21 November 2009


For most, the holiday season is a time of joy, a time of family and a time of thanks. Since the earliest days of our country's history, soldiers, sailors and marines have had to spend their holidays far from home. Away from the comforts of a warm, familiar bed, the smells of a home cooked Thanksgiving holiday meal, carving pumpkins with their children, and the joyous anticipation of Christmas morning.

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

A Photo Essay

For the past several months, I've been writing about our combined experiences here. Hopefully, I've given you all just a glimpse, through word and thought of what we do and see. This time, I thought I might share some photos of just some of our experiences and give you a glimpse of what it is that we see and do. Until technology catches up with the internet, however, I cant share with you the smells. This will have to do for now. Special thanks to Spc Jake Sere and SSG Mack Nelson for the use of some of these photos.

An M1A1 Abrams main battle tank on it's way out of Iraq as part of the U.S military's drawdown.
Me...The Jihadists worst nightmare.

Me, playing "chem-lite" golf on the Iraqi border as we awaited word to cross.

Some more "down time". Sgt's Danny Ulino and Scott Lynch playing "Guitar Hero."

Sadaam Husseins palace under construction with French assistance, on his private lake. He was was hung before he could ever occupy it. Sadaam shut off Baghdad's entire water supply for three days so he could fill his private lake.
Another of Sadaam's residences. Bombed on the opening night of the invasion and watched live by millions on CNN as part of President Bush's "Shock and Awe" strategy.

This is what happens when a 2000 lb bomb falls through your palace ceiling.
SPC Tyler Miller-Cobb carrying spare .50 caliber machine gun barrels to be loaded onto the truck at the start of a mission

Here is what happens when a 15,000 lb up-armored gun truck fails to negotiate a turn and enters it at too high a speed. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured

Three of the reasons we're here

Loading ammunition into magazines prior to the start of a mission

SPC Jake Sere Poses next to a four-barrelled Russian anti aircraft gun somewhere in the Kuwaiti desert.

Concrete blast walls and tangled concertina wire line most of the MSR within the Iraqi cities. This one is just outside the city of Balad. They're supposed to keep insurgents from planting IED's along the road. If people can get through to glue posters to them, I dont think IED's are that much more difficult.

One of our FOB's in Central Iraq. The palm gorve and a small village are just outside the perimeter.

Camels on the MSR

Surplus Iraqi tanks baking in the sun, never to be used again.

The Iraqi's want nothing to do with passing our convoys!

An Iraqi camel herder begging for water from a passing convoy

02 November 2009


Third country national flat bed transport trucks waiting in the convoy staging lanes somewhere in Iraq.

Al-Nasiriyah, Iraq
30 October 2009
1200 hrs

After the nightmare on the bridge, I was ready to sleep the sleep of the dead. We didn't get into the FOB until well after sunrise and it was 10:00 AM before we were able to get chow, a hot shower and into our racks. I didn't collapse into my sleeping bag as much as I did melt into it. Driving that humvee for almost 10 hours had taken it's toll on me, and for the first time ever, I actually felt every one of my 47 years.

I laid there in the dark as unconsciousness overcame me and I finally drifted off to sleep. Like a dream, I soon heard someone in the distance quietly whispering my name. Then I felt someone shaking my shoulder. Then I couldn't believe it. I opened my eyes only to stare up at the swollen face of SSG Sanchez. He was saying something that may as well have been spoken in Swahili, because I only caught about every third or fourth word. What I heard was, "...get up...go to FOB...leave now..." I looked at my watch. It was 11:30 AM. I was stunned, and the only response I could muster, making no attempt to conceal my bone weary disgust was, "FUCK!"

As if in a trance, I rolled out of my sleeping bag, pulled on my dirty socks, still damp with sweat from the night before, my dusty camouflaged uniform pants and sweat stained combat shirt. I didn't bother tucking my shirt in as I put my boots on. I laced them up and left my pants un-bloused, too tired to even try, or care. Grabbing my weapon, I shuffled outside to our humvee and began the laborious task of getting it unlocked and set up for whatever mission we had been awakened for. I was soon joined by PFC Mario Nikic, our gunner, and SSG Sanchez. Not bothering to hide my weary disdain for our predicament, I asked Sanchez what the hell we were doing. He explained that we and the MRAP crew would have to escort one of our HET's and a TCN flat bed to a neighboring FOB, so that the TCN truck could pick up a load. Why, I asked, had that not been taken care of when we first rolled in or better yet, before we were supposed to leave later that same night instead of waking up 8 soldiers who were supposed to be on their mandatory rest plan?

