News from Baghdad

A small spot to describe to a certain extent what it is like for the soldiers here in Iraq. I must remain anonymous as there may be some who would view this as an "official" posting, however, it is not. Just some personal views on the politics and public views in this war that has been to oftentimes tainted by the sensationalism of the media.

Location: Home, United States

I enjoy my job to the fullest, regardless of the political climate at any particular time. My family and my soldiers are the central focal point of my existence as well as my religious viewpoints.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Final Patrol

My final patrol was for the most part, uneventful, however, and in no wise am I attempting to disgrace my Bradley (Armored Personnel Carrier) brethren, it was a rough patrol. It was the first, and hopefully the last, time that I will ever ride in that particular vehicle. The entire patrol, we had two Bradleys and that was the roughest, noisiest ride I have ever taken. I was numb from the waist down, and I have never been so glad to get out and walk in my entire life. I felt a little upset that the words that we had spoken to these men about patrolling in this tight urban area seemed to go unheeded in that a large vehicle such as a Bradley cannot effectively move through the tight streets as a HMMWV can. They seemed to be insistent upon using these vehicles, however, and I had to realize that I am no longer going to be in charge of that sector and it will be up to them to figure out what works best for them. I only hope that they will figure it out quickly and I sincerely hope that none of them are hurt.

We introduced them to our families and had to say goodbye. This, in itself was a hard task, however, I know that they will always be in my heart. I shall never forget them.

This was the last patrol that I did in Baghdad, and with a certain level of relief and regret, we put all of our tanks onto trucks for the movement south to Kuwait.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Last Week

The day of 20 February will be another historically painful day for me. One of the days that you kind of wished never saw a sunrise. One of the days where you wished you never got out of bed that morning.

Our replacements had arrived and we had been talking to, briefing and training them to take over our piece of Baghdad, for the past couple of days. Their platoon sergeant and mine decided to go out together on our evening patrol, and also our final MSR (Main Supply Route) security, where our task is to search for bombs to ensure that the highways remain as safe as we can make them for supply convoys and other patrolling units who use those routes. My A Team leader and a couple of my soldiers took the tank that evening while my platoon sergeant took the truck. None of us even suspected what was going to happen that evening. A few words of humor to my platoon sergeant before he went out, and then he left for his mission. I went to my room to relax for a little while and rest a bit, and a knock came on my door requesting my presence in the TOC (Tactical Operations Center). Our platoon's patrol had been hit with a bomb and soldiers were hurt. At first, the reports were sketchy at best, but as the confusion, which always accompanies such attacks, subsided, it became clear that my platoon sergeant was injured, seriously enough to go the the Combat Support Hospital, and another soldier in my platoon had received minor injuries. I felt helpless. Those were my men, leader, friend, mentor and confidant out there hurt and I could do nothing to help. I felt feelings of guilt that I should have been out there, maybe even that it should have been me taking the trip to the hospital. The order from the Commander that we needed to take another truck out there to replace the one that had been damaged came, and I immediately rounded up enough people to make a crew and we left. I arrived on the scene just as they were taking him to the hospital. Confusion still reigned somewhat as I had to make the attempt to find everyone who was left, round them up and continue with our mission. We continued on and completed our rounds. We were going back to the camp when my convoy was hit with a bomb as well. No one was hurt and no damage was done, but I felt so angry. Twice in one night. Only instance of this happening to my platoon the entire year. During the last week at that! On a side note, and to add a bit of comic relief, my gunner for my truck told me the following day that he had thought to himself, “Wouldn't it just be fitting if an IED went off on us right now?” and then BOOM! I informed him, jokingly of course, that his thinking privileges were now revoked until our return home.

I took the platoon to see our leader the following day, and he was in good spirits. We talked, laughed and joked for a while and it was good to see him doing well. He was injured in the ankle, enough so that they will have to now put pins and rods in, but, thankfully he will be able to keep his foot, and he will walk again. It was hard for me to see him there, this man seeming indefatigable will, of uncompromising principles and a demeanor that he was untouchable, and unable to be hurt, lying in the bed, foot propped up on a pillow. The man who had successfully, honorably and throughly led us through an entire year, getting ready for a plane ride home. As I left, I knew that I would see him again, but, noticed not by any other, tears came to my eyes as I walked down the corridor, and this I cannot explain. I had said goodbye to fallen comrades who I know I will never see again, however, I do not know why I was pained in this instance. I would see him again, talk to him again, laugh and joke with him, but it was hard to say “So long”. Our interpreter, who had worked with us the entire year, was very broken up, but was glad that he could see him one more time.

The responsibility that now weighed on my shoulders as the acting platoon sergeant was a heavy burden on my heart. I wanted to carry out our platoon sergeant's promise to our soldier's families that he would bring them home. I feared greatly that during his absence I would not be able to fulfill this promise. I wanted to do everything right and bring everyone home. I now had not a squad to worry about but an entire platoon of men who relied heavily on his strong leadership. Was I up to the task? I did not know.

It was only a week, but it was the longest week of my life. It was a constant concern that my soldiers make it through each patrol with no one else getting hurt. We made it through that week, thank God, without any further incident, and we are now all home safely. I was able to see our platoon sergeant the day I returned home, and he had just gotten out of surgery to put the pins in. I was so glad and my heart sang when I saw him in relatively good health, complaining about the doctors, the hospital, and just being his general gruff self. I knew that his ankle but not his spirit was broken. I have seen him again since and every time, it seems like being reunited with an old friend. He has been one of the best leaders I have ever had and I thank God every day for his guidance and leadership. Most of all, I am thankful that he will continue his career in the Army and continue to train soldiers to the highest standards and help make the Army a better organization.

