Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Look Mom! I'm on the radio!

I have been invited to do a guest interview on the Danny Fontana show, which is a radio talk show on the east coast. The show is not nationally syndicated, but you can listed to a live web cast here. The show begins at 1:00 pm Central Standard Time, but I'm not sure exactly when the interview will occur.

Who knows? Maybe this is the spring board for my aspiring political career (I know Amy is cringing right now).


Monday, September 26, 2005


I apologize for the sparse blogging of late, but I have found myself busier than usual. The good news is that the busyness is being driven by our quickly approaching redeployment date (i.e. we’re getting ready to go home). We still have a couple of months to go here, but we are definitely within the window that necessitates planning.

One particular milestone that brings me much relief and joy is seeing my little sister over here for the last time. (She has been serving in Iraq for the past year as part of Transportation Company from the Illinois National Guard). Although it has been a great pleasure having the ability to ocassionally spend time with family while I have been here, I will not miss worrying about her as she takes another trip on what are very dangerous roads. She has done her time, served with distinction, and now it is time for her to go and let someone else take their turn.

Sis – if you are reading this, please know that I am very proud of you…but I am also glad you are leaving. :-)

I’ll see you when I get back.

Big bro’

Thursday, September 15, 2005


For the past fifteen years any discussion about Iraq has been negative. I know most people my age knew nothing about the country until the first Gulf War. Now my teenage daughters have grown their entire lives knowing it only as a place ruled by an evil dictator, and now as a place where their Dad has to go serve for a year.

During that same time period the only news about Iraq has referenced war, Saddam Hussein, U.N. sanctions, and now the insurgency. Because of all of this "bad press" people no longer recognize this region for the incredibly rich history it contains. This area is the Cradle of Civilization and is the birthplace of some of the most ancient cities known to man. I had the unique privilege of touring one of those ancient sites, and the experience was pretty amazing.

Many people know of the city of Babylon from the Bible stories found in the Old Testament which tells of the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar, and the stories of The Tower of Babel and Daniel in the Lion's Den. This city was considered the mightiest of its time and contained the famous Hanging Gardens, which is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The re-built Gates of Ishtar

The re-built Royal Palace of King Nebuchadnezzar

The Lion of Babylon

The city was eventually conquered and laid to ruin, and due to the kilned mud and clay bricks used in the construction the remaining structures have significantly decayed over time. In the early 1980's Saddam began reconstructing certain portions of the city. He did this not because of his love of history but because of his own dillusions of grandeur and because he saw himself as the next King Nebuchadnezzar. Archeologist cringe at what he did since he built over the actual sites thus destroying many of the artifacts. The original bricks, which rise two or three feet from the ground, contain ancient inscriptions praising Nebuchadnezzar. Above these, Saddam Hussein's workers laid more than 60-million sand colored bricks with the words, "In the era of Saddam Hussein, protector of Iraq, who rebuilt civilization and rebuilt Babylon." The new bricks began to crack after only ten years and based on what I've seen during my travels his "rebuilt cvilization" didn't fare too well either.

Some of the orginal ruins

Saddam's megalomania is further demonstrated here by the home he built for himself. First he built a hill so the structure would sit higher then any other in the area and then built a four story palace complete with marble floors and golden fixtures. Local villagers say that he had over a thousand people displaced during its construction, but then never really used it. Since the fall of his regime it has been looted and sits empty looking over villages of mud huts and stands as yet another symbol of his selfishness and greed.

Saddam's Palace overlooking the ancient city

One of the palace walls

A ceiling mural depicting the ancient kingdom and Saddam's new empire

The following picture is the Iraqi General that gave us the tour. He is showing us the ancient coliseum and explaining that the windowed structue at the top was the personal area for Saddam and his sons to watch theatrical productions. At one point the General turned and said that one day he and his friends would sit in those seats

This is a view of the Euphrates from the new palace. As you can see, the area is very lush with vegetation, which is why this particular region is referred to as the Fertile Crescent.

As we were leaving I overheard my brigade commander telling someone that people will one day pay thousands of dollars to visit this area and see what we had just seen. Obviously that can only happen once the country is stable and secure and I believe he is right.

I stood in the place where civilization was born and branched out into the rest of the world. Now it is time for us to bring civilization back.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I stepped out my tent this morning and was surprised by a very cool breeze. I looked at a themometer and it was 76 degrees. I can't remember the last time it was that cool. It's currently 9:30 am and the temp is only 90 degrees, and usually it has broken 100 by now. The forecast for today is 110 which will seem like a cool autumn day compared to the consistent 130 degree plus temps we have had for so long.

