In the movie We Were Soldiers Once (and young) LT.Col Hal Moore (aka Mel Gibson) is asked about his view on the “conflict” between being a good father and being a good soldier. He responds with “I hope being good at the one helps me be better at the other.”
As it happens, I agree with the Colonel. I reckon soldiering and fatherhood are both about leading young men and women through the fog, and the noise, and the danger (but at the same time, doing it right requires our grasping the critical fact that if we successfully shelter our young from the danger, we will have have missed the whole point).
Last year I spent 7 months in Iraq. I am creating this page as a repository for the meager “war-diary” kept. I wrote almost exclusively, only when shot at – which happened about twice a month. So there is not much to it.
It is 0500. We landed 2 hours ago. Iraq. First time.
The flight – a C17 – was not luxury. But not uncomfortable either. Nice to be able to stretch out on the floor, cover your face with a poncho, and sleep through most of it.
Iraq. Outside the door of the plane I take a deep breath to catch the smell of the desert.
We get a ride on an LSSV from the strip to the camp. But first we stop at “in-processing” or something. They scan our IDs. The database now says we are here. It’s official.
Entering the camp we see a desert fox. Skinny nervous creature, but completely undeterred from his ongoing exploration by the rumble and headlamps. Beautiful, wild, big-eared desert animal.
Then tents. And cans (trailers). It’s all disheveled looking. At least at 0300. The fox was the best part.
I ensured that all 75 of my men had a bed. Then me, to mine.
(to my wife)
Before climbing into my bunk I ate the last of my sandwich. It was prepared mostly by me… some 10,000 miles from here.
I ate several of the too-thick tomato slices. I ate them because it was you who cut them for me. You who last touched them.
I want to be your personal penguin!
(a few days later, following a meeting where distressingly the main point was: timidity)
I will bring this men home alive. But NOT because I will avoid the mission, or creatively reinterpret until it is harmless, castrated and worthless.
“We are not trained for contact with Iran” they say. What!
If we were ment to be harmless, kindly explain to me that silly GAU (an electric motor powered Gatling gun capable of shooting 4000 rounds/minute)
October 25th, 2009.
An IED hits the same road we will travel… an hour before we travel it. We were delayed by a meeting.
My first convoy. Met Iraqi dogs. Friendly. Returned around midnight… to news from home.
Emotionally tittering between gratitude and anger. Kat dozed off. Rolled the car. Baby and 3 dogs inside. I told her not to drive.
Anger is stronger. Gratitude is right.
Right before a scheduled test of the Close In Weapons System (an automated self-defense super machine-gun)… we got hit by IDF.
Unreal. I was not afraid. How close can it hit before I feel fear?
A second, longer convoy.
We go through a stretch known as trash alley. It is miles of trash in the highway median. There are dead dogs and children playing, or scavenging. I can’t see much. I am on the right side of the MRAP facing the left side. Strapped in place by a 4-point harness and weighed down by my PPE (Personal Protective Equipment: helmet, vest…). I see only a slice of countryside swooshing by the narrow armored window.
A slice of wasteland. Is it war? Poverty?
I catch a glimpse of a man walking across this wasteland. The wind flapping at his black man-dress (dishdasha). The scene is ancient, manly, and tragic.
False alarm. Cluelessness everywhere. Undisciplined unverified reporting. The Commanding Officer chafed me because he sat there unarmored, while the rest of us were all “jocked-up” and accordingly discomfited.
A fiasco discussion about how “we don’t give rides” because some soldier asked for one. Except that we do. We give rides. But we only do it for officers of high-rank, self-importance and rotundity. Chafes me. Unprofessional. Inconsistent. Uncharitable attitude.
The Master Chief is a leadership challenge. He complains about me swimming in his lane. But the truth is he’s had the pool all to himself for too long.
Also, not a very tactful guy (not that I’m big on tact but)…
Today he said “If you want the religious side, talk to the chaplain, if you want reality, talk to me”. Chaps was there.
I think Master Chief is ill-suited for… reality.
I have been on 5 convoys and 0 patrols. More challenges. I have to control my tendency to feel that some of the Officers’ and Chiefs’ shortcomings (Like the Operations Officer inability to write, the Doc’s obtuseness, one Lieutenant’s constant jabbering and another’s pathetic inaccuracy-riddled stammering) are indications of insuficient drive. The evidence says otherwise: long hours, concerned faces.
