Today we paid tribute to the fallen:
COLWilliam W. Wood
CPT Michael MacKinnon
CPT Raymond Hill
SPC Shakere Guy
The tree of liberty has yet again been watered with the blood of patriots, true Americans, men of an all-volunteer Army, who sadly sacrificed the most precious gift of all, their very lives. Sadness, and misfortune has followed this Battalion, and we have sacrificed so very much for the ideal of liberty. I have been quiet as of late for I have had no real words to express the depths of despair I have felt. The sight of a helmet atop an inverted rifle with bayonet in the ground, and empty boots means a soldier is being honoured. Today there were four helmets, four rifles inverted with bayonets in the ground, and there were four sets of empty boots. Today we paid our final and everlasting respects to four more of America’s sons who died here in this land. Today, though soldiers have fallen, we held the line. The mid day breeze was crisp, Summer has finally faded and fall now claims the air. A gentle breeze cascaded across the field, where we gathered to remember, and respect those no longer amongst us. The chill in the air was not so much from the air that surrounded us, but from the reason we had been gathered once again.
COL Wood came to us, not sure who we were, or if the whispers of our battered battalion were true. He was guarded, distant and unsure of what to do with us. So he did what leaders do he united us, he was as hard on us as a hammer to an anvil, he demanded that we not wallow in our woes, he made us pull ourselves up and soldier on. I went on a patrol with him, a few weeks ago, and came to see this man as our leader. Circumstances beyond the control of we mere mortals saw us forced together, after three months “we” were his battalion, and he was our commander. The first time I met the man I stood on his carpet 6 and centered. He told me then that being a soldier meant sacrifice, today as I stood at his memorial service I began to feel the knot in my throat grow larger. Yes sir, I knew it then when you said it to me, but today it echoed like thunder in my ears. There is so much about the way he died that I cannot bear to think about; so here now, I'll remember how he lived. Know this though, that on that day, the silence of disbelief thundered in our ears, minds and hearts, we lost not just our Commander but also our source of inspiration and our hope for what was to be. COL William Wood believed with all he was that our cause was just, and our sacrifices were worth the price we pay. In your honour sir, we soldier on. The last time I saw him, he slapped me on the shoulder and asked me what I did for my country today, now just over 100 hours later I cannot recall what I said. I can recall him standing there briefing his men on the mission they were about to undertake, he stood tall and erect, his command presence undeniable, now where he once stood only a memory of him remains. Honour sir. Though my mind is weighed down by sadness, the fire that burns in my heart it not for revenge, but for something far more fulfilling...justice. At his memorial service, COL Wood was quoted as saying; “Soldiers have fallen, we hold the line.” Despite our sadness at this unfathomable loss, I truly hope he is still with us, for sir, though you are gone, we continue to hold the line.
CPT Michael MacKinnon, a truly exceptional soldier and a decent man. I did not know him well, but I remember this, when I first met him he was so ill he could barely stand, yet when I a mere second lieutenant, entered his command post, he rose despite being very sick. He rose to take my hand. Each life we lose in this war leaves us hollow, in some way. Not getting to know this man, this fellow officer, this American, this father, and husband I feel slighted by the harsh reality of war yet again. Now, for us here only his memory remains. Mike, we hold the line, and you will never leave our memory. Dan, now picks up where Mike left off, Dan is a good friend of mine, yet he and I both know the shoes and short lived legacy Mike left behind shall indeed be hard to fill. Duty...
CPT Ray Hill, I have known this man for 2 years, he was a
big teddy bear. His death, hits me like
a sledge hammer. I spent many hours with
him, over the last year. His heart was
kind, his soul warm, and his generosity unmatched by any I have ever met. We once had a conversation regarding my blog,
he said that trouble was heading my way. There was nothing he could do to stop it, but he just wanted me to
know. That is just the kind of man he
was. He was always there to help, in any
way he could. Ray, was a happy-go-lucky
man, he loved the Iraqi children most of all here, when he met his end, he was
on his way to deliver school supplies to them. That was just the kind of man he was. I will miss him more than I can say. This week has cost us dearly, and it is everything I can do to not let
myself fall into despair. Ray, I miss
you my friend, may God grant you peace, and may God show mercy to the vermin
who killed you for it is no longer in my heart to show any mercy or yield any
quarter to our enemies here. Ray was a
kind and gentle man, who rarely if ever showed malice in action or words, he
was simply a better man than me. Honour...
