“Fighting the French is easier than fighting my own higher command.”
There is a disturbance in morale, it is effecting everyone, it is spreading like cancer.
The will to write, has left me as of late. Changes have happened here, none of them life shattering, but the effect is like getting hit in the stomach mid-stride while sprinting full speed. The effects have been devastating both personally and professionally. 60% of our command group has been “reassigned”, replaced with active duty officers. Necessity in some cases, insulting in others. Of course I cannot speak in specifics, yet the combat veterans amongst you can appreciate the mood it has caused among this soldiers of this battalion. As an officer here daily I must reassure the soldiers that these changes are for the best, and that we have a job to do no matter what. Lately the taste of bile has become so familiar, the contempt in my heart so pungent it seeps through my pours that my anger and vehemence emit an odor of their own. Yet despite it all, the only thing I can do is move ahead one foot at a time. Left , right, left. This morning I was going to shave, I didn’t. Looking in the mirror at that moment...I didn’t want to look into my own eyes. I still haven’t shaved today, tomorrow is looking doubtful as well. How do you tell a soldier to shake it off, when it has hit you harder than he? Is that a lie? Or am I protecting myself from it as well?
My roommate, LT Irish, has been nearly killed for a third time today. The Durkas are tossing TNT at us now. A stick bounced off of LT Irish’s HMMWV, he told me that the first thing he thought as it bounced less than a foot from him, the only thing between him and it was thick armoured glass. He said he wondered why they were tossing road flares at him in daylight. Using them for signaling in broad daylight didn’t make sense. Then he realized what it was. Irish, is one of the most decorated soldiers in this BN, and to the chagrin of the Infantryman here, he is a Field Artillery Officer, (his Military Occupational Specialty is desperately trying to find relevance in post “major combat” Iraq. He works as a pseudo politician, dealing daily with local Iraqi politicians. Dealing daily selfish, self-interested, local politicians. He by default is an “ambassador” if you will. Yet he is allowed to make no official statements. I am also considered an ambassador of good will, and deal on a continuous basis with Kurds, their director of Intelligence, and various Sheikhs, and Imams. Yet although we never promise anything, we are accused of lying to them, (not the Kurds), and deceiving them. Yet, I am not allowed to file paperwork for 2006.
LT Irish, saw the man who tried to murder him fleeing into a vehicle, he ordered the gunner to fire at the man and the vehicle. The kid in the turret, not much older than 24 froze. Momentarily paralyzed with the horrific realization that he was about to murder another human being. Let’s be honest here. This is a war, in war men (women, even children) kill. It can be reasoned away as for a greater good, for righteousness, for honor etc... I make no such distinction, it is murder, plain and simple. Justified, legal, righteous, or not; putting, lead to flesh, steel to flesh, or fire to flesh, causing death is murder. In the end, if your cause is just then and only then are you vindicated. Yet I fear in “this war” (against the radical Islamic Fundamentalists and their beliefs) will long surpass my lifetime. I remember hearing a group of Iwo Jima Veterans speaking, and one told of the day he killed his first Japanese soldier; he said he was crying and his platoon sergeant slapped him so hard it knocked him down. The man, towering above him told him to get it together, and move forward. Later in the respite from the days fighting, he asked the SGT not why he’d struck him, but if killing ever got any easier. The SGT said you get used to it. I’ll never forget what he said to me, he said; “I never got used to it, but I did get good at it.”.
My roommate left this morning and nearly got killed on his way home. That is simply not “normal”. How does one explain to a spouse when asked innocently “How was your day?”? I laughed and made light of it with him, telling him there is an Iraqi out there who wants to kill him. Ribbing him for not “dropping the “Durka” himself. Here there is no real outlet for emotion, yet I suspect we both wanted to crumple to the floor and weep, not from pain, not from fatigue, not from anything other than the fact that “what the hell else could we do?” Trying to make sense of this place is as impossible as moving a mountain by smashing your face into it. Some days we just don’t win. Today has been one of those days. LT Irish, was so angry today his weapon was taken away until he calmed down. Our soldiers often hesitate from pulling the trigger, all to often it is because of an almost unreasonable resentment of JAG. The very presence of a military lawyer, causes some soldiers to spit in disgust. Admittedly at times I have shared this sentiment; there are just some feelings that defy conventional wisdom, I know better...yet when I see JAG I too feel my stomach turn. I now know what an ant feels like under under a magnifying glass.
