Back With a Bang
Well, I made it back to FOB Iskan after cooling my heels for a few days at DFW and Camp Ali Al Salem, Kuwait. I sat out for a couple missions, and then got right back into it and helped capture some bad guys on my first mission back. We raided a bunch of houses, and the funnest part of that mission was that I got to breech several doors and a car window with my shotgun. (By breech, I mean that I shot the lock with the shotgun to weaken it. Then I kicked it open.) Believe or not it's even more fun than it looks like on TV. Guys just like to break and blow things up. Especially when those things belong to a bad person.
Funny story: we needed to search a car outside of the bad guys' house, but it was locked. My buddy called over the radio, that we were breeching (shooting) the window with the shotgun so that no one would get startled. The PL (my boss) called back and said, "See if you can find a car key." We really didn't have time to go searching for a key,
so all they heard around the front of the house was: BANG! Then me on the radio, "Looks like I found the key." Maybe I didn't follow orders exactly, but we all got a good laugh out of it later. We pick on our PL a lot, but he's a pretty good sport about it. Meanwhile in Alaska
Laura is adjusting to being preganant again. I feel aweful for her because she has had so much nausea. Of course, it's hard to feel too bad since her nausea means that a new life is forming inside of her. It reminds me of how Jesus brought life to us through so much pain. Laura has had a chance to get out with the girls some when the weather is nice (it's already cooling off in Alaska), and she sent me some good pictures of the girls. I have been a bit lazy with my camera this month. It's hard to stay motivated to take pictures when you see the same things every day. Emotional Honesty
Sometimes I write about negative attitudes, emotions, actions, and events, some of which even reflect poorly on me. I often ask myself, "Should
I write that?" Is that too negative? Often I censure or down play much of the negativity, but I allow some to slip through. And, I think that is a good thing. This place is very negative. This organization, the US Army, is very negative. How could it not be? Its sole purpose is to promote peace by making war - the most negative of all human endeavors. I write these things because I want people to know us - to know this place - to know me. People often write me and ask, "What do you need? What can we do for you?" Well, here is the answer: Hear me. Listen to me. Know me. Here Me
Fighting a war sucks, and vets want to know that the people we are fighting for appreciate us. We really appreciated the tangible reminders of your support such as letters and care packages, but for some of us it is just as important to know that you are listening. This place is stressfull, especially after 11 months. The guys are wound up tighter than a drum. The other day two roomates got into a fight. One guy got his nose broken.
Other roomates have been very close to that several times. Just getting this stuff off our chests helps a lot. I'm probably much less stessed than most of the guys because of God's grace and my relationship with him, but writing this stuff down and getting your comments and messages back still means a lot to me.
That is why I even write about things that can make me look angry or petty or disgruntled. Because in this war, everyone is angry and petty and disgruntled. Maybe not all (or even most) of the time, but each of us spends a significant chunk of everyday mad at the world. Perhaps it helps to get that out. Perhaps we just want you to understand us. Perhaps we just want to impress you with our war stories. I don't know, but I do know that we want to be heard. We need to be heard - at the very least by those who are closest to us.
So if you really want to tell a vet thanks, offer him a cup of coffee and ask him what he did in the war. If he feels like talking, he'll appreciate your
My Only Picture From August
An Not a Very Good One - It was 4 am and we had just gotten off guard.
interest; and you might have to pry yourself away from him. If he doesn't, he'll probably just change the subject. He'll still appreciate the coffee and the interest. (One disclaimer: a lot of these young soldiers don't drink coffee because they like those new-fangled energy drinks. If you want to offer him a Red Bull instead, that's up to you but I think coffee is as American as apple pie. That makes Red Bull a sure sign of communism.
) Speaking of Coffee
One of our AnySoldier supporters sent me a bunch of care packages all at once. I opened the first to find a cooler; and I thought "What the heck am I supposed to do with this cooler?" It didn't surprise me though because I've gotten some pretty off the wall stuff through AnySoldier. Sometimes people mean well, but just miss the mark a little. For example: someone sent some Reece's Pieces the other day. I love Reece's Pieces, but there is something funny that happens to chocolate after sitting in the desert heat for a couple weeks. We ended up with a Reece's Puddle. Still we appreciated the thought and got a good chuckle out of the mess. At other times people send things that you never thought of, but once you have it you can't imagine living without it. This was one of those times. But I digress. The next box I opened containded blended iced coffee mix. I thought, "That's sweet, but where does she expect me to find a blender to mix this up?" Finally, I opened the last box and everything made sense. It contained brand new blender. So I keep ice in the cooler; and when we come in from a long, hot mission or guard shift, we mix up a pitcher of iced coffee. MMM!!! My whole squad is thrilled. We're the envy of the platoon because there's not enough coffee mix to go around, so (I'm ashamed to say) we're a bit stingy. In any event, what a sweet and thoughtful gesture. I'm sure we'll run out of mix before we can get more in the mail, but now that the thought is planted in our heads, we've already started brainstorming on how were can improvise our own mix. So thank you to all of you out there that participate in anysoldier (or similar organizations). You guys make our lives over here much better! Other Great Ideas
That is one idea that really lifts our spirtits, but it's hard to predict what is really going to impact a particular soldier. Sometimes it's the littlest thing. American Airlines let me get a shower at their Admiral's Club in DFW Airport. Wow, that was the best shower ever! Sometimes it's the big things. A guy I know got a PSP (portable playstation) and some games in the mail. We were all shocked that someone could be so generous with a complete stranger.