The season is changing.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Lost Village

I went on a Civil Affairs mission yesterday, and the experience proved to be a much needed shot in the arm. Since returning from my two weeks of leave I have found myself increasingly disinterested in this place with my thoughts consumed by my family back in Texas. The trip I made yesterday, however, reminded me yet again of why we are here and gave me a renewed sense of purpose.

The village we went to was just recently discovered by our Civil Affairs team. Obviously it has been there all the while, but our unit’s efforts have concentrated on more populous and evident areas of need. Conversely, this village is much smaller and out of the way.

I have commented frequently on the children we encounter here. At times they can be obnoxiously forward, but even then my interactions with them give me hope in this nation’s future. The children of this village, however, were a breath of fresh air. While they are just as impoverished as the children of other villages, they were amazingly well behaved and polite. After having tea with the sheik and some of the village elders the medics provided some very basic medical care (remember, they have no concept of a family doctor), and then we handed out some toothbrushes and some toys.

I am always so impressed at the beauty in these kids, and knowing they will now have an opportunity to grow up free makes this endeavor worth every effort.

This little guy kept trying to peek in while we were having tea with sheik, and kept getting "shooed" away. I couldn't help but chuckle at him, which I'm sure didn't help the situation.

One of the medics and me handing out toothpaste and tooth brushes. When was the last time your kid got excited about a new tooth brush?

The sheik overseeing the activities...and making sure the kids behaved.

The rest are just pictures of the kids I took that day.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Texas Tough

The following story that appeared in the Austin American Statesman is about one of the soldiers injured in last week's mortar attack. I do not know the soldier, but based on his comments in the article I admire his tenacity. I have added emphasis to a couple of his quotes that caught my attention. As I have said many times's all a matter of perspective.

Wounded in Iraq, Austinite unbowed

Paramedic grateful to be alive, keeps focus on helping others.

By Katie Humphrey
Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Patrick Phillips has shrapnel wounds on his legs, ankles and shoulders, and it looks as if somebody took a bite out of his right hand below his pinky finger. He has had multiple surgeries to clean the sand and shrapnel out of his wounds and reconstruct the tendons in his hand.

But the paramedic with Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services, who was serving a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard, is grateful.

"I've been probably in the best mood in my life," he said, summing up his feelings since a mortar exploded near him in southern Iraq on Saturday. "I'm such a happy person because the opportunity for my life to be gone was there and it didn't happen."

Phillips is one of about three dozen Austin-area public safety workers who are serving active tours of duty in the U.S. military.

That makes for some shuffling around at home, with some public safety employees, such as firefighters, traveling to different stations or working overtime to cover shifts for active military members, said Todd Pomroy, a captain with the Austin Fire Department.

Fifteen staff members from the Travis County sheriff's office are serving in the military, along with nine people from the Austin Police Department, five from the Austin Fire Department and six from Austin/Travis County EMS.

"It hurts, but we just double our efforts and keep on going," said Roger Wade, spokesman for the Travis County sheriff's office.

Phillips and his unit, the Fort Hood-based 142nd Infantry, were doing some maintenance on a Humvee when insurgents launched a surprise mortar attack. As he and a colleague ran toward a bunker, Phillips saw a flash of light.

He dove into the bunker, screaming, he said. Another member of his unit called the medics when he saw that Phillips was covered in wounds. Phillips was evacuated to a hospital in Baghdad and later transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for more surgery.

By Monday, Phillips, who had once been listed in critical condition, was on his feet and wandering around the hospital, chatting with other patients and going for walks.

"He had surgery that morning and a few hours later was trying to push another soldier to the Internet cafe with his injured hand," said his wife, Heather Phillips, who is also a paramedic. "I got onto him a little bit, and I threatened to call the nurses' station and have his shoes taken away from him."

Patrick Phillips' attitude doesn't surprise his co-workers at Austin/Travis County EMS, who said he has done nothing but downplay the severity of his injuries to assuage the fears of loved ones and reach out to others who are in worse shape than he is.

"He tried to make light of injuries so his wife wouldn't be worried," said Jason Martin, senior district commander over operations at Austin/Travis County EMS. "Even when he's hurt, he's helping people."

Heather Phillips said she expects her husband of one year to be back in the United States by the end of the week. He will have to spend a week or two in a military hospital to have surgeries to repair his right hand. Then he will be able to come home to continue rehabilitation at the house Heather bought while he was overseas.

"The first day he called me, Saturday morning, he said, 'You know, I'm going to be fine. The good news is that I'm getting a Purple Heart, so we don't ever have to pay for vehicle registration anymore,' " Heather Phillips said, laughing.