Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

Today is the day we remember the dead. In particular we remember those who have died in our nation's service. This day has become one mainly marked by a day off from work and outdoor barbeques. It has become more of an annual tribute to the opening days of summer than an actual day of reflection. I don't think any of these things are wrong. I just think that while we celebrate we should take time to remember why we celebrate. For 1,647 families this and future Memorial days will take on new meaning since this is the number of soliders who have paid the ultimate sacrifice since the war in Iraq began.

Obviously, we will not have the day off nor will there be any parades of festivities. So in order to observe, and remember I took time today to visit a few of the Memoriums we have here that are dedicated to soldiers from our base camp that have fallen. I took pictures as I went along. They didn't turn out very well, but at least a few more people will remember their names today.

Specialist Daniel Paul Unger
A Compnay, 1-185 Armor
March 21, 1985 - May 25, 2004
"SPC Unger, 19, of Exeter, California was fatally wounded on May 25th, 2004 at Forward Operating Base Kalsu when FOB Kalsu came under a heavy volley of 100MM Mortar Fire. In total disregard for his own saftey, SPC Unger directed local nationals that he was escorting to safety while executing the battle drill for indirect fire. His actions saved two lives."

Corporal Darrell L. Smith
D Company, 1-152 Infantry
February 22, 1975 - November 23, 2003
"CPL Smith of Otwell, Indiana, was part of an Infantry Squad assigned to provide security around Convoy Support Center Scania, Foward Operating Base Kalsu, Camp Nakamura, and MSR Tampa. CPL Smith gave his life on 23 November, while conducting a combat patrol on the nothern sector of MSR Tampa."

Sergeant Heath A. McMillin
105th Military Police Company
May 24, 1974 - July 27, 2003

Specialist Michael L. Williams
105th Military Police Company
September 11, 1957 - October 17, 2003
"SGT McMillin of Canandaigua, New York, and SPC Williams of Buffalo, New York were part of MSR Patrols patrolling their AOR when their vehicles were engaged by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)."

Specialist Paul T. Nakamura
437th Medical Compnay
October 17, 1981 - June 19, 2003
"SPC Nakamura of Santa Fe Springs, California was part of an Ambulance Crew transporting an injured soldier from CSC Scania to LSA Dogwood for further treatment when his FLA was struck by an RPG and small arms fire."

Sergeant Eric Toth
A Battery, 1-623 Field Artillery Battalion
April 16, 1983 - March 30, 2005
"SGT Toth of Edmontom, KY was part of a convoy escort that was returning to CSC Scaniaafter escorting a convoy north when his vehicle was struck by a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED)."
I attended SGT Toth's memorial service and wrote about it in a previous post titled Fallen.
I sincerley hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day full of good food and laughter. Just take time to remember.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Why I serve

Left to right: Jessica, Alex, Jennifer, Luke & Seth

So they don't have be afraid every time they step out of the house.

So we can send them to school without fear of a car bomb going off.

So they have an opportunity to grow up and pursue whatever dream they choose.

I serve so that, hopefully, they won't have to.

Regardless of how you feel about our presence in Iraq we have taken the fight to their backyard, which is keeping them out of ours.

If you would like to know more about these handsome kids you can read more about them in a previous post.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

More pics you won't see on the news

I seemed to have found my blog niche. There are a lot of military blogs being published from the front lines and they all have the unique perspective of the individuals writing them. Some are simply day-to-day journals, others like Alexander the Average comtemplate the impact of American foreign policy and the idealogical war we are waging, and others like Michael Yon give gripping accounts of toe-to-toe slug fests with the insurgents that are both inspiring and painful.

My blog is none of these. I want to show you the real people of this country. Not the radicals and the criminals, but the every day people that are trying to live their lives and figure out how this is all going to pan out. The people of Iraq are no more like the cowardice insurgents you see on the news than you and I are like the people in Hollywood movies. I still have not reached a point where I easily trust any of them, but I occassionally see glimpses of their lives that reminds me that they are ordinary people...just like you and I. You can not allow your judgement of this nation and its people be shaped by what you see on the evening news. The main stream media (MSM) is only going to show you profitable news. News that shocks, grabs your attention, and drives ratings. They will never report the subtle victories that occur here everyday.

They won't show you people putting aside old prejudices and forging new friendships...

Nor will they show you people working to make a better future...

...or contemplating life just like you and I do.

They won't show you the laughter...
...nor the playfullness.

But I will.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Still kicking

I apologize that I haven't posted in so long. I've found myself on the road a lot lately, and very busy with some change of missions that came down from higher. The optempo here goes from one extreme to another. I think the best description I've heard regarding the pace of life here is that, "there are long periods of boredom interrupted by brief moments of chaos and tragedy." Fortunatley there is nothing "tragic" at the moment, but there is plenty of chaos.

