Tuesday, January 31, 2006

You cant black out the stars

I sit down to write this entry as I am about two hours away from going outside my FOB. I imagine this exact sequence of events has been played over millions of times throughout the history of wars on this earth. I am not nervous in any way but there are a few guys who still get the jitters before leaving. Maybe a little bit of nervousness is a good thing, maybe it will keep them on their toes. I try to be careful not to become too lax but for some reason I fear nothing in Iraq. Now I know this is a lot of feelings sharing from me but I don’t want to make this too much of a personal thing, I am trying to describe the feelings that soldiers have in the face of some type of danger. I know we aren’t storming the beaches of Normandy, or dropping in on a hot LZ behind enemy lines, but we do face our own dangers that are relatively new to the battlefield. Everyday soldiers go outside the gate they take the risk of it possibly being their last time, and depending where they are, some even risk their lives simply walking around their base.

During my pre-deployment training I had the opportunity to help out my family in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. While there my uncle, who was in the service himself, gave me a small daily devotional book that he got from his grandfather. Inside the cover there was written the date December 8, 1942. The devotional was written for the soldiers during WWII and had belonged to my uncle’s grandfather when he served in the military during that time. Each day the book addresses in some ways how to maintain one’s faith and live godly during war. All around the country different pastors contributed a daily lesson to the book. Some offer advice on how to better walk with the Lord, some offer advice on how to make it through tough times, and some offer advice on how soldiers should treat their enemies. The striking thing about the devotional though is the parallels is has to this very war and I am assuming every war ever fought in America’s history.

Soldiers are the same now as they were in WWII. They are fighting for a cause that most of them believe is right. I am sure many soldiers during WWII wondered how fighting the Nazis was their job since the Nazis hadn’t invaded America. Sure we should fight the Japanese (al qaeda) because they bombed us, but why the Nazis, all they were doing was killing and torturing people in Europe, why is that our job to take care of? The same sentiment rings true in today’s military. Most of us believe we are fighting an evil enemy and liberating an oppressed people while there is still a number of soldiers who have no idea why we are here.

I read the devotional every day so as not only to be encouraged in my walk with the Lord, but also in some way to connect with the soldiers of yesterday. Every soldier in America’s history is connected in some way. The connection comes from their fight for freedom whether it was against the King, slavery, communism, or terrorism just to name a few. They are also connected because war is an ugly thing and they haven’t always known how to cope with it. They have needed help along the way and continue to need help in dealing with certain aspects of war.

The devotional for me encourages me that I am doing the right thing: fighting evil and spreading liberty to a society unaccustomed to it. It reminds me that there are bigger things out there besides this little war of ours. It reminds me that this world is far from perfect, and that if history repeats itself that it never will be. It also teaches me the lesson that if only we could learn from the past instead of repeating it then we might be able to move forward as a society. Until that happens there will still be war and suffering just as there has always been.

My favorite passage from the devotional comes from the entry on December 1st. The author of that day tells the story of a farmer who had been ordered by a captain of the conquering army in his country to turn over his crops in order to feed the captain’s men. The captain told the farmer that if he was stubborn they would take away everything the farmer had. In reply the farmer told the captain that he couldn’t take away the stars. The farmer knew that he could lose everything he had, his crops, his home, and his family, but he knew that the captain could only affect worldly things. The world was going to continue to turn and the stars were going to continue to shine. This passage encourages me to go outside the gate each day because no matter what a terrorist can take from me he can never make the world stand still and he can never black out the stars.

Monday, January 30, 2006


As any experienced milblogger could tell you it can sometimes be pretty tough to find things to write about. Bloggers in the states are able to blog daily about the news and whatnot but milbloggers have to write about what’s going on in their own daily lives. The tough thing about doing so is that a lot of times nothing happens to us. Take for example the last week I just had. I spent most of the week out on the road and nothing major happened. We drove, we came back, and we went out again. I didn’t run into any fascinating people and I didn’t have any bright revelations into current events.

It is tough trying to blog often and keep a fan base when sometimes I go through a 4 or 5 day blogging drought. People like Hugh Hewitt and Michelle Malkin blog about 5 times a day and all I can come up with is one every 3-5 days. No big deal though, they do it for a living right?

