. And this time, Bestie is plus one. Bestie-in-law wasn't around during the last trip to a foreign land. This time, I get to support the both of them the best I can.

I find that it is still scary to send your best friend to war. There is an uncertainty that is uncomfortable. There is a knowledge that it will be some time before this changes. These deployments are freaking long....

But, I also know they are doable. A weight settles in your heart that doesn't lift until that plane touches down again in the United States. Its time to get comfortable again, with the knot in the stomach, because it will be a constant companion. There will be a lot of growth and change for everyone in the next year, that is inevitable. None of us will be the same people we were before this started. But this purgatory that is a loved one at war will eventually end, no matter how we feel on the bad days.

The tough part is that we do not yet know if the bad days will outnumber the good, or how bad they will be, for us and for him. We can hope for a quiet tour, but there are no guarantees. For Marines in Afghanistan, there are very few guarantees at all.

There is something heartbreaking, about that last call from an airport in the States. There is so much more behind what is said. The call is brief. There is some small talk, some necessary details to pass on, and then all too soon, time is up. There are other people to get a hold of in the time allowed. I end with a simple, travel safe. He says he will. There are emotions hanging in the air that neither of us acknowledge...

And so it begins...again.

My cell phone is now permanently attached to my body and will be answered no matter what the time, or what strange number appears on the screen.

The yellow ribbon has gone up on my door, my parents door, my grandparents door, and even the church's door to show that our Marine is at war once again.
Grandpa prayed especially for him at church today. That he would be protected, that his anxiety, worry, and fears will be eased, that he will have peace of mind, that He will guide Bestie's hands as he does his job to the best of his ability, for the leaders that send him into battle and make the small and large decisions once he is there. It says something about the moment, that Grandpa's voiced cracked, and he emitted a rough, shaking sob, before regaining his composure and praying that Bestie will be returned home physically and mentally whole.

The is nothing to do now but support each other.

Support our Marine.

Take one day at a time.


I posted this prayer, by a Rabbi, the last time Bestie went off to the scary places and I will do so again. It articulates what I want to say better than any other:

A Prayer for Our Soldiers

God of love, God of peace, Out of the depths of despair, we call to You. Our ears ring with the words "Do not fear." But our stomachs churn with the acid of doubt. Determined to preserve our shared world from the tyranny of terrorism, we turn to You for answers, for values, for strengths.

We stand before You with respect and concern for those who have been summoned to protect and secure our nation, our world. Give them the courage to meet the chilling stare of death...Return them safely to fulfill dreams unrealized so that they may bless Your name through the lives they live. May their efforts further the cause of peace throughout the world and bring us closer to the day when "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn of war anymore." Amen.

Godspeed Bestie.
You make me proud.
Travel safe. Keep your helmet on.
Love you.
Semper Fi.

10 February 2010

I'm Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen- My Journey Home by Shoshana Johnson

I was excited to come across Shoshana Johnson's book with M.L. Doyle, I'm Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen- My Journey Home.

I'm glad she decided to share her story, as it is an important piece of the Iraq War POW narrative. So much of what we, the public, have heard about what happened is clouded by DOD gag orders and agendas and media ADD. Even when the official report came out on the 507th Maintenance Company's incident in Nasiriyah, many contributing factors seemed to be missing.

The book itself is a cohesive narrative I couldn't put down. I read it in about a day and half. It alternates between Shoshana's civilian and early Army life and her time in captivity, as she explains how she ended up in the Army, the 507th, Kuwait, Iraq, and finally a POW.

She sheds light on the details of her captivity, on her captors' aggression and moments of kindness. She speaks of the bonds forged with her fellow prisoners and the loss of so many friends in the ambush.

Most importantly, she sheds light on aspects of her captivity and total experience as a POW the media often missed. It becomes apparent how poorly both Shoshana and Jessica Lynch were treated by the Army and the media. Lynch was used exploited by both for ratings and morale and was forced to defend herself against an avalanch of attention she had no part in creating. Shana was given less media attention, saw her injuries rated differently by the Army, and had to deal with insinuations that she was jealous of Jessica Lynch's attention when the truth was that they remained friends.

Shoshana Johnson's story highlights some very important aspects of the POW incident that both the Army and the media should learn from.

For me, the most surprising part has been learning of the backlash many of the POWs faced once they were returned to units stateside. They faced resentment from fellow soldiers and despite attending media events on orders from the Army, that they were receiving undeserved attention.

Instead of taking responsibility for failures that led to the ambush in Nasiriyah, the various Army and media reports left the impression that the 507th were somehow so incompetent and negligent that they bore the blame for their predicament. Johnson rebuts those accusations and spells out the way a series of problems from training, to leadership, to equipment failure, broken procedure, and confusion came together to contribute to the death, injury, and capture of the 507th Maintenance Company.

In the closing chapters, Johnson mentions that the 507th doesn't exist as such anymore, the Army having re-purposed and renamed the unit. She and other OIF POWs aren't invited to many Army POW events anymore, and her speaking engagements have dwindled.

It is important to remember the sacrifices of the 507th Maintenance Company and the OIF prisoners of war. No matter how much some segments of the military may wish to pretend it never happened, it did. There are lessons to be learned to prevent such incidents from occurring in future conflicts.

Above all, each member of the 507th was a volunteer who served their country in a time of war. Many, many members of that unit lost their lives. Others faced injury and captivity and conducted themselves with honor and dignity. They deserve to be remembered. Their stories deserve to be told.

