Thursday, March 30, 2006

Thank You For All Of Your Support

I arrived home in late October to a hero’s welcome - not one I expected, nor felt I deserved, but nonetheless I appreciated all of the gratitude I received from friends and family when I got off the plane in Raleigh, NC. I was shocked to see that my baby, who was 10 weeks old when I left, was actually walking and came right to me as if I’d never been anywhere. Once again his, “matter of fact” attitude really put things in perspective. My wife and older boys looked great and we all embraced each other with a true sense that this stage of our lives was finally complete.

I gradually settled in back home, trying my best not to completely disrupt the system my wife had set up in my absence. I visited my former employer and we talked about my return to work. I was reacquainted with my neighbors, Rotary, and church, who all expressed in a variety of ways their appreciation for my service. I feel as though my life has been changed and I will forever see things in a different light.

Several months have passed now, and I was encouraged to write this final update to the journal. I find it humorous that at first I wanted nothing to do with the BLOG and now I am extremely proud to be a part of it (Thanks Patrick) I’ve said my “thanks” to all of the people that supported me and my family over the past year, and I’ve spoken publicly several times about the positive experiences I had while deployed to Iraq. My experiences in Iraq, with the soldiers I served with, the places I traveled, the situations I encountered and the fact that we accomplished our part of the mission and brought home everyone we took with us leaves me with a feeling of satisfaction that is euphoric. As the media and some politicians continue to downgrade the progress we’ve made in Iraq, I can testify that my exposure to the country and the progress that I witnessed was worthy of the sacrifices I made for the cause of freedom for the Iraqi people. I believe that years from now we will look back at “Operation Iraqi Freedom” as on of the greatest military successes of all time.

As with most veterans, you can’t predict how your experiences will affect your life once you return home. For me, my family and I were able to settle back into a normal regiment of family activities and it wasn’t long before the kids forgot all about Daddy’s recent absence. I was compelled to push myself professionally and decided not to go back to my old job. I’ve taken a new leadership position that requires my family and I to move out of state, to sunny Florida. I’m here now and preparing a place for my family to live and start our new adventure. I have less than four years remaining on my 20 year goal in the military, and I will remain ready to serve and deploy again when called.

I’ve always been a pretty excitable person but I find myself more stimulated by just living life than ever before. I believe, more than ever, that you shouldn’t spend one second of one day cross with a neighbor or at odds with any person or situation that doesn’t directly affect your life or livelihood. That’s not to say don’t be passionate about what you do or believe in, just take a step back and look at the big picture from time to time; keep things in perspective. I’m confident that the opportunities we have in this country are unmatched anywhere else in the world, and more people should be thankful every day for the blessing it is to be an American and the privilege it is to live in this country. Remember that the freedom we enjoy with every breath of every day came from the lives of those who fought before us and that there are more struggling civilizations out there begging for a glimpse of the freedom that most of us take for granted everyday. We are a God fearing, giving, nation and it is our duty to help those in need.

God Bless you all for the thoughts and prayers you send to our Government and Military Leaders. Please believe that every prayer counts and is appreciated.

Take Care, and God Bless.

Friday, October 28, 2005

More Good News

Local blogger Christy Seals reports that her husband Ryan arrived home from Iraq just hours before our soldier did. Christy is a good friend to this blog, and we share her joy that Ryan will soon return to her.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Soldier Comes Home

There is a lively debate over at Cone's about the appropriateness of today's N&R front page. I thought it was an appropriate time to note the number of lost lives and to honor those who have fallen. The nickname story had a particular resonance with me.

I am happy to report that I am leaving for the airport right now to greet my friend, The Soldier. He has been gone almost a year, and now he is in the air on the final leg of his trip home.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel




















Well, the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter than ever. Our replacements are due in any day now and everyone is excited about starting our journey home. I just got back from another trip to Baghdad. My NCOIC and I made a special trip to attend an awards ceremony for my Commander. As I've written in the past, she is a real special person and I was proud to see her being recognized for the outstanding job she has done here.

We arrived at the palace under secrecy, in an attempt to surprise her with our presence. She was asked to speak at a leaders conference and there the 18th Airborne Corps Chief of Staff was going to award her the coveted Bronze Star. She was shocked and excited to see that her soldiers were in on the surprise as she accepted the award graciously. This award is only given to those who have demonstrated the highest levels of leadership in combat situations and the fact that the 18th Airborne Corps was recognizing her accomplishments meant a lot to her and all of us.

Our replacements are due to arrive at our location within the next week. A lot is going on at this time with the Muslim holiday of Ramadan and the constitution ratification later in the month. Needless to say things around camp have been active. I still don't quite understand a holiday condones mortaring American troops.... Regardless we all remain alert and ready, knowing full well that anything can happen in a moment and we aren't home until we're home. The days have gone by, I wouldn't say fast, but still they've gone by. The weather is much better now, mid 90's in the day and dipping into the high 60's at night. We even had clouds the other day, yes clouds. You could see people all around the camp just standing outside looking up at these funny white floatie things, something we haven't seen in close to six months. With the break in the weather, I've noticed a distinctive change in soldiers' temperaments. It is amazing the effect the weather can have on people. Some may just be happy that their tour is drawing to an end. Regardless, soldiers and the civilians here seem in better moods.

The numbers of civilians working on post has dramatically increased. I know that KBR gets a bum wrap back in the states for all of the government contracts they are getting. The truth is if they weren't here doing it, the number of soldiers on the ground would more than likely be double what we currently have. I for one have close to 40 KBR employees working indirectly for me and they have done a superb job. I do have mixed emotions about their roles here. Yes, their presence allows us to have fewer soldiers on the ground but the total number of Americans working over here would probably shock the general public. Most of these employees are former military and all are volunteers fully aware of what they are getting into. These ladies and gentlemen put themselves in harms way in many of the same ways the soldiers do. Three members of KBR were killed on a convoy last week just outside our gates, so they are not immune to the horrors of this conflict.

My guys, both here and in BIAP are all eager to get back to our home life. My commander put out a great message this evening to all of us about not getting complacent. I was reminded by one of my guys about the soldier we met our first night here, the only one in the bunker after the rounds came in. He told us that he only had two weeks to go and was not taking any chances. I bet he never imagined that his words and actions would have such an effect on us. It just goes to show that you never know who is watching or paying attention to your words or actions and what they will mean to the person you least expected to reach. What a lesson for all of us.

My wife and I are already making plans for my return: parties, reunions, Thanksgiving, Christmas.... what a blessing to be making plans for events back home. What an experience the last 11 months has been. I am still very proud to be serving my country and I still believe that what we are doing here will make this part of the world a safer place and ultimately make our homeland more secure.

I will probably write one more time while on this deployment and then a final entry once I get back home. There is a whole new group of soldiers arriving daily that are going through the same emotions I experienced last December. I hope and pray that their families and communities will embrace them as I was and that they all come home safe. The reality is that some will not, and for all of them I ask that everyone continue to keep them in your thoughts and prayers. If you know the family of someone deployed or the employer of someone who was activated please continue to show them your support. A simple yet sincere "thank you" can go a long way.

Thanks, Take Care and God Bless

Monday, September 05, 2005

Update From Two Soldiers

My Commander's medical status is "green" for go. All is OK! Thanks to everyone out there for their continued thoughts and prayers. Each one counted and I'm sure contributed to this positive outcome. She is on her way back to Iraq to wrap up this operation and lead the rest of us home in a few months. I look forward to your return, Ma'am.

I traveled to Baghdad in my commander's absence to help maintain the operations there and assist with the redeployment of those soldiers going home. The few that are staying behind had things running well. I have one young Lieutenant with the energy and intelligence of five captains, fully immersed in the operation. Along with the soldiers and NCOs, the BIAP mission continues to be successful. Ironically, some of the younger and less experienced soldiers were not as excited to be going home as you'd think. Because of their inexperience and minimized exposure to the really bad situations here, they did not completely comprehended how fortunate they were to go home unscathed. The Senior NCOs understood and did a great job of making sure all of the personnel and equipment were prepped and ready for redeployment.

Our First Sergeant is a former Marine and Vietnam Veteran, so he fully realized the magnitude of the blessings that have continued to fall upon our unit during this mobilization and the importance of getting everyone home safe and sound. Once home, he along with the rest of the soldiers received a hero's welcome at the Raleigh-Durham Airport. I'm sure that welcome was unlike the one he received upon his return home from Vietnam. Thanks Top for all you did for us over here; hope to see you soon.

While in Baghdad I ran into an old friend from Ft. Bragg. We spent some time together reminiscing about our younger years. We were both newly married with no kids, working all day, jumping from airplanes at night and doing countless other activities to abuse our bodies. Now, our lives, goals, and focus have completely changed. He is still on active duty and doing extremely well in his profession. It was good to spend time together and I wish him the best for the rest of his tour. He is working with top Iraqi military leaders, helping them establish the new systems that will govern their military forces.