I have been thinking of a few ideas for future blogs so stay tuned. Don’t let the blogging drought chase you away.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What It Takes

I want to apologize to those who read my blog that are not and have never been in the military. I think at times I have made it seem that the only way to make a difference in this world is to be in the military. If I did make it seem that way then I apologize. I have been thinking lately about all that goes into winning a war and I have come up with the best analogy that I could think of: NASCAR. Now I am not a NASCAR fan but I want to make a point so lets look at what it takes to win a race.

In NASCAR there is only one driver on race day but a whole team behind that driver. He has a pit crew, a team of designers, engineers, sponsors, owners, and millions of fans. Of course the driver gets all of the attention because he is out on the road but without his team he wouldn’t even make it to the track on race day. If the mechanics didn’t do their job then the car wouldn’t be ready to race. If the pit crew didn’t do their job then it would be up to the driver to change his own tires and fill up his own gas. If the sponsors didn’t provide financial support then there would be no money to pay all of the supporting characters that it takes to keep a car on the track. And finally without the fans there would be no NASCAR because if there is no one to watch the sport and buy the merchandise then the sport wouldn’t last.

The same is true with the military. Of course there are those in the military who are on the front lines and in the news. We are the drivers but without support we would fall apart. We need designers to make our equipment so we can stay alive and kill our enemy at the same time. We need journalists (I mean bloggers) to tell our story so that the average American can hear what is going on. We need family and friends to write us letters to keep our morale up. We need sports players to keep playing so that we have something to look forward to when we get back to our bases. We need actors to keep making movies because only God knows what soldiers would do if they couldn’t watch movies. We need the everyday average American to support us so that our government doesn’t get cold feet and give into pressure and do the wrong thing.

The short and skinny of it is that the military needs all the people in America in order to accomplish its goals. Not everyone is cut out for or should even be in the military. Lots of people can better serve their country by staying in the states and working an important job no matter what it is. America still needs to function as a society even when it’s military is deployed overseas. This means teachers need to teach, workers need to work, and kids need to be kids. What would I have to look forward too if kids quit being kids, athletes quit playing, and girls quit smelling good and being pretty.

No matter what function you serve your country in you are doing a service that supports the military. You don’t have to be a soldier to do your part but what you need to do is be thankful for those who make the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and cognizant of the fact that without a military we wouldn’t have the country that we do now. I can even find a role for people like L.A. Times columnist Joel Stein who don’t support the troops or their country. Because of people like them I become more determined each day to do the right thing and live an upright life.

So thank all you non-military types for doing what you do, you don’t get enough credit and sometimes it can be tough to do a job that no one appreciates. Keep doing what you do and lets all try to be content with being just another cog in the wheel.

Monday, January 23, 2006

ACLU: American Terrorists

There are certain things that cause me to become upset: Laziness, ignorance, and down right stupidity to name a few. Then there are times when I get so pissed off that I can't stand it anymore and have to say something. Now is one of those times. After reading this article http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=20971, among many others, I have come to the conclusion (as I am sure many others already have) that the ACLU is detrimental to our society and our very way of life. Usually when our country is faced with an enemy who threatens our national security our president takes action against them and is justified in doing so. Well with the ACLU running rampant filing lawsuits against the Bush administration's accused illegal spying I believe something needs to be done and soon.

Ok I know everyone is saying "All right T. F. this is way over your head and by your own admissions you are about 4 years away from a 3 year law degree, what do you know?" Well I know when I am being undermined as a person and when the security of those I care about is being threatened. I am not one to sit idly by and watch idiots run rampant and do as they please. We (military) are in several hostile environments risking our lives daily to bring freedom to the Middle East and at the same time rid the world of terrorism. Lofty huh? Well it is true and when the ACLU seeks to undermine all that we are accomplishing by alerting the terrorists of our best defenses then what am I supposed to say. That would be like me writing Zarqawi and telling him that I will be at this point, at this time, and in this truck, come get me Zark man I am right here. By "outing" one of our government's methods of national defense we exposed to the terrorists one of our great tools against them. Now they can just find a way around phone tapping and continue on doing what they were doing before in ignorance.

