Monday, December 18, 2006

Listen In

In lieu of a better post I just wanted to mention that I will be “appearing” on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show on the 27th of this month. If you live in an area that broadcasts his show be sure to tune in but if you don’t go here to find out how you can listen. I believe I will be on for the whole show so call in and say hi if the spirit moves you.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Where do we go now?

Since I have expressed my disdain for the “findings” of the ISG I suppose I should offer my opinion on what course I believe our military should take to win the war in Iraq and against the greater war on terrorism in general.

First off when we find ourselves engaged in a war our military are more often than not the ones fighting it. Unless things have changed in the past three weeks since I left Iraq there weren’t any politicians on ground clothed with body armor patrolling the streets looking for the bad guys. My point being that in war we should let the war fighters fight the war with their guns and steely knives not the politicians. America cannot afford to hamstring it’s military any longer with senseless limitations.

I am not the first to make this point but the ISG offers no course for victory in Iraq. The ISG instead discusses what they think would be our smoothest course of action for pulling out of Iraq. Who said pulling out of Iraq is our only course of action? I guess considering our recent history with Vietnam, Beirut, several embassy bombings, Mogadishu, the first bombing of the WTC and the USS Cole to name a few we have been accustomed to either non-action or quitting the fight too soon.

A true Iraq Survey Group would not have been comprised of men like Baker and Hamilton but rather, men like General Norman Schwarzkopf and General Tommy Franks for their ability to make tough decisions. Along with these men a group of soldiers who had recent experience on the ground would serve as no nonsense advisors. We would need soldiers of all ranks and jobs in order to fully grasp the big picture. As I have noted before it is often hard to obtain the real picture from high-ranking officers alone so a true mix of all types of soldiers would be ideal. Throw in some educated Iraqis and a group of Iraqi soldiers who are risking their lives to save their country from falling into the hands of the terrorists and I believe my version of the ISG would come up with much more sensible recommendations than Baker’s ISG did.

The most important key for victory is to counteract the negative press coming out of Iraq. Terrorists know that to beat America they must do it on the nightly news and not on the battlefield. As things stand right now no terrorist organization or terrorist supporting country could even hope to hang with our military in battle. From my own experience I believe the terrorists are merely keeping up the fight in order to wear down the resolve of the American people. My company traveled the roads of northern Iraq and we often encountered roadside bombs but never were any of our soldiers injured. The IEDs were small and merely an annoyance. I often wondered why anyone would risk their life to place such a small bomb that had no hope of injuring anyone besides themselves and I came to the conclusion that as long as bombs were going off the news would report on them and the American people who don’t know any better will think that chaos continues to reign in Iraq.

I am not against changing our course in Iraq but I am against cutting and running. With a realistic plan for victory composed by the very men and women who are doing the fighting combined with a media who was behind our efforts I believe a victory would not be long behind. If our military was simply allowed to do their job and not be hamstrung by politicians 5000 miles and a world away Iraq would be a much different place.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What we should and should not do: An Authoritative Voice...

After watching the Iraq Survey Group press conference today I am a firm believer that all politicians are idiots. Okay well not all of them but they all have a problem understanding reality. If any politician is reading this now feel free to email me and we’ll go out for coffee and I’ll further explain. But I digress.

The Iraq Survey Group’s findings or rather, recommendations are a joke and could have only come from a group of old people who have been stuck in Washington for too long. The brainpower of the ISG has come up with a new direction for our country and that includes negotiating with countries whose people chant “Death to America” and whose leaders deny the Holocaust and call for Israel to be wiped from the face of the earth. Baker and Hamilton want us to get terrorists supporting countries involved in fighting terrorism! If I am the only one who finds something wrong with that then please let me know because right now I feel like I am the only person who feels this way.

Not only are the findings of the ISG a joke but the people who led the group (Baker and Hamilton) treat soldiers like they are a joke. One of the main recommendations of the ISG is to send more troops to Iraq in order to train Iraqis so they can secure their own country, but they don’t feel that we are doing a good job of that right now because training Iraqis isn’t an attractive job for soldiers to do because it isn’t a “career advancing” job. As someone who trained Iraqis from time to time I take personal offense to this remark. In my experience soldiers clamored for the chance to train Iraqis. Any soldier who doesn’t think training Iraqis is worth their time because it isn’t a “career advancing” job shouldn’t be part in the war on terror plain and simple.

What the group desperately needed was at least one their members to have been in the military and had recent experience in Iraq. The problem with having an entire panel with no one under the age of 67 is that none of them could possibly know what the situation is actually like on the ground in Iraq. Now I concede that it is possible to have a good understanding of things as they stand in Iraq but unless you interact with the people of Iraq and spend a year or years of your life on ground you cannot possibly have a complete picture of the situation.

We cannot appease our enemies and we cannot continue to cut and run when the going gets tough. As it stands in the world right now our enemies view America as a country full of queasy people who are inclined to cut and run when things take a turn for the worse. Just as the Tet Offensive was the victory that led to our failure in Vietnam our victories in Iraq now are leading to our failure in the Middle East. How many more times must we fight to fail? I feel like all of my efforts (30 months of deployment time) and the efforts of all my brothers in arms are all for naught. I thought old people were supposed to be more patient than a 24 year old but apparently I have more patience for our victory to unfold in Iraq than 99.9 percent of Americans. Iraq isn’t fast food-you can’t have what you want and have it now. To completely change a country for the first time in it’s entire history takes time, and when I say time I don’t mean 4 years.

Talking doesn’t solve anything with a crazed people, bullets do and we need to be given a chance to work our military magic. Like I told a reporter buddy of mine: War sucks but a world run by Islamofacists sucks more.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Back Home

I finally made it home a week and a half ago and have been thoroughly enjoying some time off. I have seen most of my family and friends and have enjoyed simply being in America. Being home feels completely normal to me and I haven’t even thought about Iraq one iota. The transition from soldier life to civilian life has been seamless and I rather prefer it that way, I suppose it can be chalked up to my crafty veteran status since I seem to do this every other year.

The last couple weeks in Iraq at times were pretty lame and I doubt I ever had that much free time. We played cards and watched football biding our time before we boarded the plane out of Iraq. Not all was completely unexciting as we narrowly avoided an ambush on our last mission just days before we left country. We were delayed two days in Kuwait when five different dogs smelled something “fishy” on our plane and I swear the beer in Ireland made us intoxicated at a quicker pace then I ever remembered before. It seemed as if everything was working against our coming home. Kiss my butt terrorists you’ll have to try harder than that.

But now I am back and life is good for the time being. Everything here seems to have taken on a new significance and I appreciate things a lot more. Of course I did this before and the feelings do fade with time so I’ll enjoy the taste of real food and the thrill of making my own decisions while they are still new. I have told countless people that it feels completely normal to be back home and that I am doing fine “really I am, don’t worry about me.” Everyone looks at me with a concerned stare just to make sure I am really telling the truth I guess.

I’m taking it easy for now but I’ll head off to school next year and see if I can finish up my three and a half year degree in my seventh year. “There are lots of people who go to school for seven years Tommy, they’re called doctors.” Once completed I think I just might get myself stuck in school for another three years to learn about those pesky things called laws. Who knows maybe there will be another deployment thrown in there? But who am I kidding, with a House and Senate controlled by the democrats we’ll probably be worrying too much about how to put everyone on welfare and see to it that no one has to pay for health care. I survived bullets and bombs now let’s see if I can survive a country where Nancy Pelosi is third in command.

So for the time being I am trying to figure out what exactly I’ll be doing with my blog. As soon as I find out I’ll let everyone know so rest assured, I know that is probably first and foremost on your minds right about now so I’m just looking out for you. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. If you have some time take a minute to think about how well we have it in America. I can’t even begin to list them but playing golf in a free society is right near the top.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Last Few Thoughts

Since I am only a few days away from leaving Iraq I haven't had much time to access the internet let alone follow the news. When I finally made it to a computer I found out that a lot has been going on in the last few days that concerns me to an extent. In light of those events I'll add my two cents although most of what I am going to say people will probably already be able to guess.

First, John Kerry has been and continues to remain an idiot. There isn't really much left to say on the subject that hasn't already been said. He constantly puts his foot in his mouth and is an embarrassment to America. Whether or not he intended his comment to insult those serving in the military is not the question, because even if he didn't, the end result is that he did. Kerry often touts the fact that he served in the military in Vietnam and thinks that it gives him a pass to continually talk as if he is a lifelong member of the "I-can-make-fun-of-the-military-because-I-am-a-member-of-the-club" or something. In my eyes Kerry revoked his "cool pass" with the military long ago and is no longer immune to criticism when he makes jokes about those who serve. Are there stupid people in the military? Yes. Are there smart people in the military? Yes. But there are also stupid people in college. I would much rather be around truck drivers and welders in the military for the rest of my life instead of having to dwell among the people at universities and the ketchup-heir-wooers of the world in all of their infinite wisdom. What John Kerry doesn't understand is that the people in the military are genuine people unlike the leaders of the democratic party he hangs out with. John Kerry is so far removed from reality that his jokes don't even make sense. He is nothing but an embarassment and the fact that he even draws so much attention when he does something stupid amazes me.