I spent some time talking to a group of young troops pulling guard detail at our BIAP camp. These guys were part of the 29th BCT out of Hawaii. Their story was unique in that they all had completed their original contracts with the Army and separated some time ago. They were called back up as members of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) and assigned to the 29th BCT as "filler" personnel. The IRR is a tricky monster, one most soldiers getting out don't realize that they "volunteer" to be part of. Not that the Army intentionally tries to deceive a departing soldier, but at the time of their separation, most soon to be ex-soldiers don't read the fine print.

The soldiers I spoke to fell into that category - they were shocked to know they were still on the Army's books and even more surprised to receive letters ordering their return to active duty. What most Americans don't know is that less than half of those in the IRR that have been called up have actually shown up. I spent some time expressing my gratitude for these soldiers' dedication and loyalty. I explained that without their participation, we "the Army" could not function effectively and the fact that they answered the call puts them in a class well above those who conveniently "lost" their call-up letter. They could truly lay their heads down at night and know that they did the right thing. My hat is off to all of those who answered the call. I don't know what, if anything, will happen to those that didn't but I wouldn't want to be their pillow.

I flew back to Anaconda just the other night. It was a star-lit clear night and when the Black Hawks took off you could immediately see the vast number of lights that covered the city of Baghdad. Office Buildings were still functioning, the streets were busy with cars, shops were open and people were walking all around. There even seemed to be a carnival type event going on in the distance. The two helicopters flew low and fast. In several areas I was eye level with the mid section of the buildings we were passing. I constantly scanned from side to side looking for the images I had just seen on CNN a few hours ago, but I could only make out what seemed to me as normal activity.

The pilots were amazing. At one time, we were so close I could see the glow off the instrument panel from helicopter we were flying next to. Out of the city, just like back home, the lights became fewer and far between. I could occasionally see what to me seemed like a family gathered in the back yard eating dinner with neighbors. All the while, my senses and training told me to be cautious and expect the worst Then my rational sensibility informed me that in my current situation, strapped into a seat on a helicopter, that it is all out of my hands anyway so just enjoy the ride. I've flown into Anaconda enough now to recognize its lighting pattern from a distance and I was relieved see my Iraqi home just a mile or two away.

My guys at Anaconda did a great job in my absence. Despite being short handed while people were on R&R and emergency leave, they along with the Air Force and KBR personnel kept the operation running smoothly. They were glad to see me back and the next day welcomed me with two mortars landing just a 100 yards from our hangar. I kidded my guys saying they really shouldn't have, and they sarcastically replied, "don't worry sir, we didn't". It was good to be back and now we can focus on what I hope to be our final 60+ days.

As I've mentioned before, I continue to run into old friends and classmates during my stay here. I've been in contact with one friend in particular that I will refer to as CAT (Civil Affairs Team ). He is an activated reservist from my hometown area. What makes his story unique is what he is doing and the road he's taken to get here. CAT started his career as a Military Police (MP) officer then transferred to Artillery and was in a training brigade when he was called to active duty. The catch is that he was called up as a Civil Affairs (CA) Officer, something he was not trained to do at the time. His orders routed him through a CA course in the states before joining his unit that was already deploying to Iraq. CAT arrived in country a month or so ago and has a unique mission, one I believe all will find extremely interesting.

CAT is the leader of a small CA team in the Najaf area. He reports that things there are relatively calm compared to what is going on up north. He spends a good amount of time "outside the wire" and meets with mayors, sheiks, and other town leaders on behalf of the Coalition Forces to discuss their needs - everything from food and water to banks and industry. He recently took his team on a trip down to the Saudi border to inspect and assess a border fort. They drove for over 7 hours across the desert...no roads, not even an unimproved dirt road. They used GPS to guide them over a hot and very dusty open terrain. I will continue to report on his activities and I've included some pictures of what CAT encountered.




The first picture shows our CAT-A team Hummer traveling across the desert(to visit this out of the way village near the Saudi border). We stop every hour for a few minutes to swap drivers and rest. You have to be careful out there...so we all pay attention (there is no road...so "roll overs" are a danger).





The next couple of photos show what the town looks like (kind of like the "Wild West" from our history). We went down to take a look at their water, food, electricity etc... Getting a good assessments allows us to prioritize our resources.



While there, we handed out some supplies, toys, and candy to the local children. Makes the kids happy (and us too).We try to visit these scattered villages in order to better understand their capabilities and needs. We help when we can (either immediately or down the line with projects). They are hopeful we will help them to fix their facility. In time I think we will be able to. Little by little, we are making progress over here. Given time, things can be better for everyone.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Impressive Support

The employees of Replacements, LTD have just completed a drive to raise funds to provide prepaid phone cards for soldiers who are oversees. These 183 minute cards will be used to support three service people who are relatives of Replacements employees, plus members of The Soldier's unit.

Replacements, LTD has long been a bright spot for the Triad in so many ways. Now they are making a difference for our military personnel around the world.

As a friend of The Soldier, I am very appreciative of this initiative by Replacements, LTD.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Golf With The Soldier's Family

This post is by Patrick Eakes, The Soldier's blog editor.


I played golf with The Soldier's son and father-in-law this afternoon. It was the second time I have the pleasure of playing with them, and two facts have emerged from those experiences.

First, the soldier's father-in-law is one of a handful of elite senior golfers in the state and one of the best golfers of any age in the Triad. Second, the soldier's oldest son is quickly becoming a very good junior golfer. The best part is that he is an even finer young man.

We had fun when we were not dodging lightning, and it made me miss The Soldier even more.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Big Update

My commander and I, along with several other leaders in the transportation chain, took a trip to Bahrain to meet with our DHL air carrier counterparts. I flew on a (DHL) 727 and was allowed to sit with the pilots. It was an interesting flight and not nearly as technical as you might imagine a large aircraft would be. The trip was a real eye opener - Bahrain was a nice, sort of a resort-type atmosphere. We were not allowed to wear our uniforms there, so I had to borrow some civilian cloths from the KBR guys we have working with us. We were allowed to drink alcohol in Bahrain, and I marveled at the contrast between how my day started in Iraq wearing body armor and ended with me on stage in the hotel bar singing a horrible Karaoke rendition of "YMCA" with a (.5???) Philippino band.... But that is another story...

The trip went well, as we were able to discuss current and future operations with the DHL managers. We got to venture out into the city of Bahrain and although we stood out as foreigners, we felt somewhat secure. It was really great to see my Commander again. Between R&R and our separation due to our locations, I’ve not seen her in almost three months. We visited the naval base there - not much to it - and we went out to eat every chance we got. Bahrain probably had local cuisine, but all we wanted was American food. I was shocked at how expensive everything was and how weak the American dollar was compared to the Bahrain Dinar, almost 3 to 1. After a few days I was ready to get back to Anaconda and my guys. I’ve grown accustomed to being with them day in and day out, and my daily routine there helps the time go by faster.

I was only at Anaconda a few days before we all traveled again to Baghdad. My Commander had coordinated for a dedication ceremony for the new JMMT-I facility. She was having the structure dedicated to the nine soldiers and civilians that have died since the mission began. It was the first time since our deployment began that the entire unit was together. Everyone was glad to see one another, and the ceremony went great. I could not believe what they pulled off down there. Not only did they coordinate to feed close to 400 people with steak and barbecue, but she also had the 3rd ID Band play. There were several General Officers in attendance, and my Commander did an incredible job recognizing those who have paid the ultimate price in service to their country. My guys and I were just there for a few hours and flew back on UH-60 Blackhawks.

Back at Anaconda we received word that the No. 1 country band, Rascal Flatts, would make an appearance. I was impressed that these guys, at the height of there stardom would take the time to visit with the troops here in Iraq, but here they were. The three of them performed at our theater, very casually, just two acoustic guitars and vocals. They took requests and made jokes about the heat. I was impressed with how good they really were. Their talents both playing and vocalizing together truly showed. More than anything, their gratitude for what we are doing here was evident. The three of them had just left Fallujah the day before where several Marines were killed, and I believe the magnitude of what is going on over here really affected them. Still, like true performers they entertained, and the soldiers really appreciated their presence.

I’ve mentioned several times how tireless and proactive my Commander is. Her latest endeavor was to re-deploy half of our unit due to a reduction in our mission. The reduction in our mission is a direct result of her ability to streamline the procedures we adopted from our predecessors. Well, last week her request was approved and now half of the soldiers under her Command will get to go home. As you can guess, I’m not one of them, but that is OK. Before we deployed, we discussed our overall objective to get here, complete our mission, and get everyone home safe and sound. Thus far we’ve been able to do that and by working smarter we are able to get half of our group home early. The rest of us are in contact with our replacements now and should get home before Thanksgiving, a full month ahead of schedule. Still, anything could happen between now and then so we aren’t home until we’re home!

I came in the other day and checked my emails. My commander had left me a list of things to do and much to my surprise, she announced that the local doctors requested she return home for medical reasons. This news came only days after the approval of our early redeployment package and after she pulled off an incredible dedication ceremony. She will be treated back in the states, and we should hear of her diagnosis within the next few weeks. She arrived home just the other day and I spoke with her on the phone. She seems to be doing well. She is such a strong person spiritually, mentally, and physically that I’m confident that she will be OK. We are all praying for her and her family and for anyone reading this, I ask that you say a special prayer for them as well.