If I was a qualified lawyer I would be all over this. No need to pay me, I would do it out of pleasure and as a service to our country. What we need in today's society are people that are willing to stand up and do the right thing even if it doesn't benefit them. We need people of character, not people who are trying to rid our country of all "offensive" material while at the same time defending terrorists in court.

I believe in good and evil. I believe we can call terrorists evil and not just bad. I believe terrorists who kill innocent people are evil and I believe those who defend them aren't far behind. The ACLU is a terrible organization that seeks to defend people's liberties while at the same time stripping our country of exactly what makes it great.

I have been trying to think of a way to describe what they are doing and why but I cant think straight right now. I don't know how so many people could all at the same time be so ignorant. My gosh this seems like a reoccurring theme in my blogs. Ignorant people have and continue to befuddle me completely. If you have any insight into the ACLU let me know. I would love to make it my life's ambition to completely tear down the ACLU, but then again what do I know.

Interview at Blackfive

I just did an interview at www.blackfive.net so check it out if you don't regularly visit that site. And if you are checking me out as a result of that site then welcome, glad to have you.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Hey Hillary!

Dear Mrs. Clinton,
Could you please get the Bush Administration to send me some more body armor. My hamstrings are still unprotected and I can still move a little.
Your secret admirer

If I, as a lowly army reservist, have enough body armor then I think we are spending enough money on it. For anyone as an armchair politician to say that we don't have enough body armor has no clue what they are talking about. Pretty soon we are going to need squires in order to get ready to go on missions. Any more armor and we won't be able to move. Get out of your chair and come talk to some real soldiers if you want to know what is going on.

The one pic is of me and the other is of where I have to stuff myself on missions. Not much room as you can see. I don't know where I could put more armor.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Why do they hate us?

Before both of my deployments I had teachers at the college I attend tell me they were sorry that I was in the army. Their comments came after I told them I had to leave for deployment so I would no longer be in their classes. They didn’t say that they were sorry because I had to leave school, or that they were sorry because I was going to be away from my family for a year, they simply said they were sorry because I was in the army. I never found out exactly what they meant. I think they meant “sorry” more in a way that could be construed as “I am sorry that you were dumb enough to join the military and now look what you have to go and do you idiot”. Not all of my teachers were this forward and some of them were, and continue to be, quite supportive but coming from a liberal college where there are more anti-war rallys and speeches by burnt out hippies looking for a new cause then there are sporting events, the sentiment of those two teachers are the norm.

I don’t put much stock into the comments of these teachers because I recognize their ignorance for what it is. They simply don’t have a clue what is actually going on in the world today and the fact that they are part of the academic world somehow convinces them that they should be right on all things. Just because someone holds a PhD does not mean they have common sense, it simply means that they are good at studying and have the patience to stay in school for a long period of time. Of course that is not always the case but the smart ones out there with PhD’s know it is not them who I am talking about.

I think the bigger question is why the higher education types dislike America and the military so much. Is it because they view us as the pawns of an imperialist country? Do they think we are mindless drones who follow orders without thinking? The military has some of the brightest minds of today’s youth. Minds that are not only book smart but world smart. Minds that learn something that is not taught in colleges today: Character. Today’s soldier knows intimately about foreign cultures and has extensive knowledge about hardship and survival. We know what it takes to survive rough circumstances and know what it is like to care and be cared deeply by our fellow soldiers. We have grown old in a hurry and have matured beyond our years. This is nothing new to soldiers on the battlefield. I often think about how easy we have it compared to the soldiers that fought in the wars of the 20th century and before.

During my last deployment I read a book called The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw in which he interviewed veterans of WWII. A common thought that most of the people had upon returning to the states after the war was that they wanted to work hard and make a difference in society. They had a drive to see a change brought about. They had lived a rough couple of years and they wanted to put their past behind them and affect change for the better. I feel the same way and I know other soldiers do too. We don’t care too much about what dumb things professors say to us, we just want our diplomas so we can go on and up in life. We see what it takes to form opinions about real matters and have the knowledge to do so.

