22 January 2010
26 December 2009
Gingerbread houses made by Camp Arifjan soldiers.
20 December 2009
Jake Sere, top, me, Cassie Roach and Scott Lynch before leaving Taji, Iraq, on our way to Talil and the "Big Nothing" for Christmas fireworks.
War, or what passes for war in Iraq these days isn't pretty, and men are often driven to do things that they might not normally do in a civilized society. (This statement will become more clear as you read on)
The sizzling brightly burning parachute flares, floating slowly to the ground hundreds of feet above us, bathed acres of desert in the colors of Christmas. As the flares hung suspended above us, swinging slowly back and forth under their parachutes, shadows created by the glow made the desert floor come alive. Miller-Cobb later told me that it was an absolutely magical moment...a moment, that did more to rescue our Christmas spirit than any cardboard Santa or aluminum tree ever could.
08 December 2009
Up until this night, the 1864th had so far dodged a few minor scrapes with danger, but definitley nothing to worry or write home about. It's safe to say, we had become bored. Some of us hoped and even longed for contact. If for no other reason than to prove to ourselves and our buddies that we could be more dangerous than the insurgents when we had to be. No major League ballplayer wants to play in the World Series and never get to bat. It's the same in war. Not everyone will admit it, but most here hope to go home with the C.A.B, or Combat Action Badge. That little black, wreathe-wrapped bayonet badge, worn over the left chest, that signifies involvement in some sort of combat action. It means that we stood up, faced death and walked away...Hopefully.
Haws was the truck commander of a HET. A giant, multi-wheeled transport that hauls the heaviest of armor. These lumbering beasts, weighing in at nearly 100,000 lbs, are lucky to hit 45 miles an hour top speed when loaded. Haws' and his driver were in the lead HET in a 50-odd vehicle convoy headed north from Baghdad. The column was making its way slowly over a sweeping freeway overpass that spans Baghdad's largest municipal open air garbage dump. Fires burn almost continuously and sporadically throughout the dump, blanketing most of the area in choking, burning smoke that smells like death itself. The smoke-shrouded darkness of night, made visibility a challenge at best. The convoy slowed to avoid bunching up and keep a safe distance in the limited visibility. Haws sat quietly staring out the 2 inch thick armored window until it was nearly impossible to see. Then, without warning, his world exploded.
The IED detonated just a few feet from Haws side of the HET, throwing him from one side of his seat to the other. His head slammed against the armored glass and the air was sucked form his lungs by the concussion and pressure change of the explosion as he was simultaneously kicked in the chest by a Budweiser Clydesdale. Haws barely heard himself yell "SHIT!", over the screaming in his ears. Shrapnel and pulverized concrete tore into the side skirts of the trucks armor, the fiberglass hood and engine block, and shredded the 500 pound right front tire. Shrapnel punctured the passenger side tool boxes and storage compartments, and tore into Haws rucksack which was strapped on the rear deck. Several small pieces struck the Bradley Fighting Vehicle which was chained to the HET trailer. Like pissed off hornets, shrapnel zinged past and ricocheted off the truck's armor plate, leaving gleaming, silver dents the size of quarters and as deep as a marble. Two large pieces of shrapnel, both as large as a baseball punched into the 2 inch thick armored glass of the passenger door. The glass shattered and exploded into an opaque, milky white sheet, but held, saving Haws and his driver from most likely being killed.
Just as we had been trained, nearly a lifetime ago at Camp Atterbury, the rest of the column pulled around Haws bleeding, dying truck, and pushed ahead and out of the kill zone to re-group. Just then, a second HET, trailing Haws several truck lengths back, was suddenly struck by a second more powerful IED just as it was attempting to reach the rally point. This IED, more powerful than the first, drove a softball size chunk of shrapnel through a space between the drivers side front fender and the hood, punched through the thick steel truck frame just behind the front tire, and tore through the engine block itself, stopping the HET dead in it's tracks. The drivers side of the truck was punctured by large, burning chunks of shrapnel, tearing into fuel and oil lines, the drivers armored window and front tire. The truck, lurched and smoked, bled to death with an oily groan, and stopped. Several rounds of glowing green tracers fired from behind nearby concrete walls by an unknown number of insurgents, tore through the night, slamming into the front windshield and hood. As quickly as it had begun it was over. Both Arizona Guardsmen in the second HET, drivers from the 1404th Transportation Company, miraculously survived unscathed, despite the hell they had just been through. The HET's, large, armored, Jurassic trucks that they are, gave their lives for the mission and in the process saved all four crew members.
With the attack over, and the insurgents now beating feet for the nearest neighboring Baghdad zip code, Haws dizzily shouldered open the 250 pound armored door and spilled out of the truck. Haws world fell silent, his right ear deafened by the explosion. Luckily for Haws and the other HET crewmembers, a nearby STRYKER Brigade Combat Team had heard the explosions and rushed immediately to the scene. Haws and his driver were tended to by the Combat Team medics and loaded onto the heavily armed and armored STRYKER's, where they were transported to the nearest FOB.
