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.