I think it is best to assume they are all good men. Better than me. And to strive to steer them gently. Controlling my urges to lash at their momentary incompetences.
The Commanding Officer is strange. A part of him is regular guy. Humorous. Sporty. Concerned for the men. Smart. Another part of him seems to get easily tangled in small tight loops. A repetition of the same phrase or idea, until the meaning starts draining from it.
We had a “good guy” pull out his gun “in jest” and aim it at another’s feet. But guns are not jest. So now he is going home early. Stripped of the honor of returning home from deployment alongside comrades.
I shared a Gatorade and Cliff-bar with a shepherd. It left me unsatisfied. I wish I could have told him that his sheep (each for some reason had a red stripe painted down it’s back) were nice-looking sheep.
“Forced” the Chaplain to quit travelling around and try to get an actual service HERE. We’ll see if I can get anyone to show up.
Master Chief continues to be a challenge. When he speaks on any subject other than what he knows, he baffles me with his incoherence. But the subject he knows is this: How to get people to do things.
It is supposed to start raining tonight.
We got our second real IDF. I had 30 squats left in my workout and the “incoming” alarm went off. I did as instructed and dove for dirt. Heard two explosions. Waited. Then ran for the Command Operations Center. There I discussed good and evil, and 4-wheelers with the Battle Watch Captain, until the “All Clear” was sounded. 2 1/2 hours later.
IDF attack at 0700.
At first – from the other side of shuteyes – I thought the incoming alarm was my alarm clock. Then I realized what it was. Then I did nothing. The floor was cold and dirty and I was warm and naked. Screw it.
Then I heard 2 soft thuds. Reports are that it hit somewhere along my usual running path about 3 km from where I sleep. Bastards!
This time there were 2 launchsites. 6 rockets. 2 hit within the base. 1 hit nearby – outside. 3 never got off the rails (unreliable old weapons). Unclear reports about the bad guys getting caught. Maybe.
Someone stole a truck. Cut a hole in the fence and drove into the desert. WTF?
I was about to call Kat. She “saw” me online. Then I disappeared. For a few hours I wore my body armor over shorts & crocks.
This time they attacked the other base. Its the first time they attack it. It’s an Iraqi base, really, but we moved some of our guys there recently.
They used 2 IRAMS (Improvised Rocket Assisted Munition). Extra nasty and extra unreliable. Destructive power on the cheap.
Shot out of a little truck – disposable – left in flames from the rocker exhausts. They were very close to a target that is a lot more densely populated than the base where I live. It seems almost more difficult – given the distance – to miss people than to hurt them. Chunks of shrapnel here and there. But no one was hurt.
2 Days ago another attack. Once again shot from the east of us. Landed west of us. We are well within range but they continue to aim high and overshoot us. Bless their little hearts.
Running yesterday. My usual – the base perimeter. I noticed the change. A few nights ago we had millions of candlepower piercing the night outside the wire. Now we had almost complete darkness.
Which is better? Bright lights so you can’t walk right up to the fence at night and lob mortars at us. Or no lights so you can’t aim your rockets at us from a distance. I bet nobody actually KNOWS the answer.
3 Things happened in three days. First, I was in the MWR (Morale Welfare & Recreation) room which had about 2 dozen computers and a dozen phones. I was on one of the phones – with Kat when a part of me heard the “incoming” alarm and saw the others around me dropping to the floor. And that part of me dropped even as the other – thinking – part managed to spit out “I’LL CALL YOU BACK” into the phone. Then a collective discovery: the sound had issued from… a YOUTUBE video!
Next. Yesterday. 2 more attacks. Both fell short. Fired at the extreme long range of a 107mm rocket. And the new Boss of the Base (U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division) proved to be AFU.
First: no alarm. First thing we heard were 2 unaccounted for explosions. Next they passed the “all clear”. So were we just attacked? No body knows. Yes we were. The “all clear” gets recalled. We are commanded to jock up and seek shelter. Then again comes the “all clear”. All this is being confusing information is getting passed to us on the base-wide loudspeaker system. It can probably be heard for miles. Embarrassing.