As Sanchez explained it, some officer from the FOB MCT (Movement Control Team) which oversees the dispatch of all convoys, decided to take his mid-afternoon stroll through the staging lanes. When he saw the transports lined up and ready for the next nights convoy, he noticed that one of the TCN flatbeds was rolling out without a load. Apparently, the FOB MCT policy is that no trucks can roll south towards Kuwait without a load, so he ordered that we be woken up to escort the truck the several miles to the next FOB to get a load...any load. The trip would take several hours, seriously cutting into our mandatory sleep time, and risking soldier safety should we roll out that night without sleep. This officer however, couldn't have cared less. Policy is policy, and we were not about to risk the very fabric of heaven tearing open and unleashing the wrath of the MCT God's should that policy be violated. Besides, we could sleep when we were dead.

We left the FOB shortly after noon, and rolling down the MSR in broad daylight, arrived at the neighboring FOB approximately 45 minutes later. It took another few hours to find our civilain escort to the container yard which as luck would have it, was located in the farthest corner of the post, on the opposite side of the airfield. The container yard was massive beyond description. As far as one could see in nearly any direction, giant metal seaborne cargo containers were lined side by side. As two of these giant containers were being loaded onto the empty TCN truck, I remarked to Sgt Rosales that the containers looked awfully light. I half-joked that I'd bet him a paycheck that they were empty. As it turns out, I was probably right. A young sergeant, looking more like a nerdy accountant than a soldier, came scampering across the container yard toward us as quickly as his little legs could carry him. He was carrying a clip board which he lifted up and squinted to read through too-thick glasses. In a squeaky,cartoon like voice, he asked who was signing for the containers. Rosales and I both pointed simultaneously to the HET driver, who strangely enough, could have been the container yard sergeant's twin. I asked the container yard sergeant, "Hey, just out of curiosity, what's in those two containers?" He flipped the pages of his clipboard back and forth and pointed back towards the flatbed they were being loaded onto, replying, "Well, if they're from that yard right there, they're empty." The sergeant then turned and without another word tucked his clipboard under his arm and scampered back towards the container yard. I was stunned. This was just too ridiculous for words. I looked at Rosales and said, "Let me get this straight. We cant roll out with an empty truck, so were going to load two EMPTY containers onto it to give the impression that it's loaded? What the fuck?"

At this point, we were all too tired to care, or get upset. We just collectively chalked it up to the abject lunacy and ridiculousness that seems to be so pervasive at times amongst those who never leave the wire. It was 5:00 PM by the time we rolled back to our FOB and got back to our racks. I didn't even bother to shower, I peeled off my sweaty, dusty uniform, dropped it in a ball at the foot of my mattress, and collapsed. As I lay waiting for sleep to rescue me, I realized one thing...The air conditioner had seized up. Perfect!

Back Across the Bridge

One of the many joint Iraqi Army-Police checkpoints along our route.

Here I am, shortly after after arriving at our FOB just 6 hours after crossing the bridge. I had never felt so tired.

Camp Arifjan Kuwait,
29 October 2009
2300 hrs

The return trip across the Ramadi Bridge couldn't have been choreographed more poorly if we tried. In the end though, we made it across, unhurt and with all trucks accounted for, the only casualties of the night being our frazzled nerves. Approaching the bridge on the MSR, we vowed to do things differently than we had just a week earlier on our first trip across.

Prior to reaching the bridge approach, we began to slow and eventually brought the column to a halt. Another convoy was in the process of crossing the bridge from the opposite direction, and the roads weren't nearly wide enough to accommodate both columns at the same time. Sgt Christopher Rosales in the MRAP made contact with the approaching convoy and told them that we would hold fast, while they completed crossing over. I could hear the stress in the opposite MRAP sergeant's voice as he acknowledged and thanked us for our patience. In the distance, I could see the lights of the approaching column as they appeared from under the main span of the destroyed bridge and made their turn up the dirt road and back towards the MSR.

