03 August 2009

I Can't Hear You Unless You're Pushing Your Common Sense Button!

I found this cartoon from my favorite animator Bill Mauldin. Somehow this just seems very fitting.

I've never faulted any man for what he chooses to do for a living. Except for maybe Al Franken, or that 40 some-odd year old guy that I worked for at Jack in the Box when I was 16. That guy was more suited to be an Appalachian carny than he was greeting customers at 6 AM. But I digress.

Likewise, I, as well as every one of my fellow soldiers, strive to be as tolerant of various opinions about the war and what it is that we are trying to accomplish over here. I've always been of the mindset that whether you support the war or not, at least try and be supportive of the young men and women over here on the front lines. I've found that a great majority of Americans, in fact, are supportive of our efforts. This column is not necessarily for them, but for our dissenters. For those of you with loved ones serving over here, and those of you who support us through your continued prayers, e-mails, letters from home, and the occasional golden care package, put down your Sunday paper, drive to Starbucks, go for a morning walk, or cuddle with your children. Then come back in a little while and start reading at the last paragraph, after I've had a chance to vent. Forgive me. This may get ugly.

I used to listen in disgust to the reports from all of you conspiracy theorists and Code Pink whack jobs who spat out the ludicrous old line that we're over here for no other reason than "oil speculations". Ha!...I say again, Ha! I wish. If that was the case, I'd be supervising a team of world renowned geologists instead of two crew members on a gun truck, one of whom is younger than my own son, racking up thousands of miles on Iraqi highways, staring through two inches of armored glass at 3 legged donkeys and waiting for a bearded guy in a sweat stained man-dress and knock-off Bruno Mali sandals who stinks like hummus and goat shit to park an RPG in my right ear, while I make less base pay as a US Army Sgt than I do as a Deputy Sheriff!! In fact, there isn't a single soldier in our entire Company who, to my knowledge, has a degree in fossil fuel technology! You know what we do for a living? Collectively, we're bank customer service reps, casino workers, Home Depot branch managers, firefighters, cops, corrections officers, students, nurses, stock brokers, bartenders, retail sales clerks, supermarket checkers, lawyers, and even a mechanical engineer. Funny....not a single oil baron or Chevron executive in the entire group.

You may think that we spend our days securing oil fields and looting the Iraqi people of their most vast natural commodity. Not quite. Let me take you through a typical convoy. For operational security reasons, the names of actual convoy routes and FOB's will be changed.

We start in the heat of the day, after having been up all night doing maintenance on our aging humvees to ensure that they'll be able to handle the hundreds of miles of punishing roadway that lies ahead. After our vehicles are staged in the convoy lanes, we await inspection by communications and electronic countermeasure specialists to confirm that our equipment is functioning properly. After all, we cant rape the Iraqi infrastructure if we get blown up on the way to the fields by an IED, now, can we? Then and only then, do we get to eat. Being the last one in the chow hall usually means that you get the tail end of whatever is left. But were not done there. Later that morning (and by "later", don't assume that we have any time to catch a few winks in between) we have our convoy brief where we go over the game plan, destination, intelligence, etc.

If we're lucky enough to have a bus handy, we can usually get a ride back to the barracks in relatively air conditioned comfort after our briefing. Otherwise, its a 20 minute walk back in temperatures that hover somewhere around 120 degrees by 10 AM. After a few hours of sleep, assuming you've already had time to pack for anywhere from 10 to as long as 30 days out, we report to the arms connex where we draw our weapons and ammo. Me? I'm lucky enough to only have to draw my own personal M4 carbine and 240 rounds of .556 mm ammunition. Joel, my gunner? He has to draw nearly 1200 rounds of ammunition, for both his .50 cal machine gun and his backup weapon, the M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) parachute flares, night vision goggles, and the green laser, as well as both of his weapons and spare barrels for each. That's not counting armored vests, helmets, gloves, and extra G.I. socks. Let's see, did I leave anything out, like drilling equipment, the Lost Dutchman's map, ground penetrating radar or divining rods? By gum, I did. You know why? BECAUSE WE DON'T HAVE ANY! Funny, but none of those things seem to appear on the TO&E for a combat logistics patrol.

Once our humvees have been made ready, my soldiers' personal equipment has been checked, re-checked and checked again, and the Platoon Sgt or Company Commander have given us a few words of encouragement, we leave Kuwait and head out into the night and into the desert. Our first night is spent at a FOB not far from the Iraqi border. FOB Harpo is more like a giant roadside truck stop rather than a military installation. Its here that the entire convoy will meet as one before crossing the border and pushing on into Iraq. The Iraqi/Kuwaiti border is everything that you would expect a border to look like between two countries who are wholly distrustful of each other. Mile after mile of vast, open desert, littered with the remnants of the first Gulf War, and separated by twin 20 foot high concertina wire topped chain link fence lines that extend from horizon to horizon. But strangely, not an oil field in sight. In fact, every oil field I've seen since being here has been in Kuwait, with only one exception, and I've seen strip malls that were larger than the lone Iraqi oil facility that I've seen.

We then spend the next several days "FOB hopping". That is, escorting the trucks from FOB to FOB, protecting them from ambushes and looters alike. Not to take away from my brothers in the infantry who admittedly have it far worse than we do, but I've seen vacant lot squatters camps that were more inviting than some of the transient tents we sleep in. After all, nothing but the best for closet puppets of the oil industry.

Having been the target of sniper fire only twice before in my life, I'm not sure what's worse. Actually being targeted and shot at, or the anticipation of being targeted, shot at or blown up. As the insurgency begins to pick up steam again, and we hear in the news of more rocket and mortar attacks on many of the same FOB's that we visit, one cant help but begin to see armed insurgents in every shadow, or hidden IED's in every cardboard box, old tire or pile of trash along the roadway. Every dead dog along the highway becomes a potential threat to your life. The next time you drive past a dead animal or freshly repaired pothole on Highway 50 in Carson City, or McCarran Blvd in Reno, imagine what it would feel like if it suddenly blew up in your face and tore the doors and half of your right seat passenger from your Lexus. Imagine going to Farmers Market downtown and instead of enjoying a nice summer afternoon with your family buying strawberries, that strange looking, glassy eyed guy standing 30 feet away with the bulky coat on despite 132 degree temperatures suddenly vaporizes in a deafening explosion of gore along with 100 or so of your neighbors.

But you're right. Were not here protecting U.S resources. Were not here training the Iraqi Police and military how to protect their hard won freedoms. Were not here, fighting from street to street and house to house, rooting out the killers from the innocent and often times, not being able to tell them apart. Were not here ensuring that the Iraqi equivalent of our own families can go to the market, worship at their mosques, or drive along their own roadways without being blown to bits. Were here for the oil. That makes much more sense.

For all of you that have taken a break from your nightly UFO watch, or from trying to prove that 9-11 was an inside job, or that Niel Armstrong never landed on the moon, or from protesting in front of the capitol building with signs that read "GOD LOVES DEAD SOLDIERS", so that you can vilify us and call us "deplorable", or "a joke" or "part of the great failure here"; Thank you! Thank you for giving us something to chuckle about. More importantly, thank you for giving me something to write home about. I'm flattered that you think enough of me and my fellow soldiers here to put aside your REALLY important work and pay attention.

In the end, my two little girls, my adult son and daughter are proud of me, my wife, my parents and my brother (who also serves) are all proud of me. Our families and friends are proud of us, and the vast majority of Americans are proud of all of us. For your support and prayers, we will be forever grateful to you all beyond words.

And if you've just re-joined me, I apologize...I said that this might get ugly. But now I feel better.

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