My last post really recieved a lot of attention, and I appreciate all of the tremendous feedback. Since that day I have found myself contemplating the plight of these children frequently. They truly are the hope of this nation. Our success or failure in shaping a brighter future for them will have tremendous implications for this entire region and ultimatley the world. I have a strong desire to find a way to do more for them, and I have some ideas I hope to share later. If you have some ideas, please let me know.

Until then...


Monday, May 09, 2005

Suffer the little children

I went with the medics to one of the local villages the other day. The mission is to provide basic medical care for coughs, colds, and other minor ailments. Again, this is something we take for granted in the U.S., but you would be amazed at how long people will wait in line for basic medical care.

Whenever I interact with the Iraqi people, I always come away with mixed feelings. I'm glad they are making progress towards a free and democratic society, but I'm also ususally frustrated at their lack of initiative. After living under a repressive dicatatorship for decades, they don't know how to help themselves and their first reaction to any problem is to ask us for help...usually in the form of a handout.

But then there are the kids. Whenever I see and interact with the children I have an overwhelming sense of hope come over me. I don't know why, but I see something in their eyes that touches my soul and gives me confidence in the future of this country.

During the few hours we were there, they were all I focused on. I interacted with a few and took dozens of pictures of many. They are all While this war has affected them, they still have that childlike innocence and joy that so many of us need more of, but lose as we grow older. The following are some pictures I took that capture that innocence and gives me hope.

Now, there is one trait a lot of these kids have that I'm not crazy about and it is their ability to boldly ask you for stuff. They ask for candy, food, water, pens, or anything else they see you have. This little guy pictured below is Hasim. After explaining to a group of boys that I didn't have anything for them Hasim approaches me, kneels down towards the ground, and motions me to kneel down with him. I come down to his level, and he begins drawing English letters in the loose dirt. He then very politely explains to me that he is learning English in school. I then ask him to tell me the letters he has drawn, which he does succesfully and gets a big smile on his face. I immediately took a liking to this smart little whip. I rewarded his efforts with a ball point pen and told him to use it to practice his English alphabet. You would think I gave him $100 as excited as he was. It's amazing how little these kids have. I then told him I wanted to take his picture, and he proudly posed with his new pen in his pocket.

He then motioned for me to give him the camera, and he took a picture of me. Like I said...he is a smart little whip.

The rest of these are just photos of kids I took throughout the day. I'm posting the ones that impressed me the most.

You can't go wrong with Elmo. Every kid loves Elmo.

I love this one. Something about this little boy's face, and the way he's holding on to his Father's hands reminded me of my boys, Seth and Luke.

This kid was all smiles all the time. Hopefully he'll grow into his ears someday. :-)

I call this one Rebel. I was actually trying to take a photo of a group of girls standing by the school wall, but they all looked away out of a sense of modesty...except for her.

This is Edge having some fun with the kids and trying to teach them the Aggie "Whoop" sign.

Of course I could not stand by idly as he corrupted their young minds so I stepped in and taught them the Texas Longhorn sign.

This was a good day.

In fact, I think this was my best day in Iraq yet.

Until next time.


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

El Jefe'

The longer I'm here the more I get used to it. I don't like the fact that I am becoming comfortable here. I want to hate this place as much as I did when I first arrived here...but I don't.

I have grown accustomed to the environment, the schedule, and the fact that I am going to be here for another eight months. I have even started to warm up a bit to some of the locals. To say that I've been a bit "guarded" is probably an understatement. Those that know me well know I am not the most bubbly of personalities. Just imagine what I'm like in a foreign land surrounded by people who look and talk like the enemy. Whenever I'm interacting with any of the locals, I'm typically all business and make it pretty clear that I'm not their friend.

The other day one of the Iraqis that works on our base introduced himself. He was standing with a group of about fourteen other local workers who come on base daily to perform various tasks (filling sandbags, picking up trash, etc.). I was leaning against my HMMWV waiting to go outside the wire. I could tell they were looking at me, and that I was the subject of some of their conversations. It wasn't in a disrespectful, pointing their fingers and whispering kind of converation. But more of a "I've seen that guy around and he scares the bejeezers out of me" kind of conversation.

So after a few minutes of watching them doing this and pretending not to notice the leader of this little motley crew walks over to me. As he gets closer he offers a hand shake, and I reluctantly reciprocate. As soon as our hands interlock he pulls me towards him and gives me a customary hug. I return the gesture with a U.S. style machsimo pat on the back while I'm slightly freaking out. One because this guy has caught me completely off guard, and secondly because all Army guys are homophobic. He introduces himslef as Aknar and explains in broken english that he is "the boss" of this band of misfits. I ask him how to say "the boss" in Arabic, which I try to reapeat back several times but never really figure out the correct pronunciation. I then tell him that in Spanish he would be called "El Jefe'", which he correctly repeats back with a smile.

This all occurred over a five minute period, and then he was called back to his duties. Now whenever I see him on base I wave and call out "El Jefe'!" He waves back and calls out "Captain!", and we both smile.

I guess you could say there was a small battle fought in Iraq that day...

and both sides won.