One person recently sent me some new sheets and a foam mattress pad. That made my week! Back in the states, I have a super nice bed and mattress; but here a $10 mattress pad blows my mind! One random gentleman that I met at DFW offered to upgrade my ticket with his excess airline miles. I couldn't use them since I was getting on an Army chartered flight, but what a kind gesture and what a great idea! The hard part for you is knowing what to send - good luck with that. Sometimes we don't even know what we could use until it surprises us in the mail, and sometimes we just don't want to say because we don't want to be greedy. However, you can't go wrong with AT&T's international phone cards or gift certificates from TacticalTailor.com, LAPoliceGear.com, Amazon, etc.
Those are some ideas that I really liked, and maybe that will give you ideas for the other soldiers you may support. I have to admit though, that the iced coffee idea was a real stroke of genius. I can't imagine anyone not loving that. Of course, regular ground coffee is best from November to Februrary when it cold here. Five Percent Dead
I am still thinking about re-enlisting, but one of the main reasons I hesitate is because I'm tired of "being owned." When you enlist in the Army, you voluntarily forfeit much of your personal freedom, so that you can help preserve America's freedom. You can't chose where you live, when you work, what you wear, who's your doctor, when you deploy, or whether the purpose of a dangerous mission justifies the risk you will assume when you leave the wire. You lose your freedom. In many ways you "die" a little bit for four years and you "die" a lot when you deploy. What do I mean? I missed a whole year with my family. I missed birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, seeing my daughter learn to walk and talk. My wife missed me too. She missed me helping nurture and discipline my daughters. She missed me help cook and clean. She missed date nights and long talks about our relationship. It's almost like I'm temporarily dead for a year.
If you figure that Americans live to be around 80. A four year enlistment is five percent of their life; so when an 18 year-old kid raises his right hand, he just sacrificed five percent of his life for you and me. He's now five percent more dead. Every veteran, whether they served in peace time or war, died (at least a little bit) for you and me. They may not have died completely, but they died nonetheless. Death Brings Life
But here's the good part: "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels - a plentiful harvest of new lives. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity." John 12:24-25
The point here is this: not only does a soldier's sacrifice preserve the freedom and lives of Americans. The soldier actually gains more life than he loses. The very act of sacrifice changes him and helps him lead a more "alive" life. I can't count how many people that I've met that were going nowhere before the Army. Now, they are putting the needs of others before themselves and learning the discipline to make something out of themselves.
The same is true of our spiritual life. If Jesus hadn't died, we would all be hopelessly dead in our sins; but through His death, he gave us the opportunity to chose life in Him. Furthermore, life in Him requires us to gradually die to self. True life grows from death. He who gives up his life now in order to seek life though Jesus will gain life for all eternity, but he who clings to this earthly life will die for eternity separated from God. Arbitrary Policy
I've really been plagued lately with frustration about leaders arbitrarily setting policies about duties that they do not have to perform. It can be as simple as and harmless as a leader setting the standard for what uniform will be worn while on guard duty. It's easy for them to say, that you can't roll up you sleeves, must wear gloves, and can't un-blouse your pant legs when they don't have to ever spend six hours in a guard tower at 130 degrees. In theory (and in an air conditioned HQ building), these decisions are good ideas. They are designed to protect the soldier from potential (yet highly unlikely) threats. In practice however, that leader's "good ideas" about the uniform are like a slap in the face. To the soldier, they simply reinforce that the leader doesn't have to do what you do and doesn't care what burden his good ideas put on your shoulders because in the end, his good ideas make him look proactive and smart to his boss.
Policy can also arbitrarily subject combat troops to unnecessary danger. For example, we frequently go out on pointless missions. Time, energy, fuel, and wear and tear on equipment are wasted on missions in which there is no reasonable expectation any positive result. The only reason I can imagine for these "busy work" mission is so that some leader somewhere can go into some meeting with his boss and say, "My unit's been working really hard. We completed X number of missions this week. Aren't we great?" The "busy work" missions we go on are supposed to be safer, but nothing is more dangerous than driving on the roads. It doesn't matter if you're rolling out on a raid to get bad guys or just rolling out to waste time. You're still rolling out on dangerous roads. It would be the equivalent of a fire department setting abandoned buildings on fire just to put them out so they could be more productive than the other departments. Eventually someone is going to die fighting an artificial fire, but at least the commander didn't have to risk his career by standing up for what is right. Small price for us to pay to make sure his pension and promotion plans are intact! I'm disgusted. Common sense and thorough planning - not policy - should run this war; and for that to happen, decision making must be pushed down to the lowest level possible where careerism is hopefully mitigated by a vested interest in the soldiers performing the mission.
I'm sorry. I'm just very frustrated. I am a leader although not a very important one, and I kick and scream about the usless risk of human life. In all fairness, I must say that it is easier for me to stick my neck out because I have had successful careers as a civilian. I can just go back to programming computers if I make to many officers mad here. It is more difficult for other leaders who don't have anything but their Army career, but when has doing right ever been easier than doing wrong? One of my soldiers has a baby girl at home that he has only seen for a few short days. What will I tell his wife if he doesn't come home because he was out on a "busy work" mission. I'll tell her that he was a hero, because he is. But I'll hate the leaders who wasted his heroism. Peace?
I would hate to end on a bad note; so I must say that "peace" has broken out between some of the insurgent factions and the Americans. At first that seems great, but were not yet sure if we can trust these guys. Only a little while ago, many of them were the ones attacking us. It's also hard to just fogive and forget especially for those guys who have lost really close friends. Eventually, we must forgive or this war will go on forever; but it is a bitter pill to swallow. It is risky, unpleasent business; but it been working in other provinces and seems to be working here so far. I sure hope that we're making the right choice and that the unit that comes here when we leave will spend the year in relative boredom. Most of all, I hope it works so I don't have to come back.
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