I ran into Haws at the FOB the next morning when our convoy caught up with his just outside of Taji, Iraq. Up until that point, the rumor mill had it that Haws had been helicoptered out with unknown injuries. When I saw him walking towards me as I made my way to the shower, he had his typical ear-to-ear goofy smile splashed across his face. I clasped his outstretched hand and wrapped him in a bear hug. "What the fuck, Bro?", I yelled in disbelief. "I thought you got hit!" Haws then regaled me with his tale, like a kid who had just hit his very first little league home run. I swear he never took a breath between sentences.
Haws had been offered the chance to climb aboard our convoy, instead of continuing his mission, and head back south towards Kuwait with us the following day. Haws, despite the ringing in his ears, declined, saying, "I started this mission, and I want to finish it."
THAT's why I love these guys!
03 December 2009
21 November 2009
It's easy to fall victim to lonliness and depression when youre far from home and the only reminder you have of family is a bent and crinkled photograph or a notoriously on again-off again internet connection. When you feel so far away and detatched that memories of what used to be, become harder and harder to recall, until pretty soon you dont remember at all.
It's times like this, when we feel at our lowest, that I think of the young men at Valley Forge, shivering and dying alone in the snow with no food in their belly. Or the young men who spent Christmas 1944 huddled together for warmth in shallow, frozen foxholes in the Ardennes, shivering with equal intensity from not only the cold, but from the horrors of repeated German shelling, while the Allied commanders sat around a large table, well behind the German lines and away from the shelling with a blazing fire in the fireplace, enjoying their Christmas feast.
Valley Forge 1777. Ypres, Belgium 1914. The Ardennes, Belgium 1944. Korea 1952. Khe Sanh, Vietnam 1968...Iraq 2009. Only the years and the uniforms have changed. The faces of the young men and women remain the same as does the lonliness. But as I write this, I sit instead in my camp chair beside my bunk, with a large, steaming Starbucks coffee in front of me-not in a frozen or muddy foxhole short on food, winter clothing or ammunition. Except for one time since I've been here, nobody has lobbed an artillery shell or mortar round in my general direction in recent memory. That one struck close enough to me that it felt like I had been punched in the chest. It was close enough that I could see the smoke and dust plume and hear the rocks falling. But it was just one, not hundreds, striking close enough that I wouldnt be able to hear my own screams.
Lonliness, and isolation translates identically, though, no matter where you are or what your circumstances. Still, as Thanksgiving approaches in just a few days, I search to find things to be thankful for. I have friends, here and at home. Friends that I can depend on unquestioningly. Friends that have been here for me and with me through some very difficult times, and continue to do so without ridicule or judgement. My Dad once told me that some of the closest friends he ever had were those he made in the army. The strength and resiliency of some of the men and women I serve with is inspiraional to say the least, and I only hope that I have honored their friendship by living up to their example.
I have two beautiful little girls waiting for me at home that are healthy and happy. There isnt a phone call that passes that I dont laugh and laugh at something Olivia, my precious little 5 year old says to me. Like the other day when she announced in her adorable sing-song voice at the end of our phone call, "I love you Daddy. I miss you...oh, and I have BUGS in my hair!" announcing to anybody that would listen that she brought lice home from kindergarten. I pray thats the worse that ever happens to her. My 8 year old daughter Alyssa is a blessing to my heart. She's wise and grown up beyond her years. I have never been more passionately in love with another human being as I am with my three daughters.
I'm thankful for my two adult children, Mark, age 20 and Ashley, age 23. Mark is an aspiring animator and writer. Ashley is nearing the completion of her degree in Paralegal Studies and has just gotten hired on at a new law firm in Illinois. Both of them have overcome unbelievable hardship and emotional trauma in their lives and I couldnt be a prouder father. And to my fellow soldiers that may read this...No, she is not single and dont even think about it! My other "daughter" Hannah. I've been in her life since she was 4 years old. She's nearly 18 now, and I've watched her grow into one of the truly happiest young women I have ever known.
I'm thankful for the opportunity to serve my country and my state. Although I've only lived in Nevada since 1998, Nevada is my home and for the first time in many years, I feel settled and content. I am still amazed, as if gazing upon it for the very first time, at Nevada's wondorous beauty. I'm thankful for a successful career. Law enforcement, and the opportunity to serve the people of Carson City has been one of the greatest priveleges of my life. I look forward to returning a far better man and a far better Deputy Sheriff than the day I left.
In a few days, I will likely head out on yet another mission and spend Thanksgiving on a dark, lonely stretch of Iraqi highway. Thanksgiving dinner will be eaten in a chow hall on one of our distant FOB's amonsgt my buddies. For now, they are the closest thing I have to family, here, and I am thankful beyond words for them.
Lastly, I am thankful for all of you back home. Those of you who support us and even those of you who dont. You are the true heroes in this nearly ten year long saga. You make up everything that is great about this nation. You see, it's you all who are living representations of the freedoms that so many of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines died to protect throughout our nation's history. So when you sit down to dinner with your familes this week, when you head out to the stores and the malls to fight the crowds and do your Christmas shopping, do it for those who never will again. Live your lives with all your heart. Honor those who arent with us anymore, who gave their lives in this struggle by living for them. Honor their courage and sacrifice by living and loving to the fullest!
That's all we want for Christmas...
17 November 2009
An M1A1 Abrams main battle tank on it's way out of Iraq as part of the U.S military's drawdown.