SPC Shekere Guy, I met him about a year ago, his smile was always genuine, and his jokes always off colour, and damned funny. We sat together after we were on leave, it was a long flight and we joked and watched the in-flight movies together. When we were at LAX, on 21 April 2005 we were to be stuck in a long line. I walked us up to the First Class counter, and told the attendant, since we were going back to pretty much the worst place on Earth I thought we should not have to stand in a line. Most people agreed and we bypassed about 45 minutes of standing in line. So, once we bypassed the line we grabbed beer(s). Hearing of his passing, as with all of our fallen brothers hit me, and again something inside passed away with him. Country...
I now know why veterans from wars past rarely speak of their experiences in combat. I am having difficulty expressing how this last week has made me feel inside. There is much that has been left unsaid. Yet the anguish and bitter anger remain. I know what hate looks like, and in the mirror I see hate. I see anger and I see sadness. To people “back home” who did not know them, they are statistics in an ever increasingly unpopular war (as if there has ever been a popular war), to us they were brothers. To us, they were flesh and blood, and the embodiment of why we are here, they represented the very best we had to offer, and they now represent the very sacrifice none of us hopes to make. There was a prayer that General “Howlin mad” Smith 1st Marine Division, had at the battle of Iwo Jima; he kept it in his journal, I find it appropriate here and now.
“Lord I know how incredibly busy you must be, but should I forger you, please do not forget me.”
The posts below seem like they were written ages ago, I have not edited them, so take them for what they are, an echo of what was days ago, for the feeling of elation expressed below, no longer reflect how I feel inside. We are soldiers, showing overtly how we feel is not our way. Yet we are human men cried today, openly and men reflected to day on the frailty of their own mortality. Our hearts are filled with grief, and that grief once again strengthens our resolve to soldier on, though the price has been high, far, far too high. Though our brothers and soldiers have fallen, we continue to; despite all adversity, anger, and that which lies beneath festering in our hearts we continue to “HOLD THE LINE!”
“If I die, well it’s just my time to go. But I pray to God everyday that I make it back home.”
A BREAK IN THE STORM 25 October 2005
Today was a gloriously lazy day; it was a break in what Ernst Junger called the “Storm of Steel”. Today was Organizational Day for the men of the 1st Battalion 184th Infantry. It was a day of reflection, sport, and food, a day where men; many of which are barely old enough to buy beer, dropped their armour, their weapons, and faded and dusty uniforms and played sports. For me it was another day of service, as the French author Andre Malreaux said; “To command is to serve, nothing more nothing less.” I command nothing here, no troops, no staff; I don’t command anyone’s respect, gratitude or other. As I have said in the past, I serve because here and now at this time, it is what I was designed to do.
Today I took pleasure in serving the men of this battalion. SGT S, or as we affectionately call him “Chef” (Every unit has one, we just happen to have the very best chef in the Army. Under his close scrutiny, I helped prepare and serve about 500 steaks, which had been marinating for about 2 days. The feast consisted of lobster marinated in garlic butter and herbs, the steaks bathed in Chef’s secret marinade, to divulge the contents of this culinary masterpiece would undoubtedly incur the wrath of the maestro, thus I dare not. Yet by the looks of sheer delight on the faces of the hungry soldiers who devoured the steaks before they had barely touched their plates, I dare say that Chef had once again performed his magic this day. Chef turned these average cuts of beef into the best meal we’ve had since we got here.
My uniform smells of charcoal, and mesquite and my boots are stained with grease. My hands are burned from the grill, and my face is red from the sun. Yet my spirit has been lifted once again by the simple fortune of being in the company of soldiers. As I stood there serving soldiers today, I was struck at just how extraordinary these men are. Moreover, I was reminded yet again of how fortunate we are to have one another here in this place, because in the end, each other is all we have here in “this war”.