Moving on, elections are coming up in a few days and I have a plea for all voters: Do not let the events in Iraq in the next few days affect the way you vote. Our enemy is a calculating foe and has timed some major attacks right before elections back home in order to scare people away from voting pro-victory. We need leaders to continue to fight terrorism wherever it may be found and right now that place is Iraq. Our enemy knows Americans are a weak-kneed people and is counting on more bloodshed to scare them into voting for the cut and run party. Don't do it though. We need the right people in power to see that we continue to fight so that we can win and show the world we aren't scared to follow through with what we know is right. Enough said, I'll leave the details for you to find out on your own.

I'll share an analogous story with you. The other night I was on the road and our convoy happened upon a donkey in the middle of the road and he wasn't going to move for anything. We drove right at him going 50 miles an hour and he didn't flinch. This donkey was impeding our ability to make progress so we swerved to avoid from hitting him. He stayed in the middle of the road for the entirety of the convoy and never moved. Being experienced soldiers we knew that we needed to press on and continue the mission despite the efforts of the donkey to stop us dead in our tracks. We eventually made it back to base safely and laughed about the whole incident.

Take what you want from the story but all I ask is that you don't let the donkey impede our progress any longer.

That is all I have for now but stick around as I have several posts planned in the near future. I know most soldier/bloggers do not continue to blog upon arriving home but I plan on doing so, so continue to check out my blog. Also stick around to see if I can will myself to make a video blog that I have been thinking about making these past few days.

Friday, October 27, 2006

All You Ever Wanted To Know And More

So here it is in all it's glorious longness. I was vain enough to interview myself and will probably have other milbloggers thinking about me as they always have: "Yeah he is all right I guess but I think he is stuck on himself." I hope you enjoy.

From your observations do the Iraqi people have the ability, desire, and personal integrity to govern themselves totally on their own?

This is a tough question to answer right now. I in no way pretend to have all the answers but I will do my best to explain how I feel about the Iraqis ability to govern themselves. I do not believe they are ready to govern themselves in a way similar to how we do in America. I believe there is a serious lack of education in Iraq among the general public and this would hamper their ability to govern themselves in such a way that we would see as adequate. There are some decent people here and I have met several myself but on the larger scale there are too many problems with this country right now for Iraqis to govern completely on their own. With Iranian influence, fear of al qaeda, and a general dislike between Sunnis and Shias, Arabs and Kurds, and Muslims and Christians, I do not believe everyone would be treated equal under an Iraqi leadership. Without equal treatment for all and without a competent army and police force many problems would arise that we can only guess at right now.

However, I believe given time and an understanding by the world at large that "new" countries will make mistakes in the early stages of government I think the Iraqis would figure things out over time. I do believe it will take them longer than most but then again we didn't figure things out ourselves for quite some time.

How does your experience in Iraq comport with U.S. media accounts of the situation over there? What are the gaps in information that we're not getting?

I have written about the media many times and don't have much new to say on the subject but I do not believe the MSM presents the whole picture of Iraq. If the world only sees the carnage in Iraq then the bigger picture certainly is not making it out. There are many cities here that are making great strides and their efforts often go unreported. If the media really want to get the big picture across they do not need to be afraid to report on positive stories. I understand that it can sometimes be hard for them to travel around and accurately gauge the general feel in Iraq but I believe it is their job and if they want to be taken seriously they need to make an effort.

The gaps in info can often be found in the writings of milbloggers like Bill Roggio, Michael Yon, Buck Sargent at American Citizen Soldier, and writers who travel to Iraq like Victor Davis Hanson. Those who come to Iraq in search of the truth will find it and if they don't have stings attached such as many reporters with major companies do, I think it will be easier for them to tell it like it is.

How do you gauge the attitude of the Iraqis toward Americans? Are most of them hostile and uncooperative?

I do not want to pigeonhole all Iraqis so I can only talk about the ones I have come in contact with. The majority of Iraqis I have been around have been hesitant at first in their dealings with Americans but once they come to know us they open up and are mainly friendly with us. Of course some of them will not want to deal with us and will be uncooperative as a result but I don't believe this sentiment runs throughout Iraq. The Iraqis I have been around, Iraqi army, police, and translators have all had a somewhat positive attitude about the direction their country is taking. Of course they probably had a positive attitude towards Americans prior to my meeting them hence their joining in the fight so my view is somewhat skewed.

What is the mindset of our troops in Iraq? Are they disturbed by the naysaying from some quarters about the war? How do they feel about being there and possibly returning later?

The mindset of our troops here is probably not what most Americans think it would be. Many soldiers are not politically minded and don't give much thought as to why they are here or what the consequences of their actions are. However, with that said there are still idealistic soldiers who understand the fight they are in and are doing their best to win the fight against terrorists who want to see America fail. I for one am one of those soldiers and know several others who share the same sentiment.

As far as returning later I would say most soldiers have accepted it. Whether or not they are happy about it is a different question but there still are a majority of soldiers reenlisting. There are also soldiers who continually volunteer to come back. For instance there are a couple of soldiers in my unit who will be volunteering for a third tour as soon as they can. These guys might just be war junkies but they do feel that they are doing something positive with their lives so their motivation isn't all bad.

What do you look forward to MOST about getting home?

Good question. I think just getting on with life. I do want to get back to reality and enjoy some of my twenties in the states though. That will probably be good enough.

What will you miss the most about Iraq?

Making a difference I suppose. Being here makes us feel like we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. It gives us an outlook on life that many kids our age back home don't have and I think when I get back to the real world I will miss having so much in common with such a tight group of people. Everyone loves being part of a community.

What would you say is the most challenging task you have faced to make a difference since you have been there?

Making it through the monotony of army life. It isn't all action over here as any soldier could tell you and there is quite a bit of down time (depending on your job that is). Added with the BS that we have to deal with apart from our jobs and spending a year here can be a trying experience.

What are your plans after you get back, short term and for the future?

First I plan on finishing up my undergraduate studies which I should do come summer time and then possibly enrolling in law school. I don't want to be a lawyer but do see myself making an attempt at politics later on down the road. I want to make a difference in this world and I think I am better equipped to do that outside of the military. Now if I can just find some people to vote for me then it might make things easier.

How has the second tour in Iraq changed your life? For better? For more difficult?

I am lucky not to have a family of my own back home or this second deployment would have been much more difficult. I admire the men and women who can have a family back home and come over here and serve honorably (there is a difference between simply coming here and serving honorably). I for one would never want to have to do it but am thankful for those who do. As far as changing my life I suppose that is has given me a better outlook on the world that I wouldn't have had if I would have just stayed in the states and went about my own business. I was able to travel at a young age and be a part of something that I consider great, one that history will look back favorably upon, and am thankful for the opportunity to have been able to help out people in need. I believe this last deployment helped me grow up in a way I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. I also saved a good it of money that will come in handy later on down the road.

Who are some of your heroes? (famous, not famous, historical, not historical, family, military or a colleague?)

I don't have any specific heroes but I do find heroic those who can stick with it when things get rough. I admire hard work and dedication but as far as heroes I don't look to any one person. All human beings have faults so while I might pick and choose traits to emulate from certain notable people I don't find myself standing in awe of anyone.

Did you meet any Iraqis who were Christians and did you have a chance to discuss it with them?

To my knowledge I never met and Iraqi Christian.

As non-military, what is the one or two things that we can do (besides not asking stupid questions!:) for (the collective) you as you return? Handshake and a thank-you? Free meal at a restaurant? Etc

I might catch some flak for saying this but soldiers don't need free stuff, although it is nice once in awhile, but rather, just a handshake and an expression of sincere thanks. If you say something like "Thank you for taking the time out of your life to help others and make the world a safer place" that would be great. We know many people support us and we do hear about it.

What would you consider your most important accomplishment as a Soldier during both tours of Iraq?

That is a tough question because I did so many important things in Iraq. There was the time I performed Chinese Fire Drills around my truck as a friend and I were traveling 55 mph down the road, then there was the time I went tubing with some Australians in the Euphrates, of course the time I was gunning naked in a turret in 40 degree weather...oh there are so many. If I was to pick one though I guess it would have to be keeping my sanity intact after all the crap I have had to deal with.

I wonder, assuming in the next few years you settle down with Mrs TF Boggs and in a few more years have little TF Boggers and TF Boggettes, how do you think (when they are old enough) a discussion about the work dad did in freeing and securing Iraq will go? And what do you see Iraq looking like when you have that discussion?

I guess that all depends on whether or not my kids are child prodigies. If they are then I will probably tell them before they hit high school and become too smart for my lies but if they aren't then probably when their teachers start telling them about the history of the Iraq war according to CNN. By that time I believe Iraq will have some form of functioning government that is able to supply decent water, decent electricity, and basic sanitation services for their people. I think that terrorism will have died down to a very small degree but will not be completely gone. They will be about as good as an ally as France is to us but will be a harmless country to the world. Basically I see them not being where we would like them to be but in a place that we can settle for.