The final “all clear” is passed befor the POO (point of origin) is located. That doesn’t make sense. Then the POO is located – still with rockets on rails, aimed at us.
These idiots assumed command all hot and bothered with decrees: Every Soldier shall wear eye-protection and a glowbelts every minute of the day. Clearly incompetent.
I wonder if focusing on petty bullshit is a natural psychological byproduct of tactical incompetence?
Finally, today. Some dude walks right off the street to our gate and claims: I know were there’s some rockets! Take me on one of them boats and I’ll show’ee.
And sure enough, a few hours later EOD delights us all with a “controlled detonation” whereby 2 107mm rockets are sent to meet their maker. The place were they were found, well within range of my bed.
2 More. After lunch I was walking back from the DFAC (Pronounced: DeeFac. Meaning Dining Facility, I think) when CLAngCLAngCLAng… and I drop in the middle of the laydown yard (parking lot), a great wide open space. I feel particularly exposed, and dusty. But am probably safer here than next to or under any structure filled with big chunks potential frag(mentation) (i.e. common stuff with common everyday full-time jobs but with the part-time job of killing).
Then a short sharp “BAng” (distant?). A few secons later a sprint for the TOC Tactical Operations Center.
Seems the rocket did not detonate but struck a parked NTV (non tactical vehicle… pickup truck) squarely in the roof.
Not six hours later CLAngCLAngCLAng. 2 more hits. They fell short of the base this time – but did not fail to interrupt my Ramen noodles dinner. What a nuisance!
2 Days ago RIVRON earns the first Purple Heart of modern U.S. Navy Riverine history. Vic (vehicle)1 returning from a different base strikes an IED. Destroys the RHINO system (which is what the RHINO system is meant to do). A small piece of hot metal finds its way to the Gunner’s neck (he sits inside a rotating turret astride a 7.62mm machine-gun, atop a Mine Resistant Armor Protected Vic (MRAP)). Gunner drops. Comes to, bleeding. Feels like he was kicked in the neck. The vehicle commander and all the rest do their rehearsed actions. Then decide to push on. I had the opportunity to to defend their decision against HHQ who called and directed holding our position. I responded: NO, injured man. Pushing to the hospital.
Minor confusion ensues.
2 days later 1 Navy Achievement Medal to the Lieutenant who administered TCCC (Tactical Combat Casualty Care… somehting we learned and practiced on pigs). 1 Meritorious advancement for the Convoy Commander.
Some argument with my willfully obtuse CO and my obtuser CMC as to the proposed meritorious advancement of the injured gunner. A nice thought. A ball of nonsense. The young man did no more than surrender (unconsciously) to gravity.
Not to belittle his injury (of which I am jealous) but any attempt to use the injury to justify a command advancement would be encompassed of 100% gas. I refuse to play.
Less than 4 weeks left here and after… how long? two rockets. One hits close. The other one is blown out of the sky, I think. One never knows. The simple question of: How many times were we shot at is often subject to repeated corrections. On one occasion it even became apparent – after much searching and seeking cover – that we had not even been shot at.
What would it be like if this was a daily occurrence? Would it break us? As it is, all i does is add some spice to our lives. Knock on wood.
2 days ago, 2 more. One rocket did something amazing: it porpoised. The fact that this word exists in association with a rocket attack – betrays some regularity to such absurd behavior… The rocket hit soft dirt (a small decoratively flowered patch) and went underground… then it emerged (having tunneled under a perfectly unharmed bush with pink flowers) and flew again! It finally came to rest – inert – 2km later and 90 degrees to the right of its original course.
A farewell shot. We never heard the explosion. This makes it a little more awkward as we all lay in the floor, hands over heads, faces near each-other wondering… is it safe yet? Until someone makes the first move and gets up. Resume the meeting. I guess we survived again.
And now in an airplane. 22 May 2010. 45 minutes from landing. Returning home. I’m shivering. It’s cold and I’m nervous. I will meet my son and kiss my wife after seven months of desert fenced within desert. This may be the most important day of my life.
Sun through the window of a DC-10
My wife and baby looking at the sky
I am so nervous shiv-ring now and then
I am so happy I believe I’ll cry
I am coming home from an old desert war
I’ve…. and I’ve traveled far.
I see the shore now and I see the bridge!
My words are bouncing left and right
I cannot capture them and write.