Operationally, things here continue to go well. Two guys still have leave to take and we are preparing for the redeployment of those selected to go home. Most of our vehicles have been shipped or packed up, and we will operate with just the stay behind equipment. Until my Commander returns, I will split my time between here and BIAP. My guys at Anaconda continue to run the show. We had our closest call yesterday when three mortars landed in succession just outside our Hangar. No one was hurt and no equipment was damaged. It did serve as a reminder that things here can change in a moment.

Take Care and God Bless.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Heat Is On

It has been a few weeks since my last update. The time seems to be going by a little faster now than when I first got back from R&R. "Time" is such a relative subject. On one hand I want "time" to go by quickly so I can get home to my family. Therefore, I rejoice in looking down at my watch and seeing that the day is almost done. On the other hand I believe in making the most of every moment and regardless of your situation or surroundings, we should find the "time" to enjoy the good people we are with and realize that every moment we have here on earth is precious.

Things here are going well. CNN continues to show the horrors of the day and seem to indicate that things are bad and getting worse. We don't see it like that from here. We did get to spend the better half of the past few weeks in our Individual Body Armor (IBA). That along with the heat has made for some interesting days. Mortars and rockets continue to hit our base, but no injuries have resulted. The heat seems to be our biggest threat right now. Today I saw a temperature gauge that was hanging in the shade. The gauge only measured up to 120 degrees and the mercury had pegged out at the top. Some of my guys spend the better part of the day outside, but they are coping with the heat just fine. In fact not one of them has really complained, but all are amazed at the climate. I keep reminding them that August is the hot month, so there is more to come.

Our replacements have been identified and I am able to correspond with them by email. What a relief to know that they are already preparing for their tour. We've exchanged some do's and don'ts, and the rest will be covered when they get here during our Transferring of Authority (TOA). We should receive a date for our TOA in the next few weeks. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and some units are coming up on their re-deployment dates soon.

Back home, my wife has the house running like clockwork again. She has re-established the daily routine that I managed to ruin during my short visit. I've talked to my boys several times on the phone. They are doing great and enjoying their summer. The baby is now sitting up and my wife informed me that, after all the time she has had with him, he looked her straight in the eyes the other day and said...."da-da-da-da". She was able to laugh about it and the email she sent me describing the event was precious. I can't wait to hear him say it myself. I missed our 15 year wedding anniversary, and her birthday is just around the corner. I've got a lot of making up to do when I get home, but that will be the fun part!

My unit continues to do a great job here in both of our locations. There are still a few people that are preparing to go home on leave and after they return, we will start to focus more on our own redeployment. Even though it is still months away, my Commander is a true forward thinker and has most of the staff preparing for the redeployment phase already. I can't help but start to think about coming home for good myself and all the things that need to be done before I am released from this active duty tour. Every major deployment has left a significant impression on me and helped shape my future. It will be interesting to see how this tour affects my life as well as the others when we get back home.

Thanks again to everyone for the kind emails, thoughts and prayers. All of them are greatly appreciated!

Take Care and God Bless

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Six More Months

My two weeks at home was indescribably terrific. From the time I got off the plane and saw my beautiful wife and kids, to the time of our teary separation, was simply paradise. The itinerary my wife and I had done prior to my arrival worked like a charm. We identified each day’s activities along with the things we wanted to do and put together a schedule that allowed us to enjoy our time more without pondering how or what we were going to do next. Don’t get me wrong - we didn’t fill every minute of every day with stuff. We did have scheduled “nothing” time where we just hung out at home and did whatever sounded fun.

The boys were great. My two older ones hesitated at the airport when I appeared from the walkway as if they were worried about how much trouble they might be in. The baby, who I feared would be frightened by my presence, came right to me as if I had held him a million times. Later, and throughout the rest of my visit, the older boys didn’t want to let me out of their sight. We had a blast together, and I was more than ready to revert back to being ten years old again and play ball, eat junk food, swim, jet ski, fish, bicycle, wrestle, go to a baseball game, golf, wave board, go boating, inter-tube, play tennis, buy lots of toys and take unlimited trips to the Dairy Queen. I fear that I did not do my wife any favors by having Christmas in June and then leaving, but she was more than understanding. The baby and I were able to bond by doing the normal things a dad and an eight month old do…. Meaning I fed him, changed him, let him spit up on me, showed him the benefits of teething on a cold beer bottle, took him swimming, hurled him through the air to watch him smile and kissed several layers of skin from his chubby cheeks, you know - the usual. It really reminded me of what I’ve been missing for the past six months.

The best beer I’ve ever had! One of my sweet, sweet, neighbors had a bucket of my favorite beer iced down and waiting for me on the front door step of my house when I arrived home. The scene looks like this - four days of traveling halfway around the world, no shower, haven’t had a beer in six months…… I don’t believe I’ll ever forget how good that beer really was. It was truly a Hallmark moment. Thanks neighbor!

My community has really rallied to support my family during my absence, but one woman in particular has been a true heroin. She has kept up our home, maintained our finances, kept our boys healthy, safe and happy, endured long nights with an infant, struggled with a bullish five year old, been a team mom, a chauffeur, a cook, a maid, a tournament director, stayed active in our church, and did a million more things that I’m forgetting in the past six months. This remarkable lady is my lovely wife and I can’t thank her enough for the sacrifices she’s made and the job she is doing at home. My admiration for her is immeasurable and I thank God for her every day.

My short visit at home was great, but I could not completely forget where it was that I came from and where I was going back to. I can attribute the peace of mind I had about my duties at LSAA to the great soldiers I had left behind to continue our mission during my absence. I was sure that there was nothing they were not prepared to handle, and that really allowed me to enjoy my time at home that much more.

Traveling home and back were adventures within themselves. It took me four days to get home and five days to get back to LSAA. No complaints - I was prepared by those who had gone before me and I expected delays with the in / out processing of troops. All things considered I believe the Army did a good job of getting everyone to his selected destination safe and sound. The travel time did not count against my R&R time nor did it extend my deployment time, so no harm was done. Overall, the soldiers processing us and the airlines carrying the troops all had their hearts in the right place.

We traveled in our desert uniforms, so we were easily identifiable. I was overwhelmed by the number of strangers that would approach me in the airport to thank me for my service. I had ladies come up and hug my neck and gentlemen break stride between concourses to shake my hand. Each would just sincerely say thank you and wish me the best. I can’t tell you how inspiring it was, and I don’t think my chest could have stuck out any further. The blind support by strangers completely validated one of the reasons I serve my country and why I am proud to where the uniform. I hope that every soldier gets to experience this type of gratitude from the American public and if anyone out there gets the chance, don’t underestimate the power of a simple, “thank you” and hand shake.

Once again I have to comment on the media coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While I was home the news flashes and headlines seemed only to highlight the bad things that were happening. I tried my best to tell everyone I came in contact with that it just isn’t anywhere near as bad as the media makes it out to be. I wish they would report their “news” relative to the “information” about the entire operation. For instance, out of the 130,000 reported soldiers in the theater probably “blank #” are out each day among the population conducting engineering support, civil affairs, patrols, convoying, traveling between bases, movements by ground, by air, by waterways. Then compare those numbers to the number of individuals that were met with direct resistance, suffered injuries, or were killed. I believe the general American public would have a much better picture of what is actually happening. Instead, I spoke to several people who only knew what the news flashes were and believed that behind every rock was an insurgent and that the entire country is against our presence. To me, it seems almost criminal the power the media have over public opinion, and I wish there was a way to hold them accountable for the misperceptions they foster and somehow charge them for the time and effort the military and government must spend to portray the entire picture.

OK, now that I have that off my chest, I’m back at LSAA and ready to begin my last half of this tour. I am looking forward to hearing about our replacements from my Commander and then we can begin the planning process to bring us all home. We are still hoping to be home for Christmas; anything earlier would be a gift.
Thanks again to everyone for your support during the past six months. Nearly everyone I came in contact with asked if there was something else he could do. I ask all to pray that the next six months go by safely, and that all of our families remain secure and healthy. Please remember that each thought and prayer really matters. Thanks again.

Take Care and God Bless.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Back To Iraq

After two weeks of R&R, the Soldier is in the air headed back to Europe, then Kuwait, then Iraq. I hope the next six months pass quickly and as uneventfully as possible.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Home At Last

The Soldier has arrived home safely. He actually arrived yesterday (Tuesday, 6/7/05), but I did not confirm that fact until today.

I do not know if he will blog while on leave, but I know we all wish him a peaceful and restful two weeks at home.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Come Home, Soldier

Our dear friend, The Soldier, will get on a plane in Iraq in a few hours. He is coming home to North Carolina for a much deserved two-week leave.

His family deserves the time with him, too. His steel-spined wife has managed their home and three boys (one an infant) with unbelievable ease. I suspect the soldier might change a few diapers while he is home.