CHANGE (14 OCT 05) Eve of the Iraqi Constitutional Referendum
Over the last 15 months many people, my wife included have been concerned about change, namely and most notably significant changes to us, in out attitudes and our personalities. I have deployed in the past, granted never for more than 7 months at a time, but I never thought much of it until October 14th 2005. There was a 21 year old Soldier who according to her supervisor came from wealth, this young soldier gave the patrol briefing with as much ease as one might order food at a restaurant, yet she did it with as much practiced skill as any infantryman I’ve seen. She checked her soldiers, to make sure that their equipment was ready for action once outside the FOB. Yet that wasn’t what stuck out in my mind, it was the way she handled herself on the patrol. When we would stop and secure a given area. Her eyes, odd that it is always ones eyes that yield the most telling detail about a person. Her eyes moved from rooftop to rooftop, scanning windows, assessing onlookers, as they stared at this American “female” with a weapon. She never lingered in spot for too long, using people that were milling about to screen her from line of sight of military aged men who may or may not be a threat. When local males would ogle and whistle she ignored them, when some Iraqi Police would ask her what her name was her reply was ever so soldierly, and damned hilarious. “F*** you, that’s my name!” Laughing to myself and scanning my sector, I couldn’t help but be proud of this kid. She was tough as nails, and I guess the Iraqi Police knew it too because they stopped staring at her and moved on PDQ. All of us were doing this, we had been trained to, yet looking at a twenty-something who this time last year was probably trying to decide which shoes looked best with outfit, was now using shadows, to conceal her movement, making sure that she was in constant visual contact with the rest of her team, and that the up-gunner on the HMMWV was scanning the area for threats as well. It was all at once saddening and invigorating to see this soldier “work”. Sad because this “kid” is now a combat veteran, we heard gunfire in our immediate area, and like all soldiers do we all instantly turned towards it, braced to close with and kill if need be, after five seconds there was no more fire. We continued on. For the very same reason it was invigorating, that this young soldier, this “boot”, “rook”, “FNG”, green troop, had earned her stripes and paid her dues. For time served what is her reward, aside from having served? She like the rest of us will find the world we return to much different than the way it was when we left it. We’ll find that we have less in common with our friends, than we once did. To our amazement we’ll find that food and drink taste better than they ever have in the past. We’ll find that our tempers, rather our tolerance for rude people has diminished. Our ability to cope with life’s BS will fall in line with our tolerance for rude people if not less so. For me, above all other changes, I’ll cherish quiet, solitude, the stillness that finds you when you are all alone. More so than I ever have in the past.
“When you find me standing here, do not think me to be lonely, simply alone.”
When this young soldier finds her way home, I pity the young man who attempts to win her favor by boisterous display of manhood, for he will most assuredly find himself looking into that 1000 yard stare of a combat veteran, a look that will stop him dead in his tracks and see him back gingerly away as if he had just come across a coiled pit viper on a trail. She, like many of us will find we are slightly out of place at home, we have lived the last year of our lives in a hyper stressful and dangerous place, we have been running in the red so fast for so long that all at once when we are home and safe, we will not be able to adapt. Once again we will find ourselves strangers in a strange land. Caught in a Catch 22, thankful to be home, but unsure of how to re-integrate into the very place we dreamt about for so long. Unable to communicate feelings, unable to release tension, unwilling to drop our guard, many feeling alone in what we once thought was a dream now seemingly a waking nightmare of freedom, with no one to talk to but those who know, those who are feeling the same uneasy feeling that home is no more. When I was home on leave I felt it, not to a large extent, but it was there and it had the same effect on me as when I was a child stepping into the deep-end of the pool for the first time, I felt uneasy being safe. Like I was moving at a speed just a little faster than everyone around me, and the level of aggression that was just beneath the surface within me was somehow something to be ashamed of. I looked across the table at my wife who was smiling back at me and for the life of me I cannot fathom why I couldn’t stop thinking about being back inBaghdad.
“When I was home after my first tour it was worse, when I was there I wanted to be here, when I was here all I could think about was getting back into the jungle. I hardly said a word to my wife until I said yes to a divorce.”
CPT Willard Apocalypse Now.
I was determined that would not be me, yet now six months after being home, I can feel the uneasiness returning. The elation of finally leaving Iraq, the light at the end of this tunnel, yet at the same time, I have to go back to a world that has only existed in my dreams. My expectations will surely lead to disappointment. I care not for accolades, nor do I care to be adorned with decorations, or march in parades. I just want to move forward, my service is nearly at an end, and I am glad to have sacrificed yet again for my nation. I am honoured for having served this time as an officer and all I ask is that I be allowed to go on with my life as peacefully as I can. Yet as a soldier, sadly I know better… After every battle sharpen your sword. I know how I am going to cope with all of a sudden being a civilian again, but there is a small part of me that looks around a room for comfort when I am feeling boxed in. As when I was home on leave in April, I found comfort across a restaurant. A veteran, our look must have been unmistakable to the other, our eyes locked only for a moment, he nodded to me, and I gave a boy scout salute in return, then as if the shades had been lifted I felt better and the room was mine again. This too shall pass.
The cost of liberty is high, in “this war”. I hope, beyond all hope that Iraq is worth the cost in blood. We cannot fail here, we owe far too many Americans a debt that can only be repaid by nothing short of total victory.
In Shadow I Remain...
To all of the wives, husbands, children and friends of those of us who are here. Thank you for being there for us. Keeping things steady on your end of the line...