I obviously know that there are great teachers out there and I applaud them for putting up with what they do from the professors that make them look bad. College professors have a profoundly important job: to educate America’s youth. When those bad seed professors take advantage of their position to talk about matters that are above their heads and beyond their scope of expertise then they fail not only their students but America who is counting on today’s youth to be the leaders of tomorrow. Thank God that there are ways, such as the military, to learn about what it really takes to make it in this imperfect world of ours. Thank God there are real Americans out their, who despite their lack of higher education, have the common sense to elect and follow a president who can and will get the job done that America so desperately needs completed. Thank all of you “average” Americans who did the right thing by voting the right way last election, your military salutes you.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Reserve Life Part II

As I mentioned in my last post I wanted to talk about how we reservists do our jobs. Despite our obvious failings in certain areas we tend to make up for them by doing our job and doing it well. There are several key reasons why I think reservists accomplish their job well, at least well enough to keep people off of our back. Now its time for a disclaimer: I can only speak for those reservists that I have come in contact with and know, I don’t want to speak for all the jacked up people out there who joined the army just for college money.

The first reason why I believe reservists accomplish their jobs is that despite jacked up equipment, tons of paper work, and too many rules, they are used to making things work in the civilian world. In the army you can screw up as much as you want and still get paid and keep your job (obviously there are things that will get you kicked out). In the civilian world if you don’t produce then you either A.) Get Fired, or B.) Lose your business. Reservists, as I highlighted before, still have a civilian frame of mind and bring that frame of mind to their army job and as a result they do their job the most efficient way they can. If we are told that we have to do a job that usually takes a full day and we find a way to complete it in three hours and then watch movies the rest of the time then that is what we do. Of course some reservists are better at doing this then others but it seems to be the general goal of all reservists.

The problem with this attitude is that it sometimes gets us into trouble with active duty. In the army there is a certain way to do things. There is a technical manual and a field manual for everything. The army can tell you how to survive a nuclear bomb and also how to go to the bathroom in a chemical environment. The army tells you how and when to cut your hair, eat, and workout. The army basically takes individual thinking out of living, if you so choose to follow it that way. If in the civilian business world an employee finds a more effective way to do a job then their ideas are rewarded and implemented, in the army new ideas are entertained a lot less. If someone in command didn’t think about the idea themselves then it probably will not be implemented. Okay I know this sounds like a lot of complaining but I merely want to explain the differences between the reserves and active duty as I see them.

I do see the benefits to how the army is run. If there were a bunch of independent thinking soldiers running around then controlling them would be hard and everyone would do things a different way. My friends and I often joke that if the army wasn’t a government sustained organization then it would have gone out of business 200 years ago. No civilian business could suffer loss like the army does and still run. As a civilian soldier this problem bothers me to no end. I want to see things run efficiently and when they don’t it irks me.

The other reason we do our job well is simply because the one thought that is on every reserve soldier’s mind (as I am sure most soldiers) is that they want to get the job done and return home safely to their family and friends. We don’t want to mess around and try to get fancy with what we are doing, we just want to do what we have to do with the least effort required and go back to our normal lives.

With these sentiments in mind we do our job the best that we can without breaking the rules. Of course there are always reserve soldiers who want so desperately to show the active duty soldiers that they can do everything just the same and win praise from them while doing so. These types of soldiers are a pet peeve of mine. If you want to please the active duty guys so bad then go active duty otherwise shut your mouth and be a reservist.

Without reservists then active duty soldiers would not be able to get the job done in Iraq and Afghanistan. Reservists and National Guardsmen have played such a pivotal role in the war on terror that we are an indispensable resource. We leave our lives back home and are deployed anywhere from 12 to 18 months at a time, and it is rare to meet a reservist or guardsmen that hasn’t been deployed in some fashion or another. Lots of us have been deployed more then once and face a possible third deployment. All of this as a part time job. I have spent more time training to come to the desert then some active duty soldiers spend in the desert for a single deployment. The only difference these days between reservists and active duty soldiers is how we spend the few months in between deployments.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Reserve Life

In my own failings as a blog reader I haven’t seen any military blogs written by reservists. The ones that I do occasionally read are from active duty soldiers and marines. Incase you didn’t know, there is, at least what we (military people) perceive there to be, a big difference in the mentality of reserve and active duty soldiers. Maybe this difference isn’t really that big of a deal but maybe just maybe it allows you to see a different side of Iraq in my blog then you would in other blogs. Maybe I am just trying to drum up some support for my blog by trying to convince everyone out there that I can tell you something that others cannot. Oh well I might as well jump right in and start stepping on people’s toes.