The soldier is a good man and a good citizen. Hold him in your thoughts as he travels the many thousands of miles home.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Preparing For R&R

Well, ten days before I leave LSAA en route to the States for my R&R. The anticipation to get home to see my family is overwhelming, to say the least. I've stated before that I underestimated how much I would miss the day to day events of my three sons, and even though I can never get that time back, I plan on making up for a lot during my two weeks at home. My wife and I have been working on a day by day itinerary, so that we maximize our time together. I'm sure it will all change as soon as I hit the ground, but it has been extremely therapeutic putting it together.

Our mission seems to have stabilized, which is a good thing, but that also means that the days are starting to crawl by. Activity in our area has lightened up recently. We've seen fewer mortars and rockets on post lately, despite what the news reports. Contact on our convoys remains about the same, mostly IED's and occasionally small arms fire.

The basketball team is still doing well. I played last week and pulled a groin muscle. I'd like to say it was doing something sexy like blocking a shot or going up for a slam dunk. But the reality is that it happened in the lay-up line before the second half started. My pride and my groin are recovering slowly.

We still don't have a definitive answer about our replacements. There are several rumors flying around. Some are good, meaning a shorter tour, and some are bad, meaning a longer tour. Things here can change so drastically in just a day that it is hard to tell what is going to happen until the moment actually arrives. I will just continue to have faith that the leadership is fully aware of our situation and is addressing the issue appropriately.

This tour has really opened a lot of people's eyes as to the role of the Reserves and National Guard in today's Army. We continue to hear the reports from Washington and their concern for retention and recruiting. What you don't hear a lot of is what is being done to help the efforts of those currently serving and the future soldiers that will make up the Army. I am concerned about how employers will begin to view someone applying to their organization as an active member of the Guard or Reserves. Employers will be keenly aware that this person could be called up with little or no notice to be deployed for one to two years, all the while the employer has to hold a slot for the activated employee.

It is a tough call for an employer - the irony between Patriotism and Capitalism. I just hope that everyone understands that without the ability that our Armed Forces currently possesses, they may not have the opportunity to be in business in the first place. So, if you are an employer of a Reservist or Guardsmen, or you are in a position to be an employer, thank you for your Patriotism! If you know of someone who employees an activated Reservist or Guardsmen, consider thanking them because they are truly serving and sacrificing for their country as well.

OK, enough "soap box" for now, did I mention that I get to go home in 10 days? I'll write again once I get home, and I look forward to seeing most of you during my short visit.

Until then, take care and God Bless.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Counting The Days

Even in combat soldiers find ways to stay entertained. My soldiers and I are participating in a basketball league that a few units on post started. During one of our games, an enemy mortar landed several hundred meters away. No one was injured by the blast, and we all took cover in the bunkers built beside the outdoor court. Minutes after the explosion, the "all clear" horn sounded, so we finished the game. We won 31 to 17 and advance to the next bracket. We are now 4-0 and have not had any more mortar interruptions. It sounds even stranger when I re-read the story.

I’ve mentioned the Army’s "Leave" program where we get to come home for two weeks. My wife, the boys, and I have a trip to the beach planned, and we are all really looking forward to it. (My wife and I met at this particular beach in the Summer of 1987 and have been together ever since.) I’m glad the Army has this program. It really breaks up the assignment and gives the soldiers a milestone to mark on their calendars. One of my soldiers is flying out on leave today. His excitement has everyone else excited for him and that much more anxious for their time to come.

We've been here now for over 120 days. Some go by faster than others, but the end of this tour is still a long ways off. It still kills me sometimes to think of the things I'm missing in my boys' lives. My oldest son (9) is ranked 7th out of 39 players in his golf league, my middle son (5 this month) is a terror on the T-ball field, and the youngest (6 mos) is growing out of diapers before my wife can get through her stock. My wife continues to amaze me with her strength.

A few weeks ago, she organized and conducted the memorial golf tournament we set up for my brother and she moved out of our house for Furniture Market, all in the same day. She did all of this while herding three boys around. What a woman - I am truly a lucky man. She had some great support from family and friends, so if I haven’t told you lately… Thanks Again. Still, I believe in the mission we have here and the soldiers that are carrying it out and I have faith that this separation from my family will be a positive experience for us in the long run.

My guys here continued to do great things. They've really accepted our mission and take it personally. That is all you can ever ask for in a soldier. It embodies commitment and loyalty and makes leading them that much more enjoyable. Our State Adjutant General (Two Star General) visited us a few weeks ago and got to see our operation here at LSA Anaconda. It was good to see him and the Command Sergeant Major, and he “coined” my group for doing a great job.

The weather is starting to get hot, and we reached our first 100 degree day here. The mornings start off in the 80’s and then it just gets “better”. At least in this part of Iraq we have a chance for cloudy days, unlike further south and in Kuwait where it is even hotter. Good thing the heat does not discriminate. If we are in it, so are the bad guys.

A few days ago several soldiers were injured when an IED went off in the carcass of a dead animal just outside our camp. We’ve been taught to look out for such traps, and I’m not sure what happened in this incident. The bad guys have stepped up the mortars here recently. No major damages or serious injuries have been reported. Six mortars hit our camp last night, but no one was injured and today it was business as usual.

I’ve just returned from another trip to Baghdad. I went this time for a leaders conference. My Commander put on a great show for the key players affecting the flow of mail to the soldiers in Iraq. The conference was a great success, and I’m constantly amazed at how much attention the topic of “mail” gets by the war fighters. I took my Air Force Tech Sergeant with me this time. He was blown away by the helicopter flight into Baghdad as well as the Palace. We returned to LSA Anaconda on a Chinook helicopter(UH-47). It was a long flight, three hours to go 45 miles. We flew north of Balad and made several stops to include a hot re-fueling. I brought back with me two soldiers that had gone to Baghdad to pull guard detail for a few weeks. They did a great job while they were there but were glad to be back at LSAA.

Not that I’m counting, but I have about 34 days before I get to go home on leave. That’s about 840 hours.

Take Care and God Bless.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Charlie Daniels Tour

What a great American! Charlie Daniels performed for the troops here at LSA Anaconda the other night. I attended the show and was thoroughly impressed with the music, the performances, and the heartfelt patriotism of the "Long Haired Country Boy." I had the pleasure of attending a show he put on for the troops when I was a 2nd Lieutenant deployed to Cuba back in 1992 during the Haitian Humanitarian Relief mission. It was good to see that 13 years later this man is still at it and the troops love him.

Charlie Daniels is said to have grown up near Wilmington NC, and I had the fortune of having one of his cousins, Reverend Francis Daniels, as my preacher. Francis and his family are all musically inclined, and Reverend Daniels is back in Wilmington now preaching. He and his family are very special to me, and I hope to see them when I'm home on leave.

Charlie had the crowd all tapping and clapping to his classic songs, some gospel tunes, and even gave us a taste of what he has coming out in the future. He spoke between songs to the troops, thanking them all for their service and vowing to go home and spread the good word about the things that he saw on his trip. He received ovations for bashing the media saying that the conditions here were nothing like they had led him to believe.

He played for two hours straight and ended the set with his classic "Devil Went Down to Georgia". He burned through several bows "sawing on his fiddle and playing it hot" and the crowd went nuts. He left everyone with a smile on their face and uplifted spirit in their heart. He reinforced to the soldiers, marines, and airmen that there efforts here were greatly appreciated and would not be forgotten.

I hope he knows how appreciative we are that he and his band came here to perform for us. God Bless you Charlie, and thanks for what your doing.

Take Care and God Bless.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Back To Balad

Convoy Back to Balad:

My stay in Baghdad was worthwhile. I learned how their operation works in comparison to ours at LSA Anaconda. The trip also served to break up my tour. 21 days at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) plus the travel time nearly took care of the entire month of March. Not that I'm counting yet - we've still a long way to go - but the quicker the months go the better.

I usually fly by blackhawk helicopter between the two bases, but this time it was more convenient to convoy. It is funny how things work. Just a few days prior to the convoy, I picked up a soldier walking on base with his laundry. In my vehicle he explained that his job here was convoy security, and he was in the unit that had just lost a soldier escorting one of my convoys. He was a young soldier and did not know who I was, or my relationship to his operation. I took him to his unit area and thanked him for the job he was doing. A few days later, who do you think showed up as one of the security vehicles on the convoy taking me back to Anaconda...

The night of the convoy was as clear as I've ever seen in this country. The moon was full, and we actually had a 99% illumination rating. The CC (Convoy Commander) was an E5 (Sergeant). I shadowed him as the ranking officer on the trip and was very impressed with his leadership ability. He brought everyone together to give the convoy briefing and then asked for a prayer.

A PFC (Private First Class) volunteered to say the prayer and did an outstanding heartfelt job, asking God to watch over us. He said all the right things and, you could really sense the sincerity in his voice. We broke from the meeting like you would in a football huddle and mounted our vehicles. I was in the CC's HMWVV and was amazed at the difference between his vehicle and the ones we drive around the base. Besides the amount of extra armor, this vehicle was equipped with several communication devices and a tracking screen that outlined our route and updated us as to any trouble we might face ahead. We rolled out and I said my own prayer, just as I have done on every Army operation.

