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.