What did one snowman say to the other?

Is that a carrot in your pocket or did you just forget to put your nose on today?

Why did you go into the Reserves or is it National Guard and not on active duty? Is it a fear of commitment? Also, what is your beef with the 101st?

I joined the army reserves because I wanted to continue to attend college while serving at the same time. I figured I would be deployed since I joined after 9/11 so it wasn't a fear of commitment. The active duty life never really appealed to me, nothing against those who choose it though. I am glad that there are people who want to be in the military for a career it was just never for me. As far as the 101st goes I have nothing against them I just mentioned in my last post that I don't believe they did a very good job securing Baghdad but that belief comes from what I have heard and read so I might be way off the mark. (I am assuming by your name that you were a rakkasan, am I right?)

What do you think about the lancet study claiming 650,000 deaths since the war began?

I apologize for not having read about the study but I did hear it mentioned several times. I don't buy into it but that is just my opinion so take it for what it is worth. I think if 650,000 people really died since 2003 I would have seen a lot more dead people than I did. 650,000 people don't exactly disappear.

When are we gonna have some beers?

As far as buying me some beers I am all for it just send me a plane ticket and I'll be out for the free beer as soon as I can. That goes for anyone, if you want to buy me beer just send me a plane ticket to where you are and I'll hop on the next plane. But seriously as soon as I can make it out your way Rick you can buy all the beer you want.

How do the Iraqis you work with see the situation? Do they speak of the violence afflicting parts of their country?

They honestly don't talk about it too much. They occasionally mention that one place or another is dangerous and they would die if they went there (because of their affiliation with us and the Iraqi army). They never really get into the meaning of it all and keep it really surface level. I imagine a lot of this is simply because of the language barrier but I can tell on their faces that it distresses them and they are concerned about their country.

If so, do they offer any opinions/ideas on how to turn the tide?

The only Iraqi I talked with that offered ideas on how to turn the tide was the general I interviewed a few months back. He said that the men of Iraq need to step up and secure their own country and if they don't nothing will ever change. He also said that they need to be willing to sacrifice their time and effort to better their country for the future and I imagine if more Iraqi men felt like him then things would slowly but surely change.

I want to know what would you say to the Americans who have become indifferent to our returning troops?

I would say that they are so wrapped up in their own lives and sick of seeing the war on TV night after night that they have quit caring. I guess it is their right to be indifferent so I wouldn't say much to them, except that I believe it is their duty to research the war and find out exactly how they feel about it since I believe what is going on in Iraq affects everyone in America. I also believe some people simply don't know how to say thanks to soldiers so I wouldn't blame everyone for not doing something but if someone doesn't have any appreciation for returning soldiers then I think they are simply ignorant.

Will you be voting to "Stay the Course" or "Change the Course" on Nov. 7?

If I had an absentee ballot (which by the way is kinda hard to get in the desert) I would be voting for victory in Iraq. Now if by "Stay the Course" you mean Republican and by "Change the Course" you mean Democrat I would be voting to "Stay the Course" since those who want to "Change the Course" are more often then not defeatists and don't have the gall to stand up for anything. So again I would vote to "Stay the Course" and not "Change the Course" unless of course by "Stay the Course" you mean only playing one golf course for the rest of my life and by "Change the Course" you mean playing different courses from time to time. If that is the case then I would definitely vote to "Change the Course" and not "Stay the Course." But as it stands now I would vote to "Stay the Course."

Would you please define what you mean by faithful?

Someone who continued to read my blogs after they realized that I was just a dumb kid from Ohio who started this blog just to score chicks.

What prompted you to blog?

My dad told me I should do it because Hugh Hewitt would realize I was the man and put a link to me on his site by June. But what my dad didn't tell me was that Hugh Hewitt would then take it down a month later for some reason. I blame my father for the whole thing. Hugh you are off the hook, it isn't your fault because you never promised me anything.

Did you have a role model, a standard set by another blogger that you wanted to meet?

Nope, I actually never read blogs until I started my own. Sorry for the lame answer.

Will you continue to blog from home or have you groomed someone still stationed in Iraq to be your eyes and ears while you are stateside?

I will continue to blog from home inshallah. I never did find someone to groom to be my heir apparent but then again Buck Sargent is still here in Iraq and I am sure if you asked him he would admit that I had a profound affect on him. So be on the lookout for Boggs stateside.

You now have the opportunity to go anywhere in the world! Where will it be?

I want to go to Tanzania off the coast of Australia in the summer time. I tried to go for my leave this year but it was winter there so I had to pick somewhere else to go.

What do you want your first meal at home to be?

Some type of food would be the best for me (mom is that you?)

What would you say to a young(er) person contemplating signing up for a branch of the military in these times?

I would say "Great! Hop into my car and I'll drive you to the recruiter myself. We'll get the papers signed today and you'll be off to basic before you know it." On a serious note I would encourage them to do so because I feel it is a duty of able bodied individuals who also have the right mindset to handle the military. I would tell them that it has changed me as a person and helped me to mature at a time when many people I know still live night to night watching The Real World and whatever show Paris Hilton is on. The money is good, you get fed for free, free clothes, free travel...what is there not to like.

Would you really do it ALL again?

Hmmm. If I had a different job and I felt I was going to be able to make a difference then yes. I would want to skip all the pre-training we have to go through before we come here but I do think I would do it all over again. Some people have to sacrifice for the betterment of the world and I don't mind doing so. I didn't really have anything else going on anyway.

Are we 'winning' the war?

Great question. If you could define winning and war for me and I could answer you according to your own definitions then perhaps yes. I do believe we are and we will continue to do so until we pull out of here.

When did you first realize you were gay? Is that the reason you joined the Army, to be around all that glistening man meat for 24/7/365?

The first time I realized I was gay was when...wait a minute you are trying to trick me aren't you? On a serious tip the privledge of being around so much "glistening man meat" for an extended period of time is only another reason I would encourage youngsters to join up. I may not be gay but I sure can appreciate a dirty, sweaty, smelly army guy like only another army guy could.

And, why can't you be as cool as Buck Sargent over on

Now I know you are toying with me. The mere mention of anyone ever being as cool as Buck Sargent is simply preposterous. No one will ever be able to achieve the level of awesomeness that Buck has in such a relatively short amount of time. You might have well asked me why I am only the second most popular milblogger on the internet or why Blackfive doesn't include me on their blogroll, those are questions only God knows the answer to.

Congrats on making it all the way through.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Ask Away

A faithful reader suggested to me in an email the other day that it might be fun to post an interview of myself just like I used to do with other soldiers in my unit (which by the way I failed miserably at continuing). So I am asking that if you would like to see this happen then post your questions in the comment section of this post and I will answer as many as I can and post them in a few days. If not then just stay away from my blog for the next week or so. Any and all questions will be answered...okay well at least considered. Ask away.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Time Is Getting Short

Leaving the wire one last time

With only three or so weeks left till I return home I am having some of the same thoughts I had at the end of my first deployment. While I am ready to go home and get away from the army for a while I feel a bit hesitant about leaving Iraq. It may sound funny to an outsider but part of me wants to stay here and continue doing my job, although admittedly a smaller part of me wants to stay this time than I did the first time. I suppose the best way to explain my feelings would be to say that I don’t like leaving a job halfway done. I would like to be able to come over here and see through what we came to do till the end but with our forces seemingly committed until at least 2010 I know that isn’t a reality.

Just when we started to feel like we had all aspects of our job down pat the time has come to pick up and leave. Months and months were invested in our training and figuring out our job. Mistakes were made in abundance but now we are to the point where we can seemingly run down the road without problem. Sure we have our minor mishaps but for the most part we are an experienced crew operating as the army wants us too. If a convoy could be a thing of beauty ours are. Okay that last statement might be over the top but you get where I am going.

I guess there in lies the rub with the way the army conducts deployments. In today’s world there would be public outcry if soldiers were deployed to a war zone for years at a time like they were in previous wars (just look at the outcry that followed the announcement about the 172nd Stryker Brigade having to extend a few months). The problem though is that it takes close to a year for soldiers to become completely comfortable with their job. With this war, where no conceivable end is in sight, it wouldn’t be possible for soldiers to remain in theater for the duration. The army must allow breaks for soldiers in order for us to maintain our sanity. However, when an experienced unit leaves their area of operation a new unit must make all the same mistakes again on their own to the disappointment and frustration of the local population. We are pretty much damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Nothing is ever perfect especially in the army, but hey who does it better than we do?

When my unit first arrived in country the unit we replaced made sure we knew not to travel in one particular town where a previous unit had mistakenly killed some people and the whole town turned on them as a result. The actions of the units before us directly affected an aspect of our mission and we had to pay the price as a result of others mistakes. I don’t want to make the case for units staying longer in theater, as I don’t want to have to do it myself, but those who are good at what they do (172nd) pay the price for those who aren’t (101st and 4th ID in Baghdad) which leads to resentment.

