"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

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)."