Yesterday I wasn't sure if I could look myself in the mirror. Today I did, the reflection was the one it always has been, but I looked older. I used to laugh when friends I hadn't seen in years remarked how I hadn't aged at all. Today, as I looked in the mirror the person looking back at me looked tired, older. More sure of who he was, the lines of time were beginning to reveal themselves each millimeter revealing a road traveled, each freckle a point in time a place I've been to. Each gray hair, a reminder the clock is ticking. Even here where everyday is the same as the day before. Time does march on, if my face here is any indicator, then I have lost more of myself to time, than I can recall.
Yesterday I was more sad than angry, (I was oh so angry), so my sadness was tremendous, and there is of course fatigue. We are all tired, and today was no different. This morning the extent of my patriotism was putting my boots on, and going back to it. The day was nothing out of the ordinary, then as dawn spread across Los Angeles news of “the article” began to spread, and the usually empty Internet cafe was full. The hunting and pecking was hypnotic, those who don't normally type were giving it one hell of a college try, some were responding to emails others were angrily hitting backspace to correct a spelling error, others were hitting enter to address a chatroom slight. A soldier asked me if I'd seen the article. I hadn't, I really didn't need to. I am here in the middle of it. For those of you who don't know this BN was in the Los Angeles Times (yet again), and our woes are now quite public.
Yesterday I was angry and ashamed of the behavior of some in this battalion, in this Brigade, in this Division, in this Army. Ironically; John was right, “Yesterday all my troubles seem so far away.” I wanted to detach myself as fast a possible and as far as possible from this unit. I have to say that was yesterday, today I was again in awe of the men here. We were supposed to receive yet another briefing on the “rules”, yet another briefing, on security, yet another briefing on...well you get the idea. Emasculation by power point (the most vile invention ever!) The NCO who was supposed to give said Power Point briefing didn't show up. The soldiers were sitting in the conference room, waiting to patiently sit through yet another brief. As the assistant intelligence officer I said I'd give it. I figured I'd go in spill a few buzz words, and let them go on their way. When I walked into the room I saw a group of soldiers who have had a rough time, they have endured the pains of separation, some have lost the jobs that they thought would be there when they got home. Some have lost friends here, others have lost their girlfriends or wives. The men in that room weren't infantrymen, they were cooks and mechanics, medics, personnel clerks, and drivers. They were admin soldiers. I started the briefing but about half way through mid sentence, I hopped up on a table and looked into their eyes. I just had to smile, and here is why, despite all of the grief that has come our way, and there has been plenty, and more will come. They sat there waiting, some had been up for 2 days with little rest, yet they just sat there solid, like soldiers. I felt a little tickle on the back of my neck, as I am bald it couldn't’t be my hair standing on end. What I felt was pride. I put my hands in my pockets and leaned against the table, and just spoke to them, man to man. I told them that once upon a midnight weary I was in their shoes, sitting there in the middle of a PR storm, in the a third world country a million miles from nowhere. At that moment I felt very old, but I grew old walking a road I chose, when I looked back in my minds eye, it was my boot prints I saw. I was at that very moment exactly where I was supposed to be, because it was my boots that got me there.
I told them about my blog, about the brass reading it, about about the article, and that anyone who “speaks on the condition of anonymity” has an agenda, and ultimately can't be trusted. If you have something to say, and you can 't be man or woman enough to attach your name to it and own it, then sit down and stop stealing oxygen. I am sure that some will say it is me, fine. At times I wish it had been, but that would have been petty, spiteful and would have ultimately done more harm to the honorable men here than the momentary satisfaction of “getting even” I think I may catch some fury for yesterdays post. So be it. I spoke from my heart and I spoke noting untrue. Marcus Aurelius's Meditations have been my compass here. Today was one of the few times I have stood before a group of soldiers and spoke (here). I have found to speak from the heart, to speak openly and genuinely is the hallmark of leadership (good leadership).
I saw fatigue in their eyes, I smelled “work” on their uniforms, I saw the stains of combat on them in, dirt, grime, grease, and some blood. They were slumped in corners, crammed in chairs, standing against a wall, and leaning against one another for support. I was looking at my brothers. We may not be related, we may not come from the same social background, but we all have this shared experience that will undoubtedly keep us linked for the rest of our days.
I told them that we all want to go home, and we may or may not care one damn bit about Iraq, but we all care about the United States. I told them that what was at stake was bigger than our lives, it was the future of American Foreign Policy for the next 50 years. Everything else... well duty, honor, country. Whether we support this war or not, the only way out for the men of the 1st Infantry Battalion, 184th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, is through. Smiling to myself I realized I told them what they already knew. What a great bunch of men, how can I honor them, because each and every day they go to work they shame me, I had the audacity to feel sorry for myself. I had the nerve to want to leave this Battalion. If I need to say I am sorry it is not the the Army, it isn't the higher headquarters it's to the soldiers of this battalion who serve with honor each day. I owe a debt of eternal gratitude to those among us here, who serve and endure their hardships without a word.
5 months 13 days and a wake up...
To be fair, and just. Some of the changes here were absolutely necessary. Some I would question the motive, yet as a junior officer mine is of course not to reason why...I'll save that for November 2006.
"The Dude abides."