Correct me if I am wrong, as I am sure a lot of people will, but from what I have seen reserve soldiers care about the quality of the job they do more than active duty soldiers do. Of course this is a sweeping generality as I have no way of gauging all units but from my personal experience in my little corner of Iraq this is what I have seen. When we arrived in country we were left with a motor pool full of broken vehicles. We had barely just enough vehicles to hit the road with and often had to fix broken down vehicles out on the road. Our maintenance section put in 24-hour days trying to get our fleet back up and working and should be awarded a medal for their hard work that now has us working with almost 100 percent of our equipment. Now that we are leaving we have been working tirelessly making sure the unit replacing us has not only working vehicles, but a clean and orderly motor pool, TOC, trailers etc. Although we sometimes complain about the extra work we have to do that the active duty unit we replaced failed to do for us we realize that the mission must continue after we leave and therefore must do our part to ensure that we don’t screw the new unit like we were screwed.

Okay well I have strayed from my original topic and therefore must apologize to all of my English teachers of the past. So we are counting the days now and are finally in the teens. With only three weeks left I find myself reflecting on the experiences of the past year. When I do so I tend to think only about the good stuff and leave the bad stuff by the wayside. I did the same thing shortly after returning home from my first deployment. For some reason I can never remember all the things I bitched about or hated while in country. Instead the stories that come to mind are overwhelmingly positive. I remember when I was just a FNG trying to find the chow hall, or whatever you people in the real world call the place where you eat food. I remember hitting the road for the first time and looking forward to a year of traveling the roads of Northern Iraq. I always loved doing the things that non-military types never get to do-shooting at stuff while driving down the road, watching stuff blow up on the side of the road, talking to Iraqis about women, and lying down for bed in an open prison in Baghdad watching tracers fly through the air over my head.

When I really give it some thought I think I’ll miss this place. Iraq has been my home for two out of the last three years. I am more at home here then I am in America. I told the story before about last Thanksgiving but I think I’ll do it again because it accurately describes what I mean. Last Thanksgiving I woke up at 4:30 am on the ground in Kuwait after a few hours of sleep and then rolled over and ate my favorite MRE: Cajun Beans and Rice. It seemed perfectly normal to me and I didn’t give any thought about Thanksgiving back home. I wasn’t home sick rather, just looking forward to the day of shooting that lay ahead. Now I find myself worrying about what awaits in America. Will I be able to readjust to college life? Will I remember how to function with regular civilians? When will I learn to stop cussing and looking out for people to shoot? What will I do now that I have to pay for food and gas?

Whatever I face I know it is just a matter of time before I am back to complaining about the things we complain about in America i.e. the weather being too hot, nothing being on TV, and having to pay too much for gas ( at least I think that is what people complain about.)

I am writing this as it is raining outside. The first time it rained here was a day or so after we got here last year. Time to pack up and leave for the last time (fingers crossed!).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Victor and I

Well congratulations are due to me for making it into a Victor Davis Hanson column entitled “Traitors to the Enlightenment” this past week on his blog The Private Papers. He mentions how T F Boggs “keeps even the pope safe and the continent confident…” That is indeed high praise from one of my favorite authors isn’t it?

Okay, okay, okay so Victor wasn’t talking about me but he did mention my good old home state of Ohio.

“Those in an auto parts store in Fresno, or at a NASCAR race in southern Ohio, might appear to Europeans as primordials with their guns, “fundamentalist” religion, and flag-waving chauvinism. But it is they, and increasingly their kind alone, who prove the bulwarks of the West. Ultimately what keeps even the pope safe and the continent confident in its vain dialogues with Iranian lunatics is the United States military and the very un-Europeans who fight in it.”

I cannot claim to be a NASCAR fan but I am from Ohio. So maybe VDH didn’t have me personally in mind when he wrote the column but I bet I would make it in to his gross generalization about those who are working to protect the world from terrorists.

While I was in London on leave in August I found myself talking to a London cop that I was hanging out with for the night after downing one too many pints. As I looked around the bar I again saw what kept striking me as odd for the whole week or so I was in London: there was an absence of males that looked like “real men.” I turned to the cop and said:

“You know what, I haven’t seen anyone that looks like a real man in London.”

He looked at me for a second and then spoke: “What do you mean?”

“Well everyone has a stupid little mohawk-type deal going on with their hair and they wear tight form fitting clothes that accentuate their butt. They all look prissy to me.”

I doubt this was the best way to win over my guide for the night but I imagine he brushed it off with a thought that I was just a dumb American. I guess I must have forgotten he was a European male or something. I could really care less though and as the night progressed he seemed to forget about my comment anyway. We shared drinks and swapped stories until he left me wandering alone in downtown London at 3am miles from my hotel. Come to think about it maybe he didn’t forget about the comment.

Perhaps VDH is right, maybe all the men in the military are very un-European. Maybe that is why I only saw Justin Timberlake-like metrosexuals in London. The longer I stayed in London the more I missed America. Conceivably the men in London threw me off keel since I have been around military guys for so long and am used to smoking, cussing, belching, and lewd behavior.

Oh if only all men could be like military men then our world would be safe from terrorists but not from bad behavior.

The editors of Maxim would rule the country and Marlboro and Camel would be the different political parties. We would drink coke instead of water, dip instead of brushing our teeth, Febreze instead of wash clothes, work out instead of work, and play video games instead of read. Oh what a country!

Like it or not these are the types of guys that fight everyday for the freedoms that Americans enjoy. We may not win any politeness awards but that is not what you want of your fighting force entrusted with the task to kill the bad guys. Let us watch NASCAR and talk cars all the while skirting around books without pictures and workouts that don’t involve weights.

All this is said in order to prove me very un-European, but from the looks of it I doubt you would have confused me otherwise.

One more for good measure.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Problem That Needs To Be Fixed

Looks scary out there, I'll just stay in my trailer.

Of course there are numerous things I believe the army could fix or simply do better but there is one major problem that I believe that needs to be fixed right away. In the 30 or so months I have spent deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since February 2003 I have never heard a word out of anyone’s mouth in the army from the brigade level down about why we are fighting in Iraq. We receive numerous classes about how to behave while in country but nothing about why we are in country to begin with which leads me to believe our chain of command is not concerned about their soldiers having a clue why they are here or not. Whether or not this is the case is not what I am concerned with, it appears that way and since perceptions are a reality for a lot of soldiers I believe it needs to be addressed.

Let me get something straight before I continue though; I believe we have good reason to be in Iraq and I am content fighting for the reasons that put me here i.e. Saddam was dangerous, he expressed a want for nuclear weapons and whether or not he had them he was actively seeking them, he used WMD’s against his own people before, he violated UN sanctions etc. etc. yadda yadda yadda. The list goes on and on, and like I said is satisfactory for myself and a number of other soldiers, but I believe that most soldiers don’t have the slightest clue why they are really here. Whether this fault is completely their own or partly the fault of their chain of command is up for debate.

Why do I believe that most soldiers don’t have a clue why they are here you may be asking? Well I hear them talking about it all the time. “We are only here for the oil, to avenge Bush’s daddy, to try and take over the world” insert any loony reason you want into this sentence and they have probably said it. These beliefs are not only echoed by lower enlisted soldiers but I have also heard complete confusion or just plain wrong assumptions for our being here from senior enlisted NCOs and officers. These beliefs are not only unfounded on my fellow soldiers’ parts but also intellectually irresponsible and lazy on the part of their leaders. Leaders in the army have many responsibilities toward their soldiers and I believe one of those responsibilities is mentoring them on the why and not just then when and how.

To outline the problem more specifically I believe there is almost no understanding of why we are fighting in Iraq on the company level (i.e. each individual unit). We carry out our job day in and day out without ever hearing how we are affecting the war cause with our efforts. If we were only presented with the big picture once in awhile I think we would have more motivation to complete our job the best we are able to. I understand the job of most soldiers is to do rather than to question but I don’t believe that is an excuse to go about our jobs ignorant of the overall picture. If our leaders took the time to sit us down and talk to us about why we are in Iraq as often as they do about sexual harassment or finance we would have a much better understanding of why we are fighting.

I am willing to bet a large sum of money that most soldiers in WWII knew exactly what they were fighting for. They went to Europe and the Pacific with the knowledge that if they weren’t successful they would be facing the consequences of a Nazi dominated Europe on one side and a power hungry Japanese threat on the other. Of course it would be easier to fight a uniformed enemy like we did in WWII than to do what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan where everyone looks like an enemy, but this is precisely the reason why we need a better understanding of the big picture in order to stay motivated and keep up the fight.

I accuse myself of being guilty in the past of championing only the good of what is going on in Iraq. I have argued against polls that have come out stating that a majority of soldiers simply wish they could leave Iraq now and go home and I feel now that I would be wrong to do so again. While I do believe that if it came down to the brass tax most soldiers would agree that we should not cut and run right now I do not believe the majority of soldiers could give you a detailed description of why we are fighting in Iraq other than saying something like “we are doing it for the Iraqi people so they can be free.” Giving the Iraqi people a chance at freedom is a great and honorable thing but it is not the only reason why we are here.

