In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve departed. Gone. Poof. Into the wind.
I am going back to Iraq.
Field Manual 30-5, Combat Intelligence, February 1951
I’ll be there for a year, or until they tell me to come home. I should get a two-week-or-so break somewhere along the way.
I’d like to keep blogging here during the year. I am sure there’d be things to write; I know, though, that the Army is a bit cautious about blogs, so I will have to see what wickets I’ll need to jump through in order to blog. Feel free to email me and ask questions; if I can answer them, I will, and if not, I’ll either lie (ok, no, not really) or I’ll just fess up that it’s not appropriate for me to answer, for whatever reason. If I upload photos, or blog here or elsewhere, or bookmark neat things, it’ll all show up in this RSS feed.
“As crutch attests”
I’ve had people ask me different questions about this adventure. The questions generally fall into a couple of categories.
Aren’t you worried about going? No, not really. Things started to sink in Sunday morning, early, that it was almost time for change. I think I get more angst about the change, the picking up and going someplace, than I do about where I’m going or what I’m going to do there. I do a pretty good job of living in the now, and it’s only that slight anticipation that my now will likely change that gets me thinking about it. But no, it’s not worry. I’ll be fine.
Are you worried about being there? No, not really. I know that some have a view that Iraq is some horrible place, but that’s not a view I share. Yes, there is violence, yes there are crimes occurring. But there’s that in Los Angeles, New York, Moscow, and so on. I’m a believer — I believe in the Iraqis, in the Iraqi government, and in what we’re doing there. So no, I’m not worried about being there. I’ll be fine.
Victory in Europe (VE) Day, 08 May 1945
How’s your family taking it? Well. I don’t like saying that we take separation well, or that we’ve done this enough times that it’s not new. That sucks. But it is true — we have done this enough times, for the war, for other missions, for schools and the like, that we’re pretty good at it. My wife runs the house, with or without me there. The kids have their routines, with or without me there. We have mail, and email, and sometimes video chats. My wife covers down on the gift shopping for us when I’m not there, and I work hard to draw out of our kids info on what’s going on in their lives. I don’t like being apart, much less for a year, any more than I like missing another set of birthdays, another holiday season, another recital or event. But it happens, especially when service to the Nation and to the Republic comes before family.
What’ll you be doing there? I’m a staff guy. There’s no door kicking for me, no jumping out of a helicopter as it gets ready to set down on the objective. I sit and think deep thoughts, ask questions, give a briefing from time to time, and make an all-out effort to avoid making PowerPoint slides (not just while in Iraq, but in life in general). It’s not a bad deal, and it’s stuff that I’m actually well suited to do. But through all that, I remain ready to all of those basic soldier skills we expect of every soldier; if they need an extra gunner, I go.
Band-Aids, circa 1944
What do you do?
And every time I get ready to go somewhere, I seem to end up fielding questions from friends / family: What can I do to help while you’re gone?
So, some thoughts on that, too.
Email. You have my email address, right? A note, something personal from time to time, would be cool. Sure, send me the link to that NY Times article; even better is cutting and pasting it into the email itself (because some web sites get blocked or require that I go to an MWR (Morale, Welfare & Recreation) computer to see) or as an attachment. Best, though, is including it and offering up your thoughts on it, too.
Actual mail. You have stamps, right? As long as there have been literate soldiers, there have been letters from home in their pockets. An actual letter is awesome, probably all the more so in this age of email. Yes, it takes longer to write, yes, your penmanship might be a bit off, but so what. Real letters are awesome. Throw in an article from the hometown newspaper, or something from Time or Rolling Stone or Hot Rod, and you’ll make my day.
If you want to go above and beyond that, well, there’s a ton of other things you can do.
Wounded Warrior Transition Units. Find your local military installation, and get in touch with the Wounded Warrior unit. These are the units where our banged up, battered, and slightly-damaged guys go to mend. Guys and gals whose role in life is to get better, after something has happened to them. Want to help someone locally, to help make the world a better place and to maybe honor our soldiers just a bit? Contact the unit, and see how you can help.
Family Readiness Group. Peek around and find the local unit near you. They might be on a base, they might be a Guard or Reserve unit in your area. This is the group of spouses, kids, and extended family (parents, loved ones, boyfriends / girlfriends, etc) who are working to help each other and themselves while their loved ones are gone. Sometimes there are problems to be solved, sometimes there are bake sales to raise money to send care packages to their loved ones.
Army Emergency Relief. AER is help for soldiers in need. A quick loan in a jam or a grant in a time of need, it’s money to help soldiers during their hour of need. It’s run locally — here‘s the link to the one at Walter Reed Army Medical Center — and it’s tax deductible.
Footlocker, packed in 1946
I suppose it would be easy to wallow in my own misery, over having to go. Or over having to go someplace again, or over having to go for a year. There are a million reasons one could be upset about going, or be upset about a loved one going.
But I won’t. I don’t think I can. Things could be so much worse.
As I was getting ready to go, I was looking for those last little things I would need to take with me, I made a stop off in the footlocker that had belonged to my wife’s grandfather. The photos in this post — I took the photos that day as I was peeking here and there.
Los Angeles Times, 08 December 1941
On December 7th, he got the call. He left the next morning, heading off with the 32nd Cav, his National Guard unit. Apparently, he bought the paper on the way that day. He came home from the war in 1946.
5 years. Sure, he got R&R from time to time, but still — five years. That’s a long time. That’s a lot of letters to write. That’s a lot of great experiences with your kids that you’ll never get back.
Late in his life, when I was a lieutenant stationed in Germany, he came to visit us. I made the time to go show him all of our equipment — M1A2 tank, M2 infantry fighting vehicle, M109A6 self-propelled howitzer, and everything on down to machine guns and pistols. It was fascinating to hear his views of our military today — our equipment, our organizations, our capabilities, our training. He had been, at times, want for things as simple as a heavy machine gun that worked reliably — that’s hard to reconcile today with my worries about things like access to email and Skype. Understanding this history not just of my profession but of my own Army and the sacrifices asked of our soldiers in the past, is helping me balance the pressures of heading back to Iraq.
I don’t know how much, if any, difference I’ll make, but I’ll do my best.
Alright, that’s enough for now. More later — whenever that is.