As we were approaching our departure point, I noticed the CC sitting in the front passenger seat, with his eyes closed as if he were taking a "cat-nap". His face was lit up from the digital TV screen and as I looked closer, I could see his lips moving. It was then I knew he was praying, too. I had a sudden and complete feeling of calmness knowing that the Sergeant-in-Charge was asking God for guidance.

Our vehicles picked up speed as we left the camp and as we skirted through the outer streets of Baghdad. The 50 Cal. gunners on top of the vehicles shined powerful halogen lights toward anything in front or behind us that looked suspicious, and everyone stayed alert and ready. These guys have made this trip numerous times and you could tell they were well acquainted with the route and trouble spots. As we left the city and the lights, the moon lit up the countryside as our vehicles raced north. We arrived at LSA Anaconda in record time and without any enemy contact. The escort team was very surprised and said that it was unusual not to encounter some type of enemy fire. I thanked them for the escort and took the CC aside to give him my AAR. I commended him on his professionalism and leadership and noted that he had the trust and admiration of his men and as of this night, he had mine as well.

Religious Holidays:

Mortar attacks continue, and we keep going in and out of full body armor. I find it ironic that as we get closer to the local "religious holidays," we prepare for and receive more violent attacks. We are told that during these holidays, more people are at home and not at work. Therefore, they have more time to do bad things. What kind of religious holiday says, "hey on this day you should not work. Instead, go and try to kill someone." Regardless, this is the second time in the past few weeks that we've been under a heightened level of security due to religious holidays and celebrations.

Can you imagine the water-cooler talks at the office after a holiday - "So haji, how was your break? Did the family get together? How many IED's did you guys place? Lob any good mortars at the Americans?" Sorry if this sounds a bit sarcastic, but the contrast in cultures here continues to boggle my mind.

Getting Hot:

The weather is starting to change. We've had a few weeks of "spring" but now we are starting to see temperatures in the 90's. Every Command is preparing its soldiers for the real heat, which should be here soon. I remember being here back in August of 1990 and again when I visited last summer. The heat is so intense that unless you've been here before, you have nothing to really compare it to. My unit was fortunate to get here early and this should allow the soldiers to acclimate a little better. We are all drinking lots of water and the consumption of coffee, Pepsi, and near beer has already gone down. My guys will do fine and given their sense of humor and backgrounds, I can't wait to hear how they describe the weather. I'll keep you posted.

Everyone here has his/her own way to mark off the days. I will get the opportunity to come home in June for two weeks of R&R. The anticipation for this date is getting unbearable. I can't wait to see my family and friends. The break will mark the halfway point for this tour and gives me something to look forward to. Here's hoping the time remaining here flies by and the time at home crawls. I've been thinking about leaving home again after my R&R. It will be tougher this time on my nine and five year old boys because they will know what to expect. My six month old probably still wants to know who I am, and my wife, who continues to be a rock about things, will hopefully find comfort in knowing we're halfway done. Regardless, the break can't get here soon enough.

Take Care and God Bless

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Remembering The Soldier And His Brother

The Soldier lost his brother two years ago, so he started a memorial golf tournament last year. That tournament was organized in just a few weeks, but it was a great event and raised $7,000.

I played in the second annual tournament yesterday. Since the Soldier is in Iraq, his wife organized the event with a little help from friends of the Soldier and his brother.

We had a spectacular day as the clouds parted and warm sunshine negated two days of rain. My team won the event last year, but we finished fourth this year. That mattered very little, given the context provided by two fine men who could not attend.

I am not sure how much money was raised this year, but I do know that it was a pleasure to be around so many people close to the Soldier and his brother.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Soldier's Family

We went to a cookout tonight with a few friends, including the Soldier's family. His wife is impressive - smart, strong, and taking everything in stride. She is juggling the normal demands of running a home and taking care of their three boys, aged nine, five, and six months.

The older two boys are quite the young men. They have their fun like all kids, but they do not take advantage of their dad being gone and keep things under control. The littlest man is as cute as can be, and I am glad his dad will be home for a 15-day leave soon to spend time with all of them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Fallen Soldier

My time here in Baghdad has been interesting to say the least. To start, three of my soldiers witnessed a mortar attack during their travels between our work place and living quarters, approximately 11 miles away. They reacted perfectly, never stopping their vehicles, and arrived safely at their destination. Operations at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) are really spread out which makes transportation and logistics in general more difficult.

The soldiers here are adapting well but still have trouble understanding the big picture. As I've written before, it is truly "mind boggling" to imagine all of the things that must happen, at the same time, in the right direction, to be successful in this environment. There are only a few of us in the unit, six to be exact, that have combat experience. This allows us to grasp the big picture much easier than our other soldiers. They are still doing great, and it is good to see that they are learning with each day and with each new experience.

Six days ago our operation suffered its first casualty since we've been on the ground. The soldier was not directly assigned to our unit but was serving as a convoy escort for our vehicles. His vehicle was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) just a few miles from its final destination. I attended a very moving memorial service for the soldier yesterday. His parent unit did an outstanding job honoring the soldier, his family, and his service to our country. This soldier had the foresight to write a "just in case" letter and it was read to the packed chapel. Other soldiers paid tribute by telling stories, reading poetry, and one even wrote and performed a song in his honor. Obviously the soldier's immediate family could not be present, but his deployed family mourned just the same.

His squad served as the immediate family, and his platoon and company served as the extended family. The rest of the chapel was filled with soldiers, KBR drivers and Commanders at all levels. His unit conducted a role call and as each name was called, the soldiers present would stand and sound off with a loud and firm, "Here First Sergeant". When the deceased soldier's name was called there was a deep eerie silence in the room. His name was called again and again you could feel the silence. After there was no response to the third request, Taps was played by the bugler. This is a time-honored tradition in the military, and although I have attended many of these ceremonies, none stick out in my mind as more moving than this last one.

I've heard from my Commander several times while on leave, and I expect her to return any day now. Traveling to the theater is not much of a problem, but getting around once your here can sometimes get tricky. I will remain here for a day or so after she is back in the saddle and then I am off, back to Balad and LSA Anaconda. I'm counting down the days until I get the opportunity to go home on leave myself and spend time with my family. The days can't go by quickly enough, but the mission keeps me busy.

Back home everyone seems to be doing well. My wife, family, and friends are busy preparing for a memorial golf tournament. We started this event last year to honor my brother, who passed away nearly two years ago. This will be its second season and the proceeds will go to benefit hospitalized and sick children in the local area. Like last year, the support and encouragement of friends and family has been incredible, and I'm sure the tournament will be a great success. Thanks again to everyone participating or helping my wife with the event.

I'll write again once I get back to Anaconda. Until then..Take Care and God Bless.

Golf Tournament

The Soldier lost his brother in April 2004. I never met his brother, but The Soldier told me so many hilarious stories about him, I feel like I knew him.

Last year, The Soldier, his wife, and some of his brother's friends, organized a golf tournament that raised around $7,000. That money provided two fun stations for the pediatric oncology unit at Duke Hospital, plus supported some other children's needs. In a sad twist of fate, The Soldier learned he would be deployed to Iraq the day of the tournament.

This year, The Soldier's family and friends, plus his brother's friends, are ensuring the tournament goes on. It is April 9 at Mill Creek in Mebane, NC. If you are interested in playing in or being a sponsor for the tournament, send me an email. I will reply with all the particulars.

Monday, March 14, 2005

How Can You Help?

I asked The Soldier how those of us who are stateside can help him. He said if people want to help, they can give prepaid phone cards to soldiers with whom he serves. That will allow them to stay in some contact with their families without going broke. He further clarified that any AT&T phone card works well from where they are stationed.

If any of you is interested in supporting the soldiers serving with The Soldier, you can send a prepaid AT&T phone card to me at:

Patrick Eakes
P.O. Box 16263
Greensboro, NC 27416-0263

I will collect the cards and forward them to The Soldier, who will distribute them to others serving with him in Iraq.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Meeting The Brass

Our small operation has received lots of attention lately - the good kind. I feel like stars are falling all around me with all of the Generals that have come through here lately. To start, we had a visit from the ranking post Commander, a Brigadier General (one star). He came to see our operation, since we use his land and some of his assets to transport and provide convoy security. I interface with his Deputy Commander on a daily basis, and he had given the General word that we were here doing a Theater Level mission.

I advised all of my soldiers prior to his visit to be prepared to answer his questions. In my 15 years of service I have been "fortunate" enough to be a staff officer for several Generals. I know they always like to talk to the most junior soldier on the ground, and what he or she says will reflect how well the guidance from above gets filtered down to the lowest level. I don't consider this a trick or bad practice.

If you think about it, if at every organization (military/civilian) the lowest ranking or paid person knows and understands the Corps Values and Competencies of the General or CEO, then it can be assumed that everyone is headed in the right direction. True to form, my guys snickered as the General passed my Master Sergeant and other NCO's and went straight to my Specialist to ask about our mission. My guys were nervous and literally seeing stars, but they did a fabulous job addressing the questions the General had. A few days later a Major General (two stars) came for the same type of visit. He was so impressed with our operation and the professionalism of my soldiers that he presented us with a "2 Star coin". A coin is an on-the-spot impact award that just says, "Thanks, and job well done." It is a privilege to get one, and my soldiers really appreciated its significance.