This problem perplexes me and I wish I could do more about it. Of course I spend my time trying to educate fellow soldiers if they want to listen but I usually cannot get passed my first argument before someone calls me a Bush lover and asks me if I want to listen to some Toby Keith while drinking Coca Cola and eating apple pie. I liken the problem to the problem America has with poor voter turnout for elections. I do not believe everyone should vote since most people are misinformed or simply ignorant about which candidate to vote for and it is the same with soldiers and their opinions about the war. Most soldiers don’t take the time to watch the nightly news let alone read about what is going on outside their trailer. Most soldiers’ opinions don’t mean squat and shouldn’t because they don’t have a mind for anything other than their work. If a convoy to a base that needs fuel desperately to carry out helicopter missions in order to catch bad guys gets scratched due to bad circumstances so be it, more time for them to watch TV. If we only had a better idea of the consequences of our actions we wouldn’t feel this way. I don’t mean to make it sound like all soldiers could care less or don’t have brains but the reality is that some of them don’t.

So what do I believe we should do about the problem then? I think we should start training soldiers on all aspects of their deployment. If they are going to be stationed in Baghdad then we should explain to them what is going on in Baghdad and what our military leaders hope to see happen in the future. We should also explain to each unit how they figure into the plan for the future and give them constant updates about how what they are doing is affecting the outcome of the plan for the positive or the negative. This training should not be conducted individually by every unit but rather, by a team of army approved speakers that could travel around and/or compile power point slides, videos, and fact books to hand out for units to provide for their soldiers. This would probably be the only way the army would be able to control what information is being put out to soldiers and would mirror the way in which they disseminate information already so it wouldn’t be a big change.

We could also prepare soldiers at home station before they deploy by giving them a history of the region and the conflict we are in. By doing so false information and rumors would be stopped dead in their tracks before soldiers got into country and started talking to friends and family, and in some cases the media, and spreading the lies they hear from other soldiers.

All soldiers don’t have to believe in what they are fighting for but at the very least they should be educated about the reasons why their leadership has asked them to fight in a foreign land. With more education only comes more understanding and that is never a bad thing. Until the army takes this problem seriously I believe more soldiers will look back on their time in the desert as a good but unnecessary experience.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

In The Mind of a Soldier

When I returned home from my first deployment I faced a slew of questions from seemingly everyone I came in contact with. Everyone wanted to know if it was hot, sandy, did I kill anyone, did anyone in my unit die or get hurt, am I okay, do I have bad dreams at night, is my hair falling out because I was around too much depleted uranium? The question that struck me as the most odd was “Was it scary?” Several people asked me if it was scary or if I was ever scared during my time in the sandbox. I had never thought of life in Iraq as scary so the question made me pause for a minute before I answered: “Uh…nope.”

Some people reacted to my answer with wide eyes and the reply that they would most assuredly be scared if they were in my position. “Oh I couldn’t imagine being so far away from home with all that bad stuff going on.” Really, well maybe that’s why I was there and you weren’t. What people often fail to recognize about soldiers is that we aren’t afraid, sure some anxiousness comes into play at times but I wouldn’t call it being scared. We train and train to do our jobs and when we finally get to do them it is the same as mechanic fixing a car, a garbage man picking up the trash, or a teacher delivering a lesson each day. The people in those professions don’t wake up each morning wondering if they might die that day and neither do we. We might face a bit more of a chance of getting shot or blown up then they do but it is all part of the job. I think they call them occupational hazards.

So what exactly do we think each day? Most soldiers debate what player they should bench on their fantasy sports teams, what new pictures to put up on their Myspace page, how many days they have left till they go home, or what exciting topic they are going to titillate their readers with next (okay that last one was just me). My point is that we think about the same things as people do back home it’s just that we are doing so in a different time zone. Sure getting blown up might briefly cross my mind once or twice a week but it is a passing thought and goes as quickly as it comes. Why think about that stuff? If it happens it happens, what am I going to do about it? What are you going to do about getting in a car wreck besides taking the only necessary steps you can?

Admittedly these thoughts change and occur more often depending on a soldier’s job but the fact is no one in the military gives it much thought except the extremely morbid. Thinking about death too much would only hamper our ability to do our jobs. If each time I drove through a city I worried about getting hit with a car bomb or an IED I wouldn’t be able to focus on my driving. We do occasionally get hit with IEDs but that is no reason to fear them every time we are on the road. I find myself having a hard time explaining this feeling in words right now. How can I not be scared of that which might kill me each time I leave my base? I imagine these feelings might change if anyone from my unit had died on the road but so far no one has.

Lets try another example. If the soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6th 1944 were too scared to do their job then they wouldn’t have broken through the Nazi defenses that day. Sure some if not all of them were scared but too much fear only hampers one’s ability to do their job. Soldiers look at their work as a mission that needs to be accomplished in order for the greater good of the operation they are participating in. If they don’t complete their job then it will hurt others and possibly place the overall mission in jeopardy. To do that would be complete failure and we cannot let something like fear overcome us when there is a job to be done.

Shame also plays a big role in motivating soldiers to move past their nervousness in order to get the job done. In basic training this idea is put to use over and over by drill sergeants. “Private if you don’t make it up that rope your ass is going to be mine! Your gonna let your whole platoon down!” At least for me I know the thought that millions of soldiers have done the same thing I have done in the military (and much worse in times past) motivates me to do my job when the going gets tough. I remember a particular time in basic training when I was at the end of a long ruck march and I thought it would be easier just to quit then complete the last couple miles. Then a thought of shame crept into my mind as I remembered all of the less athletic kids than I that I knew completed the very same training.

Whether wrong or right, or rather, just merely chauvinistic thinking on my part I have never dropped out of an army PT run that a female was in. I cannot let myself drop out while a girl is still running no matter how bad I may be hurting. Very stupid I know and chastise me accordingly but my point is that most soldiers, male and female, think along these same lines. We cannot simply quit when others are counting on us. We cannot be afraid when our jobs call for steadfast dedication.

I imagine I’ll get the same questions when I return home in a few weeks. Civilians yearn to know what it is like for deployed soldiers even if they don’t know the right questions to ask. My advice is to stay away from general questions like “So what was it like?” and “So did you like it?” What was what like and did I like what? Try and connect to the soldier and ask questions about their job or the area they operated in. “Now I understand you were in northern Iraq, how was the weather compared to the more southern cities?” or “What kind of problems did you encounter each day while doing your job?” These types of questions will lead the soldier to remember certain stories and from there they will probably open up about some real experiences they had.

It wasn’t until several months after I was thoroughly sick of answering any and all questions that people had of me that I started to open up on my own about certain things I did. Given a bit of time to myself I finally felt like talking about my deployment and was met with more accepting ears when the stories came out willingly on my part. I doubt I could say the same for all soldiers but I felt like it was my duty to tell people what life in Iraq was really like because I found that most people had no clue what was going on. Times have obviously changed from 2003 but many people know nothing more than fighting is still going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. I once had a girl back home ask me what an IED was and that was this year.

So go ahead and ask away because you’ll easily be able to tell if your question is dumb by the look on the soldiers face. Remember there are no dumb questions only stupid people.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Apology Of My Blog

That's Right

Ok so here’s the deal: I am not a “front lines” type of soldier who happens to be stationed where all the reporters and news cameras are. I am just your run of the mill soldier doing a job that doesn’t make the headlines unless something goes wrong. I am right near a major city, Mosul, which just happens to be a place where all the news cameras have left hence no one hears much about it anymore. I have my opinions of course and like to share them with anyone willing to listen. My blog has and remains to be a collection of thoughts and opinions from the “common” soldier. As I have noted before I am not a “cool guy” soldier doing “really sweet” stuff that books and movies are written about. Perhaps the only book you would ever read about someone like me is if I wrote one.

I regret the decisions that lead me to my current job because I know I could be better used elsewhere. I often struggle with the daily grind of the army because it really isn’t my cup of tea. I like serving in the military but the menial jobs that make up so much of the military just don’t do it for me. If I would have known better, or just known someone who knew better, I would have followed a different path in the army and would probably have done something that would have allowed me to send Jihadists to paradise each day. Now that I have spent 2 1/2 years on deployment though, I often wonder if I would have the energy to do it all over again performing a new job.

My blog has always been from the perspective of someone who is in the theater but not on center stage. I think I have always been a little down stage right which doesn’t lend my blog that air of “freaking awesomeness” that others might have who tell tales of running to and fro from the shower under raining down mortars, or those who sit and contemplate life in the midst of a firefight. I came, I saw, I drove a truck. I had my share of non-regular-civilian-world occurrences but nothing that many other soldiers hadn’t already gone through themselves so I didn’t find it pertinent information to share with everyone. There are a number of blogs out there where people can read this type of blather all day long and I didn’t want mine to be another one of them.