26 JUL 05
A few hours of solid, albeit Tylenol PM induced sleep, and I felt better today, than yesterday. My wife has met another wife who now must endure the separation of this deployment. The two of them got together over email and IM and introduced me “virtually” to a new officer in the battalion. He arrived late last night, a little worn from his journey but otherwise in one piece. It was good to finally meet him, in person. Odd to meet replacements, I am reminded of stories from veterans from wars past of how they reacted towards the new guys. “FNGs” they used to be called. To me they are just soldiers who have to come into the this place pretty much alone. The only bonds they have are with each other, then spread apart throughout the battalion and literally starting over. Also one of our wounded veterans came back last night, he looked lean and hungry. Not for payback as one may expect, but to get back to his men. This is something that civilians don’t easily understand. Why would anyone who has been wounded want to come back to “this”? Simple, until we all go home, this is where we belong. Would a parent bear the burden of being apart from a child any longer than need be? I pray not. This is no different. Not nearly as dramatic as; “That he who hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart; his passport shall be made...For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” paraphrased from Henry the V. Not nearly as eloquent as that, but the feeling to a soldier (a professional of arms) is that he be with his fellows. Seeing this returning veteran warmed my heart in a way that words cannot express. I shook his hand and embraced him as I would a brother. No words were exchanged between us, none were needed I helped him with his kit, and he went on his way. Oddly the newly arrived soldiers followed him, it reminded me of watching ducks.
This morning when I came into the morning meeting, he looked up and smiled at me. Not so much out of anything other than a familiar face. He looked clean, fresh, and eager. I remember that... OK, that was a lie, I cannot remember what it was like to have a fresh laundered (dry cleaned, or fabric softener) uniform. I cannot remember the last time I woke up and didn’t curse. There was a series of 5 explosions during our meeting, each time I noticed him flinch a little. The “vets” sitting around couldn’t help but laugh. Not that he was nervous; that would be cruel and honestly none of us has the strength to be cruel anymore. We laughed because what he was feeling was something we could remember...fear. Last night my roommate had a nightmare, I heard him talking in his sleep, and when he woke this morning he looked exhausted, and despite nearly being killed yesterday, he donned his armour and departed the room and went outside the wire again. I admire him for that, and only like men of arms at war can I love that man. He is my friend and he is my brother, LT Irish goes on leave in 10 days he will be missed.
I can't even tell
you about a CSM who countermanded the orders of the ground commander
and let three Durkas go who local Iraqis said detonated an IED. I
can't even begin to tell you how wrong that is and on how many levels
it enrages me. It begs utter lunacy. That is a story for when I am
not bound by the UCMJ. 5 months 16 days and a wake up. I am indeed
a republican, and I do support our actions here, but there are things
that those of us who blog, out of respect for the rules that govern
us, will not say. For if we do, then how can we hold our soldiers to
these same standards?
More lawyers here today, and more briefings on the Army Values, of which in my opinion there are far too many. There are three general orders in the army yet there are 7 Army Values. Didn’t General (five star General) Douglas MacArthur say it for us all; “Duty, honor, country.” What you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. It seems that there are so many “words” in our military. So many Rules of Engagement, so many General Orders, so many things for soldiers to have to remember. So many laws. What plagues our society, has bled into our military. Our soldiers fear lawyers here more than they fear our enemies. They hate lawyers here more than they hate the men who are trying to kill us. Am I the only person who sees an enormous problem with that? I have been called a warmonger by one Trazanna Leigh Halstead-Moreno. She called me this when she was 12 and I 14. She even gave me the definition once and after over 2 decades I still remember it. One who advocates war or warlike policies. When I was a younger man, I think that that definition fit. For the boy she knew then. That boy was tested overseas on the dark continent, and the man that emerged no longer searched for glory in battle. The man that emerged saw only the futility of it. This is not to say that I became a pacifist. I just began to see value in the idea of diplomacy. I am on hiatus from Norwich University pursuing a Masters in international relations/peace war and diplomacy studies. Again I found myself in a catch 22. We can look back in the history of war, and see where diplomacy has failed us time and time again. Here, now I am in a place where diplomacy was used by the former regime to delay, stall, and manipulate the us for 12 years. A soldier who seeks public office will always be caught between two worlds, peace and war. In the whole of European history, the continent has known only 11 years of constant peace (in a row for those who wish to quibble). When it was conquered by the legions of Rome. War is a result of humanity failing to police itself, war brings out the ugliness in man, yet it also does something else to us; it unites us. On September 11th 2001, the world stood with us and felt our pain, on that day the entire world was one. From the ashes of the single murderously bloody day in modern US history e pluribus unum, out of many one.
Sorry, didn’t mean to preach. Life just seems so simple to me, yet we complicate things needlessly, which brings me to my original point. We are wining this war, of this I am certain. The cost is high, but the cost of losing too high. We have never lost a war, ask any Vietnam Veteran, on every single field of battle be it chosen by us, by the NVA, or by the Vietcong we were victorious. Every single time. To put it in plain language every generation can understand. War was outlawed by the League of Nations. They failed. War it has saved us from time to time, but war; if we are not judicious in exertion of our undeniable power, shall be the end of us all. Duty...
In Shadow I Remain,
PS To the wonderful woman in San Diego who sent me a copy of J.C. Watts’ “The Color of a Conservative” I humbly thank you. I truly appreciate the book and your words that came with it. Here is to Nov 2006, may the future bring change!
DJ…”All for You…”