The base in Iraq that I am at currently is made up primarily of active duty soldiers thus making my reserve unit one of the redheaded stepchildren. We are the ones who constantly need to be reminded how to properly wear the right uniform, cut our hair, and fill out paperwork the right way. We are also the ones who have a hard time following all of the seemingly insane rules placed upon us. It is almost as if we have a set of parents that we cannot disobey for fear of grave punishment. Not that we want to disobey our new parents, it is just that we have a hard time switching from civilian life where we make our own decisions, cook our own food, and walk with our hands in our pockets without feeling like we are sinning. Now we are in a world where we really don’t have to make very many decisions and this is kind of shocking to us. I can only eat at certain times, I only have one outfit to wear so I don’t have a hard time choosing what to put on, and I cant really go anywhere so I don’t have a hard time figuring out what to do on the weekends either. Making the change from civilian life to military life is a tough thing to do for most of us and we try to stay “civilianized” as much as we can.

The thing about reservists though is that we have a completely different set of skills then active duty soldiers do. Not only can we do our military job but we also have the skills from our jobs back home, however, some more than others. We have welders, teachers, nurses, businessmen, construction workers, firemen, policemen, students etc. We bring things to the table that active duty soldiers cannot at no fault of their own. We often joke back to active duty soldiers who make fun of us for being “ate up” that we can not only do their job but also another one at home, and also that we often come to do their job for less money then we would make in our civilian jobs. Not that we are complaining about that because after all we volunteered for service just the same as they did.

A perfect example of reserve life in the desert comes from my experiences in living arrangements. The first time I was deployed I lived on top of an old dump in the middle of the desert in southern Iraq. When my unit first arrived there were no bathrooms, showers, running water, or dining hall. Instead of just dealing with it like the other soldiers were doing on the base we decided to change it. We built two walk-in showers with “running” water from a 500-gallon tank we propped up in the air. We built three separate stalls to a latrine and we began to build a walkway around our tents among many other improvements we made. This deployment I am living in an old Iraqi building which, before we got here, was empty. Some of our guys that came to Iraq early built rooms inside the building so we could have privacy. Since then we have installed cable and internet to every room, built a breezeway and tool shed and are in the works of building our own recreation area while most other units rely upon the services already provided.

I do not mean to say that reservists are better then active duty soldiers by any means, I merely want to highlight the differences between the two and show why we have something valid to contribute. Of course I did not talk about how we do our job but that will be following in another blog. I am trying to erase the perception of reserve soldiers as slackers so stay tuned and we will see if I succeed.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Living the News

I remember right before I was deployed in 2003 watching the news about six soldiers who were lost in the desert during the initial push through Iraq. This was two days before I left the states for Iraq myself. When I first arrived my unit went to a base in Kuwait where we waited for our equipment to arrive before we ourselves could move into Iraq. The first morning that I went to breakfast I sat across from a few tired looking soldiers. Somehow small talk ensued and I came to find out these were the very soldiers that had just been lost alone in the desert for six days and were the center of the news back home. As I told the soldiers that I had just come from the states where I watched their saga unfold on the nightly news they were astounded. They looked at me with wide eyes and laughed.

When I returned home at the end of my first deployment I remember being disgusted at how the war was portrayed in the media. Over time I began to question myself and my own experiences in Iraq. Had things really happened the way I thought they did, or did they happen the way the media portrayed them on the nightly news and in the papers? I began to feel kind of scared about the possibility of having to go back for another tour in Iraq. With all the IED’s and foreign terrorists running around how could anyone possibly survive what is shown on the news? At times it seemed like we were losing the war and I wasn’t sure I could make much of a difference.