I started my blog with the intention of sharing the truth about what is going on in Iraq as I see it and how it relates to me. I have a particular interest in politics and some of my focus has been there also. I tend to be sarcastic because I believe the world needs a little sarcasm with all of the serious idiocy going on today. I wish I had a more central role in the war right now so that I might better be able to share with everyone the truth on the ground, however, all viewpoints need to be shared and are of value to the overall picture. If everyone blogging were and infantry soldier, or a company commander for instance, the whole picture wouldn’t make it out. I believe that milbloggers in theater have a unique opportunity to share real time updates and give readers an on the ground insight into the fight. I liken milblogs to the letters soldiers have written in past wars and believe they will have an historical significance in the future for anyone wanting to learn about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I would and do encourage soldiers with half a brain to write about their time here in country and value what they have to say more than most of what the media does. I have never accepted any help or advertisements to my blog in order to remain independent and above reproach from haters.

I by no means pretend that I have all the answers about this war. There are a lot of people who use me as a way to vent their criticisms about the Bush administration and their handling of the war. Have we made mistakes in Iraq? Sure. Have we made positive strides in Iraq? Yes. I do not think it is or was possible for the government and military leaders to predict all of the problems and exact outcomes of our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan every step of the way. The belief that such a thing is possible and the blame that follows as a result is unfounded and dangerous. Hindsight is 20/20 especially when Americans are dying. If only our government was as perfect as everyone expects it to be and the soldiers on ground were physically and mentally capable to handle every problem that came their way despite an unwillingness to cooperate on behalf of those they are helping and with the negative criticism coming from every angle from the armchair generals back home.

My friends and I have a saying here that goes “Don’t talk about it, be about it.” Most people love to talk big boy talk like “Oh yeah well if I was there I would do this and that and nobody would hold me back.” Or “If I was president I would do this and that and everything would be just peachy.” The problem with those people is that they have words with no actions and no qualifications. I can sit in my room on Saturday and yell at Ohio State’s football coach all I want and tell him he needs to bench this player and give more time to that player but until I invest the amount of time into doing his job that he has I have no room to talk. Sure I can comment as a fan all I want and have the right to do so but when I start thinking that I know better than he does I start to overstep my bounds.

I have always believed that the war in Iraq was the right war at the right time. I have constantly defended that belief and I don’t see it changing any time soon. Despite all I have seen and read I still agree with this war, maybe not everything we have done along the way but the fact that we did it in the first place. I believe that over time we will see achievements on par with what we hoped for at the outset of this war but things take time and we need to allow them to unfurl before we damn them as failures. As I have said many times before patience is a virtue that is seriously lacking in the world today. Perhaps the guiltiest among us are the politicians that represent us. Politicians are so worried about not rocking the boat that they lose sight of doing the right thing. Their main concern seems to be doing what will keep their constituency happy so they can keep their jobs not what will be best for our country in the long run.

I am a pro-victory conservative and want nothing more right now than to see our country do the right thing in Iraq and Afghanistan, which in my opinion is to stay and get the job done. We are at a pivotal point in our history and the world, as usual, is looking to us to do the right thing. Other countries might not agree with us but they sure rely upon us to clean up the messes in the world. We are often damned when we do and damned when we don’t. The good thing about the operations we are in is that we are not in them alone. The help we receive from other countries is often downplayed and underreported by our media but is of immense importance especially in Afghanistan where we would be lost without them.

When all is said and done I don’t think I nor anything that I said was in any way more important than anyone else. I am just here to share my thoughts with those who want to listen. My only hope is that I have given some insight into the life of a deployed soldier and have helped people understand what it is like in Iraq. I think the reason that I am unique is that I am happy to be deployed to this god-awful country helping people who often aren’t thankful. I believe in what I am doing and am glad to have had the opportunity, twice, to act on my beliefs and not just sit at home and talk about them. I am not a mindless drone doing as ordered, I think for myself and form my own opinions all the while doing the job I am supposed to do. I realize I am only a pawn in the larger scheme of things but also realize that without pawns there would be no defense.

I will continue to bring it to you throughout the rest of the time I am in Iraq and hope to keep writing on my return home. I ask that you read my blog for what it is worth and for those haters out there quit blaming everything and anything on me. I am fighting for what I believe in, what are you doing?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Random Thoughts

I couldn’t figure out a topic for a new post and I had quite a few ideas floating around in my head so I decided to write about them all inadequately.

Inquiring Minds want to Know

So what is the problem here in Iraq and how should we fix it? Good question, ask God.

This Doesn’t Look Like You

I went to chow the other day and when I showed my ID to get in I had to take it out of my wallet so the soldier at the door could physically inspect it further. Now despite the fact that I was properly wearing an army uniform with a M-16 strapped on my back, and the fact that I am a white male in my mid twenties, I had my ID rubbed by the fingers of another soldier to make sure I was who I was claiming to be. In my opinion the terrorists have already won and should be sought out and killed solely for me having to have my ID rubbed by the dirty thumbs of a door guard to the chow hall.

I noticed the same thing when I was at London Heathrow airport while on leave. I saw an 80-year-old woman in a wheel chair and a 4-year-old boy being physically searched while Arab men weren’t selected to undergo an intensive search. I think they used their frequent flyer terrorist cards that day. “Fly with Terror Airways: Where your 13th flight is search free so pack accordingly. Non-Arabs are too scared to profile you and we won’t either. Terror Airways: We fly to die.”

The End of the World set in Mosul

Mosul looks like a scene out of Terminator 2 after the robots have taken over, either that or something akin to a small Mexican ghost town. I only drive through during the night so I don’t see the hustle and bustle of the day but if I imagine having people in the streets doesn’t spruce up the town too much. At least they could do is pick up the rubble and fix the gaping, truck-swallowing holes in the roads. Really is that too much to ask, heck I bet if you asked we would even provide you with the equipment and pay you to do it yourselves.

Rock and Roll Iraq!

We had a heavy metal concert here the other night and I could hear the “singer” screaming a half-mile away, great way to win over the hearts and minds of the Iraqis guys. I remember on my first deployment when the MI guys would play heavy metal to “torture” the bad guys at our prison. Nothing like treating our Allies to something they hate that they can’t escape from. But then again the same argument could be made for the crappy quality of bootleg movies we have to endure here.

I seem to remember the theme song from Barney and Sesame Street were also favorites of the prisoners when they went on their 24-hour music binges.

Abu Gharibites and Their Cries For Help

So the prisoners at Abu Gharib want us back huh? What’s this about the Iraqi guards beating them and not feeding them? I seem to remember a story about a boy who cried wolf one too many times and no one in turn wanted to listen to him when he was crying for real. Let the prisoners wallow in their misery. Is it wrong for human beings to suffer? Yes. But when they do so as a result of doing something wrong than so be it. Maybe if the MSM picked up this story than the whole world would know how well we treat our prisoners. Even if Lindy England and gang were in control the prisoners would be afforded much better care than their own people give them. For Iraq to come into the 21st century, hell the 20th century, they need to learn how to treat human beings with dignity and respect but it is obviously not happening at Abu Gharib now.

Abu Gharib is near and dear to my heart since I was there before the dog leashes and sand bag hats. I think we should have been much harder on the prisoners than we were. Now I wasn’t a guard there so I can’t tell you exactly all that went on but if the prisoners now are calling for us to come back and bring the aid workers with us then I can deduce that we took it easy on them. Heck look at the four star treatment we afford the terrorists at Gitmo. For me to be able to have 3 squares a day and mandatory available prayer time I had to join the army, all these guys had to do was something bad and they were rewarded. I say free Lindy England and bring her back to be head warden at Abu Gharib because I bet the prisoners who cried out against her would be welcoming her back with open arms.

England Akhbar, England Akhbar!

My Conspiracy Theory is They Don’t Have Brains

Are conspiracy theorists seriously still at it with the 9/11 stuff? They supposedly have a few “scholars” on their side now that are saying “Things just don’t add up. There is no way the metal in those buildings could melt and cause the whole structure to fall.” All these scholars assure me of is there are some nutjobs who are good at studying and earning degrees. Give it a rest. You are not important enough for the government to want to fool all the time. Let me let you in on a little secret-there really isn’t a country named Iraq. A handful of soldiers have been posing for pictures for 4 years now in the same Hollywood studio they used to “broadcast” from the moon (which coincidentally doesn’t exist either.)

Launch The Propaganda

Even during Vietnam people had more patience with the war for a longer period of time and with greater casualties than they do now with Iraq. How quick the American people lose heart and how shortsighted they are. Some things in life take time and completely changing a country from the ground up is one of them. Things like this don’t happen overnight and we rightly shouldn’t expect them to do so. Everyone wants a concrete date when things will be better or when all the soldiers will be pulling out of here. The let’s-just-cut-our-losses-and-get-the-hell-out-of-here-crowd want to leave now and leave Iraq to it’s own devices but that isn’t the way we operate these days. We got ourselves into this and we will, or should I say I hope, stay the course until we finish the job.

The terror machine, or whatever we call the bad guys these days, has us beat on one major front: propaganda. We can’t even manage to encourage journalists to write about the positive in Iraq without being accused of misleading the public. The terrorists have been misleading everyone from day one and for some reason people believe them over us. What is wrong with this picture? Why are people so easily deceived? Why don’t more people believe the scores of returning veterans who say Iraq isn’t anything like what people see on the news? “Well they don’t say that on TV and they are the professionals. Why would I believe someone who spent a year on the ground in Iraq working intimately with the local populace?”

