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.