As the opposite column snaked its way slowly back onto the MSR, we sat blacked out awaiting our turn to cross. A bead of sweat began to slowly trickle down my back underneath my armored vest, and I squirmed uncomfortably in my seat trying to adjust my load. The air conditioner blew with little enthusiasm...barely enough to blow out birthday candle, and my legs began to ache in the cramped drivers seat. I fought the overwhelming temptation to open my drivers door sliding armored window and let in some fresh air, even if for a moment, but knew better than to instead, risk letting in shrapnel from an exploding IED or a maybe a sniper's bullet. I began to feel increasingly claustrophobic as the impatience set in. I looked ahead and saw the tail end of the other column finally appear from under the destroyed bridge as it began making its way up the dirt road towards the MSR and silently willed them to hurry the hell up.

As the last gun truck in the other column finally turned onto the asphalt, we began to move forward. Rosales led the way in the MRAP, with our gun truck following closely behind. It was our job to clear the exit route and make sure that it was safe to bring the entire column down. We bounced our way along the dirt road, past dilapidated and rusting hulks of old cars, dimly lit houses and an abandoned automotive garage until we came to the one lane concrete bypass bridge that we had so gingerly crossed just a week before. I had just witnessed an entire column of HET's and fuel trucks cross that bridge, but it didn't make me feel any better about the situation. I held my breath as we pulled our 15,000 lb armored gun truck onto the one lane bridge, the dark water of the Euphrates river flowing just a foot or more beneath us. As we neared the end of the bypass, we were stopped by several Iraqi soldiers at an army outpost along the far bank of the river. These soldiers all looked like they were living advertisements for the video game HALO 3, as they were decked out in the latest designer special ops gear. One of the soldiers was frantically and angrily waving his arms, directing us to stop and proceed in the opposite direction that we had intended to lead the column. The direction he was insisting that we go however, took us around the north side of the bridge and through the narrow, winding streets of a village. Any thoughts of being out of danger suddenly evaporated with the realization that this village had not been cleared, and we had no idea where the road led us. We only hoped that as long as we paralleled the main bridge, that it would eventually lead us back up and around to the MSR.

With no choice but to move forward rather than bunch up the entire column, we pushed slowly forward and entered the village. My head scanned from side to side as I looked intently for signs of hidden IED's or moving shadows in the alleys. I was burning up in the cab, and my legs were screaming in agony. I desperately wanted out of that truck, and I suddenly found myself hoping that I would get hit by an IED on my side. At least then, I would get a shot of morphine and helicopter ride out of there, no longer having to worry about the pain in my legs, and the unnerving anticipation of awaiting an explosion that might never come. I quickly dismissed the thought as insane, and pushed the truck forward, dodging debris and potholes along the way.

As we exited the village, the MSR came into view, we passed a second outpost just before the MSR. This one, though was manned by the rag-tag looking Iraqi Police. Its pretty well known that these Police Officers moonlight as insurgents, planting IED's in their off-duty time. They watched us pass with the same intensity that we watched them, like two cage fighters exchanging intimidating glares before a match. Our suspicions were confirmed when no sooner had we passed, than the Iraqi Police began suddenly re-directing our TCN (third country national) trucks down an opposite road and away from the column! Sgt Eddie Lauron and his crew, gunner Spc William Frias, and driver Spc Jose Torres, spotted the ruse just in time and sped forward to intercept the misdirected tucks. In order to get them turned around, Lauron and his crew had to lead the trucks back around in a wide arc, through a large lot next to the village. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how one looks at it, its not our job to chase down bad guys, so whatever may have been waiting for those trucks further down the road is anybodies guess.

By the time Lauron got the trucks turned around, the rest of the column had made its way back onto the MSR where we waited. We were no where near being in convoy order, though, but at that time it didnt matter. With all trucks and crews accounted for, we moved out and away from that damned bridge. Approximately 2 miles further we stopped, got back into convoy order and pressed onward towards our next FOB.

I pushed the humvee back down the MSR. Before long, the trickle of sweat returned, my legs began screaming in protest again, and as the inevitable andrenaline dump set in, my eyes began to get heavy, but at least we were leaving the Ramadi Bridge, the crooked Iraqi Police, and those video game soldiers in our rear views.