I’m off now to save the world from terrorism so have a good one. See you next time.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Day In The Life

I drive a truck. Among the slew of other glorious jobs I perform truck driving is one of them. I never intended on driving trucks in the military but Uncle Sam saw fit to retrain a lot of us last year to fill the need for supply haulers in Iraq. So here I am the last two months of my deployment back out on the road in a big army semi. It is a broken down piece of crap that looks like it came out of the losing end of a monster truck show. The bumper is cracked, the brush guard doesn’t fit right, the seat belts are temperamental, my headlights choose to alternate between various stages of working and not working, and I’m lucky if something doesn’t go wrong each convoy.

By no means is my job held in high esteem. I am not driving a 25-ton beast of a Stryker vehicle nor am I in a cool looking tank with a giant gun coming off the top of it. No one looks twice as we drive down the road in our trucks. If my truck ate wine and cheese it would do so out of a box and an aerosol can.

So just what is it like to be a truck driver in Iraq you may be wondering? Well since we don’t get much airtime in the news (unless we’re dying) I’ll go ahead and share with everyone about a day in the life of a truck driver in Iraq.

Me Doing What I Do Best: Smiling

Long story short we spend our off days from the road getting our trucks ready for the road. For example we check the tires, belts, fluids, and the general drivability of our trucks. We make sure nothing is wrong with the truck that will get us into trouble out on the road. Most of the time this goes well but something always manages to go wrong that we can’t predict before hand. A tire might hit a pothole and pop or a whole wheel hub might crack and fall off under the weight of the added armor intended to protect us from IED’s but never intended for in the original design of the trucks. The extra weight of the armor leads to a lot of problems with these trucks but is a necessary evil since it ultimately helps to save our lives.

Once our trucks are ready to go, and the time has come for a mission, we prepare to go out on the road by getting the latest intel for the area we are traveling in and rehearsing just how we are going to go getting to our destination. We leave time to discuss what we will do if a truck breaks down or gets hit by an IED or if we happen to come under fire. Once finished we climb in our trucks and ready to leave the base.

The thing about being a truck driver in the military is that it is not a glorifying or attention grabbing job. We aren’t fighter pilots blazing through the air, we aren’t kicking doors in with our steely knives looking for bad guys, and we definitely aren’t jumping from airplanes behind enemy lines in the dark of the night. My uniform has my name on it and not a bunch of cool guy patches that let everyone know how badass of a soldier I am. Not that there is anything wrong with anything of these things, we are often jealous of these guys and the cool stuff they get to do. The thing about our job is a lot of the aforementioned guys think we are crazy to be out on the roads in Iraq with little security driving in slightly up-armored vehicles. We pretty much go out every night and take our chances with what we are going to encounter along the way. I often wonder why we couldn’t just train monkeys to do our job because it sure isn’t that hard.

While on the road we are taught to look around and scan our field of vision for anything that might go boom in the night. As hard as we may look there is just no way to find everything out there especially with how trashy some of these cities are. If we really wanted to turn things around on the roads in Iraq we would invest in the broken window policy that helped Rudy Giuliani turn around New York city. We would clean the streets up and fix all of the roads and curbs. Every time they were blown up we would be back out there fixing them so that if anything looked out of place we would know it. But with the roads in such disrepair and trash strewn everywhere it is hard to tell rubble from bomb, not that we really even could at 45 miles an hour and if we were to slow down it would enhance the chances of causing damage when we were hit. Now I honestly don’t believe such a policy as fixing all the roads in Iraq is even feasible but I do think it would be a good solution if we were able to do such a thing.

Once out on the road we travel at our predetermined speeds and intervals and just sit there hoping not to get hit with a bomb. It is much like being on a “hot” base and hoping not to get hit with a mortar. There is really nothing we can do to avoid getting hit with an IED besides taking the necessary precautions to eliminate unnecessary damage by doing such things as wearing our seatbelts and keeping our body armor on. We often sit in our trucks bumbling down the roads and have conversations that go something like this: “Yeah I saw the Buckeyes win last week yeah that was a great ga--oh look at that trash in the road I hope it isn’t an IED. Don’t blow up, don’t blow up, don’t blow up. Okay we are passed it now. So yeah it was a great game on Saturday.”

We are used to the game by now so we just go on with our daily business without sweating the small stuff. If something blows up, as it has, we do what we have to do to get out of the area and continue on with the mission. We can’t stop to go and find who tried to blow us up and we often times have no clue which direction to shoot in if there is even anyone out there to shoot at. Like I said we by no means have a glorifying job. All we are supposed to do is drive our trucks to the designated spot and nothing else.

Just so you know I really exist

Once we make it to our destination we drop our loads and try to rest for a while before we turn around to do it all over again. Such is the life as a truck driver in the army. We perform a necessary job and the war effort wouldn’t move ahead without us but you are not likely to see us in the news or any movies made about us in the near future. We definitely don’t do our job without complaining but we do get the job done, anyway else and it simply wouldn’t be the army. We get to travel around Iraq and that is good enough for us. At least we aren’t stuck on our bases wondering what is going on outside the wire. We get to go out there and “experience” it first hand and feel like we have accomplished something each day when we have a successful convoy. We are the driving force behind much of what goes on in Iraq. We supply fuel, food, ammo, supplies, vehicles etc each time we hit the road and without us the planes wouldn’t fly, the Strykers wouldn’t drive, and the “cool guys” wouldn’t have vehicles do infiltrate with. C’est la vie.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

I’m Back and Ready To Leave Again

As I stepped off the plane in Kuwait City after 2 weeks of leave I was hit with a wave of hot sandy air and I remembered why I hate the Middle East. Of course I am glad that I am here helping the Iraqi people but I long for the day to get back to America.

I spent several days traveling on Qatar Airways to get to and fro from the UK and hope to never ride on a plane with Arabs again. Racist statement? Nope. You just gotta trust me on this one. To be fair the plane was full of Arabs, Indians, and Asians. All of them were loud, obnoxious, and generally rude. I was constantly amazed at how the bickered between each other, pestered the stewardesses, and treated those around them. I am not sure why they behaved this way but it was all rather childish and unbecoming of grown adults.

I was already on edge traveling as I was taken off my British Airways flight that was supposed to arrive in London Heathrow Airport the same day as the other British Airways planes were supposed to be blown up by terrorists. I was subsequently placed on a Qatar Airways plane, which right before I got on the plane I heard one of their other planes was hijacked coming out of Jordan. From one jihad plane to the next I supposed. “If you Arabs don’t start behaving yourselves we are gonna revoke your privilege to ride on planes and you'll have to walk to Mecca.”

Every Arab on the plane was a possible terrorist to me and I suppose all of the other passengers. Sorry it has to be that way and until little old white women start hijacking planes I am going to continue to focus my attention on 18-40 year old Arab men. Although I am sure the little Asian guy that kept rubbing himself all over me while we were standing waiting to get off the plane posed more of a risk then any of the Arabs did. “Um I don’t think I can get pregnant but I sure don’t want to find out. Please remove your body from my backside before you meet the backside of my hand.”

One thing fun about riding on Qatar Airways was the GPS controlled Mecca tracker. At anytime you could access the TV in the chair in front of you or look up to the big screens in the middle of the plane and find out what exact angle you needed to pray in order to be pointing toward Mecca. "This is your Captain speaking, please remember that no one is allowed to pray in front of the emergency exits and if you have a problem with sitting by the exit let that American boy have your seat because I know he wants nothing more than to be the first one off this plane, thank you and have a good flight. We'll arrive at our destination in seven hours inshallah." I think maybe all the terrorists have their own version and it is called the Iraq Tracker. It points them towards Iraq and shows them the closest mass of innocent civilians trying to live their lives in peace.

After 4 hours of security checks at the Middle Eastern wing at London Heathrow with lots of heavily armed Bobbies (“Um hey can I have one of those automatic weapons please?”) I boarded the plane from London back to Kuwait where I would then get a flight to my base in Iraq. Once on the plane I was surrounded by Arabs, which was okay because the seat right next to me was empty…or so I thought. After an hour or so of flying bliss the Arabic man one seat away from me thought it would be a good idea to move right next to me so that a lady could have his seat and her baby could lay down next to us. Great idea Ahmed. So now I have to cramp up while his feet are on my lap because he just has to sit cross legged and the kid in front of my has to put his seat all the way back in my lap. After an hour of this I decided to take measures into my own hands. “Stewardess, bring me a bottle of Scotch please.” I must have downed all the alcohol on the Muslim flight. That made things more tolerable and I even started to laugh about the situation 4 glasses later.