Then I got a call not even a year after being home that I was going to have to return to Iraq. I was in the middle of studying for a test when I got the call and I just threw my notebook against the wall and started watching a movie. Why study when I was going right back to the desert? What was the point of trying to live a civilian life when I knew I was headed back to Iraq and all the fun that army life brings with it? Somehow I managed to squeak through school all right and was right off to some good ol’ army training.

During the pre-deployment training we got a lot of updates about current events in Iraq and also watched videos made by the army about things we were going to face once in country. Most, if not all soldiers felt some apprehension about going to Iraq because of the constant bombings we heard about. The soldiers that hadn’t been previously deployed looked to those of us who had been here before for the knowledge and guidance that would help them make it back home alive. I kept up a good front and hid from them some of the apprehension I felt about coming back. I made it home the first time but how would I do on my second deployment?

Once back in country it took me awhile to realize that I was actually here again. It felt weird at first but eventually I became accustomed to army life in Iraq. What really helped me was getting out on the road and finally falling into a work schedule. Now that I am working and “out and about” I realize that all my fears and apprehensions were mostly unfounded. News “reality” is a far cry from actual reality.

On the news there is blood and guts, fire and destruction, and crying and anger. In Iraq there is normal life with sporadic bombings and unrest. I can kind of compare it to the attention that is paid to Israel and the Palestinians by the MSM. Israel is about a third the size of Ohio yet there are more reports coming out of there every day to fill an entire newscast. The same is true with Iraq. If the MSM weren’t able to report the body count everyday I don’t know what they would cover. The two things you can count on being in the news everyday is the weather and the most recent body count of dead soldiers.

Maybe it is just the light that soldiers tend to make of war time events but the things that are covered on the news, (IED’s, car bombs, small arms fire and the likes) are common occurrences here and are paid no more attention to then what movie we want to watch when get back to base. It is funny to go through an event that makes headlines back home but barely warrants a second thought here. Maybe if newscasters and journalists actually had some type of experience with what they report on then they wouldn’t be so quick to blow out of proportion common everyday occurrences.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A rock and a hard place

There is lots of talk of soldiers being "ambassadors" for peace in Iraq. Not only are we here to fight the terrorists but we are here to "win the hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people. Sounds great to me and I hope it eventually happens. The thing about the notion of soldiers as ambassadors is that it sounds good on paper but it doesn't always pan out in reality. Soldiers in today's military have an incredibly hard job. We aren't facing the Nazi's whom wore uniforms and drove tanks, we aren't facing Japanese pilots who were easily identifiable, and we aren't even facing the same thing as soldiers did during Desert Storm where the Iraqi army wore uniforms that American soldiers could single out when fighting. Today we are facing an enemy who cowers behind civilians, who hides far from the battlefield armed with remote detonator switches, and an enemy who you can look dead in the face and not know whether or not he is good or bad. And soldiers must fight their enemy while at the same time being essentially handcuffed for fear of being punished for mistakenly engaging a non-combatant. While soldiers try to figure out who and where their enemy is, the terrorists gladly remain hidden among the general population observing the military's every move.

On a battlefield where friendlies and enemies alike mix, soldiers are asked to be ambassadors for peace and treat Iraqis with respect and courtesy. I do think Iraqis should be treated well and in my experience I have met some great Iraqi people, but for young soldiers who are worried about living this can be an incredibly hard task. Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are the most paranoid people that I know because we don't know who to trust and who to shoot at. The military controls this by implementing a number of measures upon soldiers such as Rules of Engagement but it is by no means an easy day to day task to complete. One day we might shoot at an American-supporting Iraqi civilian just because they weren't paying attention to where they were going and the next we might let a terrorist walk on by as he simply stands by the road and waves as he waits to bomb the person behind you.

This duty rests upon the shoulders of relatively young men who face jail time should they make the wrong split-second decision. So ambassadors for peace we are and I guess we will continue to be, but we do it in a hostile environment where even the most seasoned veteran would have trouble distinguishing friend from foe. The next time you read about a soldier "screwing up" over here take it easy on him and think about what a difficult task awaits him each and every day.