07 February 2010

Super Bowl Disappointment

The bestie and I are both huge, lifelong Colts fans.

He happened to be home on leave the year we won the Super Bowl. He went with me all over town to find one of the few remaining #18 jerseys. It took forever, but we finally found one. Had to get an away jersey because all the home ones were sold out. Went over to his place for the game and enjoyed his dad's entertainment system. Watched the game with his family.

We won and the celebration that erupted was epic.

It was an absolute blast.

It was a memory I hold dear, and it is one that I know he shares and enjoys as well.

I really wanted us to win.

I wanted Peyton to get another ring and shut up the critics.

I wanted to end the season on a positive note, rather the than sour one the regular season left.

I wanted another moment of bliss and celebration.

Mostly I wanted them to win it for him.

I wanted him to have that memory to take with him when he leaves for the scary places.

I wanted him to have one last amazing night to celebrate and be carefree again, before it is time to get serious.

I'm sad we lost. I'm sad we didn't get to all share that joy together.

Maybe next time.

02 February 2010

Pre-Deployment Leave

The bestie is officially on pre-deployment leave.

That kind of makes it real.

The time really is short now, before he heads to Afghanistan to do the Marine thing.

Enjoy your week Bestie.

Love ya.

01 February 2010

The Lonely Soldier by Helen Benedict

Book for last week was The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq

I wasn't sure what the make of this one at first. The author interviewed women who served in Iraq and discussed their experiences in the military. She focused on five women in particular, three who joined prior to 9/11 and 2 who joined after. All are enlisted soldiers, two are NCOs.

The book discusses an important issue that does not get enough attention, which is sexual harassment and assault within the military. This issue is often swept under the rug by the military and ignored by the media. Despite being a integral part of the armed forces, women still face a hostile institutional structure that can be detrimental to their careers. Despite the gains that have been made, women are still considered inferior to men, as established by law that women cannot serve in combat roles.

Benedict points out that the demeaning language and attitudes towards women begin in boot camp. She also points out the disparity in the images put forth by the Army, noting in their websites and brochures, women are represented in pictures beside Army Values such as loyalty, but not one is included next values like honor, courage, and commitment. Women have to prove themselves as soldiers to the men. In their attempts to do this, the often lose parts of their identity, seeking to be tough, and conducting themselves in a way that will not make them stand out. Benedict quotes all of her interview subjects as being in agreement that men give female soldiers three roles to fill, that of ho, bitch, or dyke. Having to alter their personalities, habits, and even the way they walk to fit into this type of hostile environment makes readjustment to the civilian world particularly difficult for women.

Benedict sites pervasive sexual harassment and assault as reasons why women have higher rates of PTSD in Iraq. Depending on their unit and job, women often find themselves isolated in Iraq, perhaps being the only female among 36, 60, or 100 men. The women she interviews do not find the bond that so many others find amongst their comrades in arms at war. Instead, they found themselves undermined, objectified, and humiliated at almost every turn. They found themselves traumatized not only by the war, but by the very men who were supposed to have their backs. Incidents of sexual assault and rape are not reported nearly as often as in the civilian world, and only about 8% of such crimes are prosecuted, compared to 40% in civilian life.

The stories these women relay are heart wrenching, infuriating, and troubling to say the least.

At this point the data the book uses are a little dated, focusing primarily on the time period between 1999-2006. I have to hope that things have improved in the time since the book was published.

Each of these issues is real- especially those regarding a misogynist military culture- and must be addressed by the military, and if not the military, then by Congress. However, I am left with a few lingering thoughts. It is hard to know if the horrible experiences the 5 women in the book have are as common as Benedict makes it seem. When she briefly discusses where she met women veterans to interview, she discusses finding them at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War and Veteran's for Peace meetings. I say that not because these women should be judged for being members of these groups, but because it may have squed Benedict's sample of female veterans.

Benedict does make some great points about what must be done for our women veterans, especially those who have served in Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

Among those I find to be particularly sound are:

1.) "Women have always been met with hostility when they first tried to enter male domains, whether as voters or police officers, firefighters or politicians, and the answer has never been to give up, but to stay and fight for reform until the culture changes and accepts them (224)."

2.) Stop restricting the jobs women can do in the military. The arguments are antiquated and women have proven in Iraq that they can do the job. Combat support roles have become combat roles as women follow infantry units door to door, search and engage targets, guard prisoners, serve as gunners in ground convoys and in the air, guard checkpoints, and sit in FOBs that are mortared and bombed. Recognize women for the courageous job that they are doing right beside their male counterparts. This will also help female veterans when they return home. No woman who has served should be treated like a second class veteran. No woman should have her war stories denied and ignored because she has a ponytail instead of a high and tight.

3.) End official antipathy toward women (225).

4.) Distribute women more evenly. No women should serve alone with all male platoons, for it leaves them isolated and vulnerable to assault (226).

5.) Improve training in the prevention and understanding of sexual assault for all recruits, enlisted personnel, and officers; Reform military handling of sexual abuse
6.) Provide better services to female veterans returning from war. They have different needs than their male counterparts and should receive the same level of service for them.

I agree with Benedict's closing lines:
"At least 160,500 women have served in Iraq by now, risking their lives, limbs, and well-being, as they will again in future wars. It is wrong for us as a nation to ask women to do this and then treat them as inferior to men."