All in all I had a great time on leave and it has rejuvenated me to be able to endure the end of my second year in Iraq. I look forward to writing for the rest of my time here and hope I can find some decent things to talk about. I am definitely not excited to be back here and am looking forward to the day when Iraq is something I did and am not doing. Not to sound too down but the little taste I had of civilian life in London has got me wanting to go back home where the girls are pretty, the grass is green, and the planes don’t have to hand out complimentary socks so that Arabic man’s bare feet in your lap can stay warm during the flight.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

More Moral Than God, Part 2 (last)

You may wonder what motivated me to bring ‘religion’ to a blog devoted to one soldier’s honest appraisal of a war against a religiously motivated enemy. I mean, isn’t one set of fanatical religious ideas enough of a problem? Why pour gasoline on a raging fire? What could I hope to accomplish by bringing Christianity to the discussion other than to renew the passions that resulted in the Crusades?
Actually, I hope and pray that this war never comes to that, not that it’s very likely it could. My reason, conscious or not, had more to do with what I regard to be the undermining of America’s effort to defend itself by purported Christian groups. My church, the Presbyterian Church USA, has taken the official position that the war in Iraq is "unwise, immoral and illegal". To the extent that this position influences its members and conflicts the conscience of soldiers and their families, it serves to work against America’s ability to defend itself from a proven dangerous enemy. This foe is intent on the destruction of non-Muslim nations as a necessary step toward achieving Muslim dominance throughout the world. That Christians would make themselves a liability to any nation wishing to defeat this evil (if you object to this terminology, see previous post), I believe, is to misrepresent God himself. In terms of the Ten Commandments, this falls under #3- taking the Lord’s name in vain (and you thought that one just applied to what you utter when you miss the nail and hit your thumb).

I ended the last post citing some teachings of Jesus that seemed to suggest he condemned all forms of war or even self-defense. I intended to begin this one by balancing those statements with others Jesus made that seem to suggest the opposite. Several commenters have done that for me. One of you astutely offered Matt.10:34, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword." Now, you don’t have to student of the Bible, let alone a New Testament scholar, to recognize that this statement seems at odds with what most everybody knows about Jesus. How can that statement not contradict Matt.5:9, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God." Perhaps you have better answers to that than I have but here are a few thoughts.
1) What does it mean to ‘make peace’? Have you ever gotten into a "fight" with a loved one that resulted in things ultimately being resolved for the better? Wasn’t that making peace by one party pulling out the sword? By analogy to the U.S. Civil War, who ultimately was the peacemaker- Lincoln or Lee? Both? Neither? (I don’t know the answer but my money’s on Lincoln).
2) Jesus was known for his acute awareness and promotion of "heaven". He continually asked his hearers to consider their "spiritual" or "eternal" life and not just their "physical" life. Which realm did he have in mind when he uttered these words? One, or the other, or both?
3) To what extent is Jesus using hyperbole? After saying that to look on a woman lustfully is to have committed adultery, he goes on to say that if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Good advice? Or is he using strong language to make a point? (Hmmmm, maybe that’s why God made me left-eye dominant.)
Its fairly clear from the context that when Jesus says we are to turn the other cheek, he is teaching that we are not to seek revenge, not that we aren’t to defend ourselves (or others). Paul seems to make this point in Rom.12:17-19 when he says "repay no one evil for evil" and also "never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God". Between these thoughts is found this, "If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all." Now sometimes ‘peace’ doesn’t depend on you, such as when your home is invaded and your family threatened, or when hijacked airplanes are flown into your office buildings. I’m sure many people want payback. I’ll be happy with deterrence. Unfortunately, the only way to deter some people is to kill them.
What other clues does the New Testament (the second half of the Christian Bible) give us? The story of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:30-37, indicates that the suburbs of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus weren’t immune to violent crime. Even with big, bad Roman soldiers providing the Pax Romana. It might not have prevented his mugging, but the man in the parable might have benefitted from another bit of advice Jesus gave his disciples, about the time that it was getting dangerous to be identified with Jesus- "And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one." JESUS SAID THAT? Must’ve been hyperbole. Peter must’ve missed the nuance then because what do we find him doing in the garden of Gethsemane the night Jesus was betrayed? Packing heat! (John 18:10) Now its clear Jesus didn’t approve of Peter whacking off the guy’s ear, and it was nice of Jesus, according to Luke, to put the severed ear back where it belonged, but from the context, it’s clear Jesus’ anger with Peter was that he lacked faith in Jesus to believe that Jesus had the situation under control. Interesting, isn’t it, that if Jesus was the proto-pacifist, after 3 years of hanging with Jesus, Peter would still be carrying a sword?!?
One more consideration from a New Testament perspective which caught my eye several years ago when all this became more than a theoretical matter. Luke 3 tells us about John the Baptist, whom Jesus called "the greatest of those born of women." Given that John and Jesus were both teachers in the rabbinic tradition (that is, teachers of Torah, Jewish doctrine and law) its fairly safe to conclude a great similarity in thinking. Anyway, a soldier asked John the Baptist, "And what shall we do?" The question was asked in response to John’s admonition to "prepare the way of the Lord" by "bear(ing) fruits that befit repentance." John’s answer to the soldier was "Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages." If doing what soldiers do, defending their nation by killing their nations enemies, was an offense in God’s eyes, surely John would not have said, in effect, ‘be a soldier but have high ethical standards." John recognized the need of a society for soldiers, just as a functional society needs tax collectors. Jesus, I believe, endorsed John’s answer, as did Luke in recording this and the early church in receiving this as Holy writ.
This brings me to my final argument. Most non-Christians, and I believe the majority of Chr.s, preeminently think of Jesus as kind of an extra-terrestrial who walked among Jews but taught like Plato. He is seen as ethereal, not truly connected to this world, and as one whose message was 99% heavenly/ 1% earthly. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Jesus was a Jew, born in the line of King David and therefore an heir to the covenant which God made with Abraham. The descendants of Abraham (the Israelites, later, the Jews) were not the Amish of today, or the Puritans of yesteryear or the Ascetics of ancient Greece. Though their covenant with God required a distinct lifestyle from the polytheistic cultures around them- they were still very much part of the world. They lived, moved about and participated within the same Mediterranean culture as their neighbors.
The culture that the Hebrews developed, practiced and refined was functional and had the strength to remain intact through the millenia against the forces of absorbtion and disintegration. It was founded on Moses and the Ten Commandments. It was a society that sought no conquest beyond the land promised them by God. It was rich in culture, in agriculture, in learning, in religious devotion, in the prizing of ethical behavior (if not always practiced) and in a highly detailed system of justice. It was very this-world oriented with actually only minimal regard for the afterlife (this was developed late by sects such as the Pharisees). The common dream of the Israelites was to have a vine and fig tree, to beat their swords into plowshares and to enjoy the mercies of God. It was as enviable a society, in concept if not in actuality, as history records.
But in a fallen world, violence abounds. To survive meant to protect oneself from wild animals, from marauding enemies without and from the criminal within. Killing was differentiated from murder early on (Gen.9:5-6). Family defended family (Gen.14, John 15:14). The Book of Judges is about the Spirit of God anointing individuals to conduct war for the preservation of Israel. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon says "to everything there is a season,.... a time for war and a time of peace." Israel had to take possession of the promised land by conquest. Usually the attacks were made by the Canaanites; after Joshua they often became agressive (preemptive). There was compulsory military service and a command structure to the military. [Could God have given them the land by other than violent means? Sure. Did he? No.]
It is the clear teaching of the Old Testament that God used violent defeat as a corrective for Israel’s waywardness. Seems harsh but without maintaining their covenant with God they would have ceased to be an identifiable people. Without taking up the sword they would have simply ceased to be a people.
Every writer of the Bible, certainly the O.T. but also the N.T. (which, for the Christian, are simply divisions of the same book), had a profoundly Hebraic perspective on life and the world. In other words, the O.T. is the foundation for the New. Therefore, the most important single source for understanding the N.T. is the Jewish Scriptures, the O.T.
The apostle, Paul, states that "the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body" (Eph.3:6). For Christian Gentiles, Israel’s history is their history. In the early Church, Jews and Gentiles claimed a common spiritual ancestry with the Hebrews of old.
Which brings me back to Jesus. Christians believe he was not merely a Jewish carpenter/rabbi, but a Jew he most certainly was. He knew Judaism like Tiger Woods knows golf. "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." One can find parallels in Rabbinic literature to a high percentage of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus was the first to say "You shall love your neighbor as yourself", right? Wrong- Leviticus 19:28.
There’s an historical reason why the early Christians- Jews and Gentiles- parted company with the Jewish community but it was not due to a rejection of them by Jesus. His repeated call for Jews to ‘repent’ was not a call to convert away from the ancestral Jewish faith but to become renewed and restored in God’s forgiveness within that same community. The major question confronting Peter, James, John, Paul and the 1st century Church was not whether Jewish believers in Jesus could belong to this new, Spirit-born community but whether Gentiles could, upon repentance from sin, belong to a totally Jewish community.
My argument is, you can disconnect Jesus from the Jews if you want to, but you’d be going against all the evidence. The role of the appropriate use of force in the preservation of the Jewish people, throughout its biblical history, is built into the warp and woof of its society. We would be hard pressed to know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob if not for the Bible and the God we find therein, treats force in the suppression of evil as a necessity. It is beyond ludicrous to me, that Jesus would have any other view than that of his ancestral people and his Father, God. For followers of Christ today, to condemn this biblical precedent, is to me, the height of arrogance and a misguided attempt to be MORE MORAL THAN GOD.