Things here are going well. I flew to Baghdad the other day from Balad. It is about a 45 minute helicopter ride, going 150 mph approximately 100 feet off the ground only raising to avoid power lines. It was a great ride, and I brought along one of my soldiers. This soldier wanted to re-enlist and to reward him for his loyalty, I proposed that he accompany me for a few days. I conducted the ceremony in the aircraft as we flew into Baghdad - a moment neither of us will ever forget. There were two Iraqi Nationals in the aircraft to witness and assist in the ceremony. They helped hold the American Flag that I brought just for the event. It is a short symbolic ceremony where the soldier recites his vow to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States."

I've memorized the ceremony over the years and was able to have the soldier repeat after me without any documents present. He signed a six year extension with the unwritten stipulation that he could serve under my command in the near future. I was honored with his request and will work to make that happen. The Iraqi Nationals on the aircraft took their own pictures and wanted a photo of themselves holding the American Flag. I feel as though the ceremony had as big an impact on them as it did the soldier involved. My soldier was able to stay in Baghdad for three days, and then he flew back to Balad. I am here for three weeks to fill in for my Commander while she is gone. This is my third trip to Baghdad. It is much bigger than most people realize, and from the air the city seems to go on forever.

There are a lot of key players from around the world who are here, so I get to see lots of influential people. Similar to Balad, we get the occasional mortar and explosion around the compound, but for the most part we feel safe.

I've received some really great pictures from my wife back home. The kids are growing like weeds and the two month old that I left more than two months ago is no longer a little baby. I can't wait to get home on my two week break to see them. This is my fourth major deployment since I've been in the Army, but the first one since my wife and I started having kids. What a difference it makes knowing that I'm missing this time in their lives. Still, with the incredible amount of support my wife and kids are receiving back home, to the kids my absence is almost seamless and that is OK by me.

My wife and I are able to communicate at least every other day, so I stay in the loop with what the boys are doing. I've said this before, but it is worth repeating: soldiers are trained to deploy, but no one trains the family to be home without us. My wife is an incredible lady, one I am very fortunate to have, and she is doing an unbelievably great job of keeping everything together back home. Thanks again to everyone helping out, your assistance is greatly appreciated and means more than you can imagine.

Take Care and God Bless.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Final Tribute

I participated in a ceremony the other night to honor two soldiers that had fallen. It is called the "Patriot" detail and is organized by the Air Force to honor the remains of fallen soldiers being transported out of Iraq.

We met at a small building at the edge of the runway. It was about 9:00pm, and the wind was blowing bitterly cold. There were about 70 Soldiers and Airmen standing patiently awaiting instructions. An Air Force Sergeant came out to brief us that a flight was inbound to initiate the journey home for the remains of two soldiers that had recently died. He gave us a brief set of instructions, and we all stood silently waiting for the plane. Not long after, a C-130 landed and taxied toward our location.

I anxiously waited for some type of rehearsal knowing the importance of the event, but there was none. The group was a mix of volunteers from all over the post that had heard of the need for participation in the small but meaningful ceremony. With a single command the group formed two even ranks, and we began to march towards the plane. The engines shut down, and the tail of the aircraft opened.

The Load Masters prepared the ramps, as we approached the aircraft in two long lines. Once we were in place, the two lines stopped and faced each other. We went to parade rest and waited. The night air was cuttingly cold, and the openness of the concrete runway dropped the temperature a few more degrees.

As I stood there facing another Soldier, the magnitude of what we were there for overwhelmed me. Out of the corner of my eyes I could see the row of Soldiers and Airmen standing motionless and silent. The light from the back of the aircraft extended about halfway to my position, and then the darkness took over. I did not know the identity of those we were about to honor, just that besides a ceremony at their individual unit location, this was another way to honor the sacrifice of two soldiers going home.

After a few minutes I could see three vehicles with flashing lights approaching the end of our formation. A few Soldiers exited the vehicles and after a brief discussion, we were given the command to come to attention. The back doors of the second vehicle opened, and the soldiers carefully secured the Flag-covered container within. As they began their march through our formation, the command "Present Arms" was sounded. Without any rehearsal, the group executed the command in slow motion to perfection.

As the flag slowly passed my position, I thought to myself that this individual woke up less than 24 hours ago with no idea that today would be his last here on earth. I could not help but think of the family. Had they been notified yet? How were they coping with the news? What impact would this loss have on them and the soldier's unit? The Flag-covered container was placed in the aircraft, and the bearers returned to the back of the third vehicle. They secured the second Flag-covered container, and with the precision of a practiced drill team, the group again came to present arms.

Once secured, the two lines faced the aircraft, and we all boarded to say our own farewell. A Chaplain read a scripture and said a beautiful prayer, followed by a moment of silence. The group walked silently back to the small building where we originally met, and everyone dispersed from there without a word. I was deeply touched by the way these two soldiers were honored on their final journey home. I've attended ceremonies at Arlington and at Fort Bragg, and although this ceremony was not meant to be their last, it was comforting to know that the military gives this type of care and respect for remains until they reach their final destination. The Military and its members truly honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

Take Care and God Bless.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Missing Home

Thanks again to everyone for the kind words, thoughts, and prayers you are sending to me and the troops. Please don't ever underestimate the importance of your support. I would especially like to thank everyone who has stayed in touch with and assisted the families of soldiers during their separation. It really makes a difference in the soldier's performance here when he knows that his family is well cared for back home. So, for everyone out there involved in helping with any soldier's family while they are gone -- Thanks!

We've received fewer mortars since the elections, so maybe the bad guys are realizing that we're not so bad after all. We still get a few a week, but it is not a daily thing as of late. G2 (intelligence) attributes some of the trend to bad weather, so the upcoming months should give us a better picture. The weather now is cold and wet. Cold is relative to where you come from, but the wet part here is what really slows things down. Rain here is like snow in the south - everything is affected and travel becomes more difficult. The bad guys are still planting IED's on the roads, and several have hit the convoys leaving our area, and we hear through the news that other posts are receiving the same types of attacks.

My troops continue to do a great job. Some are starting to feel the effects of being separated from their families and are fighting through those emotions while trying to keep things together here. I guess it is normal to have that helpless feeling about the things that are going on back home. I know our friends and families are feeling the same way about us. I try to keep everyone talking, so no one holds in any problems that we all might be able to tackle together.

I've noticed a couple of things that you may find interesting. One is Prayer. At almost every major briefing I attend, a chaplain is present to give some words of wisdom and lead us in a "non-denominational" prayer. It really makes you feel good inside to see Generals and Lieutenants along with Sergeants and Privates praying together. No one questions the prayer or complains that it violates his beliefs. They all just bow their heads and for a few moments everyone in the room is on an even keel. Then, as soon as the Amen is sounded, everyone reverts back to his rank and role and drives on with the mission at hand. It is a pretty humbling experience.

Second is Diversity. Most Americans may not realize how diverse our soldiers are compared to other countries fighting this war. When you look across a room of American troops, you see males and females of all sorts of backgrounds. Without the uniform you would have no idea where they are from. I've been exposed to other forces here: Australian, Korean, Polish, British and Iraqi. All lacked diversity of almost every kind except age. It just goes to show that although we aren't perfect, we are a hell of a lot further along then everyone else.

I am still amazed at the amount of teamwork that goes on at all levels, every minute of every day, to make this whole operation work. It truly boggles your mind if you sit back and think of how much "stuff" has to happen at the same time and in the right direction to maintain all that we do here. Not only does it happen, but it is predominantly done by kids under 25 years of age. Food, Ammunition, Supplies, Fuel, Water, Shelter etc. The list goes on and everything flows while bad guys try unsuccessfully to disrupt the rhythm. I see it everyday, and everyday I am invigorated by the efforts of all the players.

Here is an example of the kind of motivational leadership we have in our unit. This is an email I received from our Commander. She is commenting on a recent heroic story coming from the Marines while the media was bashing a General for his comments.

My Commander writes "I sit next to these guys in the mess hall every day, but then I remembered listening to the pundits spin of a decorated marine corps General's words of last week. He said war was a hoot and a thrill. So here's my two cents. Thank God there are men out there that understand their jobs, are willing to do them, and can inspire their men to follow them. Did that general use a bad choice of words to convey his point to the particular audience? Yes. But the bottom line is that to do this work, you have to think it a thrill, or you won't get in the door, let alone walk out. War is hell, and no one knows that better than a soldier. But, we sleep peaceful in our beds at night because rough men stand ready in the night to do violence on our behalf."

I wish everyone, in their life, could feel the camaraderie , commitment, and courage of the American soldier. It is a true life changing experience. Thanks again for all of your support.

Take Care and God Bless.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Before And After The Election

January 29 , 2005

First and foremost, I would like to thank the ever-present media for really boosting the insurgents’ message. I can't tell you how aware the media made me about how dangerous it would be for the Iraqis to get out and vote. We get to watch a few select channels here, and every station represented in the country was putting the "fear factor" in the minds of those who were thinking about voting. They even televised the leaflets the insurgents were passing out. How do you like that for free publicity?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for freedom of speech, but I was always taught that there was a limit to that freedom, and it came when it causes harm to others. How does their message cause harm? They bolster the fact to the insurgents are threatening anyone who votes, out of fear not enough people participate in the process, the insurgents gain strength, and the U.S. Soldier's stay here gets extended. There is where the harm comes in.

