Across America on this holiday weekend, millions of Americans will celebrate the birth of these United States. In New York City, there will be thunder in the skies above Manhattan and as children sit atop the shoulders of their Mothers and Fathers their eyes will witness the wonder and majesty of the rockets red glare as night turns to day one burst of brilliant color at a time. In Boston, the harbor will hold tall ships transformed into a million points of light resting on the waters under the electric sky. In St Louis, the VP fair will hold thousands under the Gateway Arch, as the masses surge for a better seat on the grasses and concrete on the bank of the mighty Mississippi.
In Bozeman, Montana people will line
the streets as floats pass them by and marching bands play homage to
the history of a nation forged as much by blood of brave men as the
ideas that set the founding Fathers on a collision course with
history. In South Dakota’s Black Hills under Mt Rushmore,
thousands will gather under the eyes of Lincoln, Washington,
Roosevelt, and Jefferson and children will look into the faces of
four of the greatest leaders in the history of the United States as
the skies above are ignited in celebration and the citizens below are
united not by what makes them different but by what makes them
Americans. In Colorado, the citizens of Montrose will tune their
radios to Steven Glassman’s KKXK and listen to a patriotic tribute
to America. Families will throw blankets on the hoods of SUVs, and
pick-up trucks and park under the heavens and as the fireworks
explode over head the mountains will appear silhouetted against the
night sky, and the crisp mountain air will hang heavy with smoke and
In Washington DC, Lincoln will still gaze across the calm of all he surveys, while all eyes are looking to the sky a the annual gala over the holiday weekend Speeches will be made, untold thousands of hot dogs will be eaten, beer consumed, first kisses will be captured under the majestic skies of states all across the land, hands will be held, and children will be both frightened and mystified by the energy in the air. Dogs will bark at the heavens and as the fireworks fade away they will soon forget the excitement and continue to go about doing what dogs do. The crowds will disperse and head towards their homes, couples will hold hands, children will wonder with awe why the day was so special, Grandparents will reflect on friends long gone, and recall days when things weren’t so certain.
As this holiday weekend begins, 10, 000 miles and nearly a dozen time-zones away today is Saturday, nothing more than a day to mark off of the calendar, tomorrow the 3rd and Monday the 4th will be a mirror of today. Heat, dust, sweat, and the foul smell of sewage festering at nearly 100 degrees, on the 4th as Americans at home celebrate our great nation; men and women across Iraq will stand around armoured HMMWVs and listen intently to patrol briefings. NCOs and Officers will offer stern cautioning to their Soldiers, Marines and Sailors (maybe even a few Airman) they will be cautioned about driving to closely together and to far apart. They will be cautioned about the ever present and tell tale signs of IEDs. Soldiers will smoke cigarettes, and chew the coveted Copenhagen. They will make jokes, and they will play grab-fanny and make fun of the new guy. They will all look into each others eyes, and there will be an understanding that today could be the day. They will all silently pray, that it is not, for there is no such thing as an Atheist in a trench. That was a lesson Mike Nelson told me from his experiences in Gulf War one. To this day, I still hear him telling me that when he came home. As the convoy commander issues his final thoughts they will all suit up and prepare to roll out.
Everyone will check and recheck their armor, chest
plates in place, neck gator fastened, groin protector covering all
the right places. Magazines will be loaded in to M4s, and M9s.
M240s, M249s, and M2s will all be loaded and once the threshold of
the safety of the base has been crossed fingers will rest
uncomfortably on safety switches. Tired eyes will gain the intensity
of a falcon on the hunt, adrenalin will energize heat weary warriors,
the instinct to survive will replace everything, and the only thing
more intense than this for these young men and women is knowing that
while they are here blurred in between what were once called
frontlines the fight is here, and not in Bozeman, Montrose, St Louis,
DC, Venice, Tallahassee, Long Beach, Phoenix, Broken Arrow, Watauga,
or anywhere USA. From sea to shining sea on this 4th of
July once again the right to breath free will be paid for in the
blood of patriots. I hope nearly to the point of desperation I do
not die here, but my country gave me the gift of freedom, the only
thing I have to offer to her in return is my blood. I can only give
my life once for my homeland, if need be, here in Iraq I’ll repay
the debt. My only worry; when my world ends will my love for my wife
Monday is the 4th of July, one of my favorite holidays, traditionally. This year is different; the 4th is nothing more than when crossed off of my calendar, one less day in Iraq. To the others here in the 1st Battalion 184th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division it is a Monday, it means patrols, debriefs, trips to the mess hall, lines at the PX, phone center, and smoothie shop. It means teary-eyed husbands speaking nearly inaudibly into telephones to their wives (avoiding at all cost letting their fellows hear their voices breaking as tears fall to the ground; and disappear forever). It means men and women talking to their little ones from 10,00 miles away and perking up momentarily until the call is ended and they walk out once again into the barren landscape of the FOB, and the heat engulfs them again, and with the heat comes regret of yet another holiday missed with family. As eyes and tears are dried by the Iraqi sun the base will be oddly quiet. Everyone here hoping that there are no fireworks, for us fireworks mean only death and suffering. Younger soldiers will attend the karaoke contest, and take advantage of the ever so brief respite from the uncertainty that lies only a few hundred meters out side the gate. As for me, I’ll smile as needed and joke as needed with the young soldiers here, but my heart lies in Venice Beach, California.
It was this time last year that I was walking on the beach with my wife and I got the call that I was going to Iraq. I would again be leaving my wife. Thunder6 called me and told me we were Mobilizing for Iraq the excitement in his voice was the polar opposite of the dread that welled in the pit of my stomach. My only hope as this holiday draws nearer to us is that it passes for us without excitement, without fanfare, and above all else without bloodshed. Soldiers fight and die, for it is what soldiers have always done. We kill the enemies of our nation; duty. We help sow the seed of freedom wherever it is planted; honor. We serve the greatest nation on the face of the earth and do so willingly; country. Yet it is we, the soldiers of our nation that live with the ghosts of our actions, my prayer is this; when the time comes for me to leave this place I can do so. That when I leave, that the ghosts of Iraq and my actions here leave me in peace…