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.