I'm writing this on the eve of election day, so only time will tell how well the insurgents' message was received by the Iraqi people. Again, thanks to our very own American news broadcasters for getting out the insurgents’ message.

The soldiers and the leadership are all holding their breath hoping that tomorrow goes off without too many hitches. We do expect that VBIED's (vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices) and suicide bombers will be their mode of destruction, so the units outside the wire are on a heightened state of readiness. We've even limited actions here on post to maintain full accountability of our soldiers and limit our exposure to hazardous areas.



January 31, 2005

What a great day to be an American and even a greater day to be one of those in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Despite the pain and anguish it caused the broadcasters to show the people of this country celebrating in the streets over the chance to vote, you know that the next step in getting this country on its own two feet occurred yesterday. History was made, and the U.S. leadership along with the young men and women of our armed forces made it happen.

While watching the success stories on the TV and hearing about the gratitude the people at the polls had for the troops, I couldn't help but think of the soldiers that weren't here to see the results of their efforts. The soldiers that made the ultimate sacrifice, so that another human being could experience the freedom that they and their family enjoy each day. I don't believe that each of them fully understood the magnitude of what they were doing at the time of their death, but I do believe that their spirits were present yesterday, and they were glad in the moment they helped create. I hope everyone at home is as jacked up as we are about how things went yesterday.

Take Care and God Bless

Friday, January 28, 2005

Welcome

Since Instapundit gave a shout out to this blog, we are getting a visitor every ten seconds. We normally welcome about 50 visitors a day.

For those of you visiting for the first time, the Soldier remains anonymous. He is a reservist who has been in Iraq for one month. I am Patrick Eakes, and I maintain this blog for the Soldier.

If you wish to leave a comment, I will be sure it is forwarded to the Soldier.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Life In Iraq

It all happens so fast.

Thanks to all who have written in response to my journal. The support has been encouraging and is greatly appreciated. Time in Iraq goes by so fast. I asked one of my soldiers what day it was, and we both had to think for a while before coming up with different answers (we finally narrowed it down and just picked one). It doesn't matter what day it is here. All that matters is the mission you have, completing it to standard, and getting on with the next mission.

A lot has transpired since my last update. Most all of it has been good. We continue to receive mortar fire here almost daily, but it has very little effect on the post operations. I am reminded of scenes in the TV show M*A*S*H, which I watched as a child. They would be eating chow, while being bombed, and sit around fearlessly making jokes. The mission was to eat. Regardless of the mortars, we ate, waited for the all clear signal, then left to resume our daily activities.

My commander and I were summoned to brief our peers and superiors. This was my first intra-theater travel event. Since my commander and I were coming from separate locations, we were on our own to come up with our travel methods. (Mission: get to a certain place at a certain time, the means and methods are up to you) After several failed attempts I finally boarded an Air Force (AF) C-17. What a magnificent plane! We were all buckled in, and the engines revved up as we prepared for take off. All of a sudden the engines shut down, and the Air Craft commander came over the speaker asking everyone to exit the aircraft.

There were several interpreters on the plane closest to the door with bewildered looks on their faces. The AF load master pointed out the closest bunkers to me, and I led the chalk to the concrete barriers. I was peering out of one of the open sides when I witnessed a small stream of light coming from the ground on the other side of the air strip. A few seconds after the shot was fired from the ground, and out of nowhere, a barrage of tracers came from the sky completely annihilating the spot that the shot was fired from. It was good to see that the enemies attack was met with overwhelming force. After the all clear, we re-boarded the plane and immediately took off.

It was good to see my commander again. We really enjoy working together. She is a West Point Graduate, and her day job is a stay at home mom. But, when she puts on the Army greens, she is all about being a soldier. I am constantly amazed at her ability to transition from wife and mom to soldier. She is not only a tribute to women in the military but to all leaders in our profession. Together we were able to accurately describe our situation, recommend possible solutions, present those solutions, and by the end of our two-day trip we had a set course of action. The trip was a great success, and now we needed to get back to our duty stations.

I found it quite ironic to hear her say she couldn't wait to get back to Baghdad. I called her on the irony, and we both acknowledged the changes we had gone through since leaving home. We were accompanied on our trip north by the celebrity news anchor Peter Jennings. I've never been a fan of his slanted commentaries, but it was nice to meet the man. I introduced him to my commander, and true to what I believed, he attempted in conversation to get her to say something adverse about the war. Boy, was he talking to the wrong person. She accurately and with passion described what most soldiers here believe: what we have done and are continuing to do will make a positive difference in the country of Iraq, the region, and the world. I don't believe he will air her point of view.

We traveled to her location by plane, and I got to see the rest of the people in our unit. Now I needed to find a way to get back to my guys. My commander got me on a space available U-60 (Blackhawk). I had to wait a day while the brown out (sand storm) cleared up before my trip could continue. The flight was incredible, again another magnificent piece of machinery. The aircraft was packed with soldiers and their baggage, yet it flew with such force and speed that it felt like my presence was insignificant.

We flew extremely low and fast, only rising to avoid power lines. I witnessed lots of countryside with men, women, and children all outside working. I was happy to see them all stop and wave in kindness as we flew over. Our door gunners acknowledged them by waving back. To me they were oblivious to the insurgents, terrorists, politics and all the bad that gets reported. I got the feeling that the adults were glad to see us and the kids were doing just as I did as a child, waving at anything that flew by in amazement.

I arrived back without incident. It was great to see my guys again, and I felt that they were glad to see me. I met some interesting people on my trip. I overheard one young soldier, on his way home, tell war stories to some new guys. It was not hard to tell that some of it was true and some was embellished. His language was what concerned me, and after hearing more than a few "F" bombs, I approached him. I simply asked him where he was going and made him aware that after being with the guys for a year his language back home would not be as welcomed. I made a joke about how it might sound for his parents to hear him say, "Hey mom/dad, how the "F" are you doing, It's "F-ing" good to see you. He and the group laughed, but I believe my point was well taken. I thanked him for what he had done and patted him on the back. He was just a kid fresh out of high school with a year of combat under his belt, going back home where he still lived with his parents.

At one of the hangars that I spent time in waiting on a flight, I spoke to an American civilian whose mission was to establish police academies in the country. He spoke of the complete difference the Iraqi men have in comparison to us. It was his experience that when the Iraqis receive positions of authority, they perceive it as a right to profit from that position and from those they are to lead. That is opposed to our leadership, which in positions of authority means the responsibilities to care for those we lead. I could tell he was struggling with the solution to this problem, and I admired his commitment to make it work.

We met several JAG (military attornies) officers on our trip, and we compared their lives with the TV show's depiction of the ultimate JAG officer. They played right along with the joke and admitted that yes they also fly helicopters and jets, jump from planes, and are constantly in torrid love affairs with beautiful women. It was fun banter coming up with current theater situations that would warrant supernatural JAG abilities and it also helped pass the time.

My soldiers continue to excel in this environment. They interact with the Air Force, DOD civilians, and contractors on a daily basis, and they've won praise from all they have come in contact with. I constantly have peers and superiors telling me what a joy it is to have these men and women from the National Guard here. Two of our soldiers received "coins" (acknowledgment of doing a good job) for the selfless work they did to assist another unit. It is their military bearing along with southern hospitality that sets them apart.

My commander and I are very proud of our soldiers, and we know they will continue to impress everyone they come in contact with. Like the rest of the world, we are all focused on the elections. I'll write again once they have concluded. Many of the soldiers outside the wire are anxious for the bad guys to show their faces, and like the poor soul who fired at us the other day, our guys are poised and eager to retaliate with overwhelming force.

Take Care and God Bless.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Welcome

The News & Record ran a front-page article today on a recent attack in Iraq that Nick Sowers documented in an email sent home. The N&R article included an information box directing readers to two blogs I maintain, including this one.

If you are visiting this blog for the first time, welcome. This blog documents the life of a reservist who has been deployed to Iraq. The Soldier remains anonymous, and I post his entries for him.

Blogs are organized so the most recent posts are at the top of the page. If you are first time visitor, I suggest that you scroll to the bottom of the page and read the posts from the bottom up, which will be chronologically correct.

Below each post you will find a comment tab. Click on it if you wish to make a comment on the post or send a message to the soldier.

Please visit this blog from time to time to get updates from the The Soldier.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Settling In

Another week has passed, and although it can't go fast enough, the time is flying by. My team is getting settled, and we received our room assignments this week, which was a big morale boost. It may not seem like much to most, but we've been living in transient quarters since we were activated in November, and although it's not home, it's what we've got for now.

The guys' morale is high as they take the lead in their new positions. When I was here in 1990 I was a 2LT. Now, I am Major, and I get a few extra privileges. Ironically the unit I deployed with in the first war is in my area now. I visited the 2LT in the same position I was in back in 1990. A lot has changed in 14 years, but the position is still there, and some of the same problems still exist.

The outgoing unit leaves soon. They have done an outstanding job here, and we've made some friends in our short time together. They are a National Guard unit out of New York. It is amazing to sit back and here the two groups exchange stories: NC vs. NY. The contrast is comical, and everyone has had a lot of fun at the other's expense. Bottom line - they spent a year here, accomplished their mission and every one of them is going to make it back home safely. This is exactly what I want my successor to say about us.

Mortars - We were attacked several times this week. Only one minor casualty from another unit. The report is that he will be ok. Mortars here are a daily event. Yesterday one hit about 500 meters from our trailer -what a way to wake up. My guys reacted great. We all got in our bunkers before the second one hit further away. Then, we waited to hear the outgoing artillery. You hear the shot, wait about 20 seconds, and then you hear the impact. As bad as it feels to be on the receiving end of their stuff, it really has to suck being on the receiving end of ours.

Iraqi NG - I watched the Iraqi National Guard training the other day on post. As I watched them conducting basic drill and ceremony activities, I wondered what kind of lives they lived before all of this started, and what would their lives be like from this day forward. They looked as if they came from all walks of life: young and old, rich and poor, and like us they are citizen soldiers serving their country. The American soldiers training them have had good things to say about how they are progressing. I hope to get the chance to know some of them better as the year goes on.

The news has reported the Abu Ghraib sentencing of the soldier convicted of mistreating the Iraqi prisoners. Comments here are as I expected. Most are shocked that he received 10 years, and that what was reported as "torture" was more like humiliation. Most soldiers believe the beheading and disfigurement of those captured by the Iraqis is torture, but the news doesn't seem to be interested in that. It is obvious those soldiers involved used bad judgment, and they along with their leadership will be held accountable, but relative to the bad judgment used by our enemy, the U.S. Soldiers' crimes seem insignificant.

To better illustrate how differently soldiers think, the other day I spoke to a soldier that I've notice moping around. After some small talk, I asked what was bothering him and his response was one I've heard before, especially from young soldiers. He explained "I just don't feel like I'm getting enough action." In his mind, he wanted to engage the enemy and strike the decisive blow that would destroy the enemy's will to ever fight again. This particular individual used to be a line soldier and now holds an administrative position.

I know it sounds crazy to some people who hear this kind of talk, but it is this mentality and training that allows sane men and women to knowingly go into harms way. We spoke for a few minutes about friends we both had that were escorting convoys and having daily contact with the bad guys. We laughed at how strange the military mind-set can make us look at situations, and I got the feeling he realized how strange his original statement was.

I am still amazed at all of the functions that go on daily to make this whole operation work. The synchronization of all the forces along with the civilians is incredible. Soldiers from every branch of service are working together in harmony. Soldiers are taking initiative at all levels to do things right, and right is being acknowledged and praised. As much as I miss my family, I'm glad to be part of this operation. What an honor to serve next to the soldiers here. I wish every American could experience this feeling and I hope that my words will allow some to understand the process a little better.

Take Care and God Bless.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Arrival In Kuwait And Iraq

My unit arrived in Kuwait safely. We had a commercial flight chartered by the Army. My commander, CSM, and I passed up an opportunity to fly first class, and we sat with our troops for the 20 hour voyage. I don't know if they appreciated the gesture or thought we were foolish for not moving up. Anyway, it seemed like the right thing to do.

Our time in Kuwait was minimized because of our motivation to get out of there. Our reception was not well organized, and if you sat back and waited on the system to process your unit, you could be there for weeks. We made some contacts, identified the key training events that we needed to hit and coordinated our move north to Iraq.

We were originally scheduled to Convoy. Our vehicles were not up-armored, and this was our biggest concern. In my 15 years of service, I've learned that the military may be bullish, but it does change. I found an active duty unit similar to ours that was going to the same place as us, and after some conversation I discovered that they too were not up-armored, but they were not going to convoy. Puzzled, I asked how they were going, and to my delight I discovered a method to get our troops and equipment flown. My Commander and I were floored. In the past six months, as much as we requested, this option was never given to us. Our soldiers flew out 48hrs after we discovered this option, and everyone arrived safely. Our equipment will follow, so the unit we are replacing will let us use their equipment until ours arrives.

All here is going well. My soldiers' morale is high, and we are settling in. Our replacements were excited to see us and are doing a great job showing us the ropes. I work out of an old hangar that is said to have housed Saddam's private jets. Who knows what went on here; soldiers can conjure up the best stories. We live in trailers and walk about 200 yards to the bathrooms and showers. It's not too bad. I had hot water this morning. The weather is about what I expected - cool now, but not to cold.

Nothing here is easy. Even going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you have to be fully dressed. The unit we are replacing should leave in a few weeks, so I expect things will get better then.

Our first morning here we were greeted with a mortar attack. Not everyone reacted the same. I met one soldier in the bunker we went to and asked him why he was here and his roommate was not. His response was classic. He simply said that he had not had the best of luck lately and was not taking any chances. He told me that within the last week, while driving his vehicle, he hit an IED [ed: improvised explosive device] and was involved in a firefight. He was a young guy from the Alabama Reserves, he was very upbeat about things and stated that he was scheduled to go home in a few weeks. After listening to his story I explained to him that he was mistaken about his luck. I told him that I felt good about being near him because to me, after hitting an IED and being in a firefight and coming out physically unscathed -- his luck seemed pretty good. I was proud to share a bunker with him and to hear his stories for the next hour. When we received the all clear sign, I shook his hand and wished him the best.

Take Care and God Bless

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Good News From Iraq

I spoke to Mrs. Soldier yesterday. She said that the Soldier made it to Kuwait City fine. He was there a few days, then traveled by convoy to his final destination, which is outside Fallujah.

The soldier told me before he deployed that the convoy would be unescorted, meaning they would not have significant defense if attacked, so we are all glad he made it to his compound safely.

Monday, December 27, 2004

It's Time To Go

Well, it is the eve of my deployment, and my troops and I are ready. It is not clear if all of them know exactly what they are getting into, but as one of their leaders, I know they've been trained.

We all got to spend Christmas with our families, and that was a pleasant surprise from Uncle Sam. You see, when I was on active duty, my wife and I were married for only 6 weeks before I deployed for Desert Shield/Storm #1. I signed into Ft. Bragg on Aug. 1st as a brand new 2nd Lt., and Kuwait was invaded on the 2nd. I was instructed not to move my wife to town because I would not be there long myself. That was how we spent our first Christmas.

The next year, after being home for about eight months, I received a no-notice deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and that is how we spent our second Christmas. Thus, we have three ornaments that say "our first Christmas." So, you can understand why I was skeptical about getting to spend this Christmas with my family. I'm glad I lost that bet.

We are scheduled to fly into the theater of operation and receive more training before we go to our duty positions in Iraq. I will probably be off the net for a few weeks. Even though we've known of this deployment for months now, it still comes as a shock that I'm getting ready to leave.

My wife is overwhelmed with feelings of abandonment, even with all of the family and friends she has to assist her. She really is a remarkable woman, and I do thank God every day that she is part of my life. My boys, 8yrs, 4yrs, and 9 weeks - all have different perspectives. The 8 yr old believes he knows how difficult it will be without dad around, but I can't believe that he really has a grasp on the reality of the situation. The 4 year old is pretty much oblivious, but his energy in everything he does is contagious and just makes me laugh. The baby is doing all that a baby should do and will be a hand full for my wife while I'm gone.

My story is not that unique, and I'm sure that every soldier young or old has a story of what toll serving our country takes on family and friends. I will continue the blog and give my views on what I see as well as stories I hear. I'll write as soon as I can.

Editor's Notes: I had lunch with the soldier and his family last week. His humility and sense of duty are evident and inspiring. He will depart at 21:20 on 29 December. And he is correct that his wife is an amazing woman - strong, beautiful, smart, and steady.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Training Days

I had a great Thanksgiving with my family. Our newborn son is doing great, my wife is adjusting well to me being gone, and our older two boys seem to be doing fine as well. I get home from time to time; it all depends on our training schedule, which changes daily.

Things at Ft. Bragg are going well - same old Army, hurry up and wait. I'm towing the line and trying not to ruffle any feathers. The Army has activated a reserve unit to process all of us through (most of whom have never deployed), and they are teaching us how to do things that they have no real experience in doing. It is not their fault. It is just the way the Army does things, and since I've deployed numerous times before and have been there recently, I have a little different perspective on what my troops need to know. We just have to check this block and get on with the deployment.

I visited with some of my active duty friends who were stationed here with me when I was on active duty. One, a Commander now in the 82nd Airborne, is trying to get me a pass to ride along on an upcoming jump. I won't get to exit the plane with them, but it feels good to be around the Whoa crowd again.

My unit is projected to complete the training here around Dec 20th, and we are fair game to leave after that. The tentative plan is to have a break during Christmas and have wheels up sometime shortly after we return. That would make sense -- so you know what that means-- yep, it won't happen that way, I fully expect to get a call on Dec 24 saying we are leaving the next day. Ha Ha!

Hope all are doing well and you are gearing up to have a great Holiday!