This last week closed with our final preparations for our departure home. We said our good-byes to our friends in our sector, and that in itself was a difficult task. The little girl who wrote the letter to the President in October was very upset with out having to leave and requested that I stay. Well, her father told her that if I stayed, I would be taking a risk of being blown up or shot and her answer was, “Well, not if he stays here in our house!” My men got quite a laugh out of that. Our friends were sad to see us go, but glad that we were able to make it home to our families safe. I sincerely pray for their safety and a free country for them to live in. I shall never forget any of them. They are the reason I had to be there and their friendship will always reside in my heart.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

News Reports Bring Mixed Emotions and Impact Morale Both Positively and Negatively

Freedom of the press is one of the inherent rights afforded to the citizens of this great country that many times is abused as a commercial marketing tool, with many of the reporters only concerned with the amount of money to be made by any particular article. Embedded reporters are a necessity in this “information hungry” age we live in now. I personally feel that reporters embedded with a unit can be a good thing as long as they live by a code of ethics not to place soldiers lives at risk, and to ACCURATELY report what they have seen. On many occasions, our unit was the focus of reports from many agencies, to include PBS (television special--”A Company of Soldiers”), CNN and most recently the Knight Ridder agency sponsored by the Philadelphia Enquirer. The names of reporters and particulars I shall not name specifically, however, suffice it to say that some reports were good and some bad. One report in particular, shed an unwarranted spotlight on my platoon and Company in particular, causing undue stress among our soldiers. Nothing in the report was untrue, however, the context and the wording of this report was what caused a problem. It made our unit out to be nothing more than a group of blood-thirsty thugs who relished in the violence that we so often had to partake in. This, was entirely not the case. We understood the responsibilities not only to our soldiers, but to the civilian populace as well. The responsibility that we had to our soldiers was to bring them home alive to their families. The responsibility we had to the civilians was to assist in the emplacement of security and to provide stabilization for the fledgling government and security forces in that beleaguered country. At no time was unnecessary violence meted out. At no time did any member of my unit meet with force any threat unless it was deemed necessary for the preservation of our own safety. The reporter responsible for the derogatory article attempted to sum up in thirty days nearly an entire year of hardships, successes and personal defeats. This in itself was not a realistic task. The morale of my soldiers was impacted greatly by this, but, as always, their professionalism and resiliency manifested itself by their desire to rely on each other and continue the mission that we started and finish it with honor and the undying courage so often demonstrated by these fine young men. I was able to watch “A Company of Soldiers” the other night and it brought back many painful memories, but was a fitting tribute to the men of this unit. No, this particular program had nothing to do with my platoon and Company, but, for those of you who have kept up with my drivel over the past months will know that many of my friends were focused upon in that program. It was an accurate reflection of the hardships of November, one of the hardest months in this operation. Friends are gone that I shall never see again. Every man in that program is my comrade in arms in one of the best Battalions in the Army. I say this not as being prejudicial against any other unit or branch of the Army, I say this because our Battalion's actions speak for themselves. I am sure that many units in Iraq have suffered harder times than we, however, each unit has its own challenges and my Battalion, Company, platoon and squad met each challenge with valor and commitment. I have never been prouder to serve with any group of men, than the ones I have served beside this past year. The Army has a rich heritage and it will continue by the men of this Battalion into the future as new soldiers come, old soldiers pass on their wisdom and experiences, and we continue the task of striving for peace, and in the event peace fails, to win in close combat.

An article that many of you already know about was posted in the latter days of January regarding my platoon. My men were so proud of the positive press and about what they had done. I was so pleased with what they had accomplished. The months of January and February were like a roller coaster as you shall see in the coming days with future postings. It is good to read things about your unit that a broadminded reporter writes, however, it is a little shattering to read something about your men and your friends from a narrow minded, materialistic viewpoint that attempts to shatter every success your men have striven for the entire year.

I shall post only a few more articles in the coming days, with a summation of the year, but be it known that I sincerely thank each and every one of you for your support. God bless.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Elections Competed—Enemy Chagrined

As you all know, the elections went off without a hitch throughout our entire Company's sector. Not one civilian life was lost during this time of change in a country wracked by violence, hatred and instability. Success was due to several factors: 1—Planning by senior leadership who had the foresight to realize that no one unit could stand alone and took action to place Companies and Platoons in strategic places to deny access to the insurgency. 2—The training and discipline instilled in the majority of the Iraqi security forces by the Coalition advisers leading to the successful deployment of said forces and put an Iraqi face, not American, on the election day. 3—The unwavering tenacity by the American soldier to complete the job, regardless of how tired, hungry, cold or uncomfortable they may have been.

In the days following the elections, the insurgency seemed to take a step back and cease attacks on Americans and Iraqis alike. This however, was not to last. Two days after the elections, attacks stepped up again. Bombs, ambushes, and general mayhem seemed to mar the successes of the days previous. Roadside bombs began to happen nearly every day against American patrols and against Iraqi Army soldiers. Many were wounded in these days, however, the resolve to take the fight to the enemy remained in our hearts. We did not stand idly by and watch these events unfold without taking action in an attempt to stop it. One of the most difficult things for me to find out and eventually see the results of, was a cowardly attack against children in the early weeks of February. One Friday afternoon, some children were playing in their neighborhood when they found a large suitcase laying in the middle of their housing area, not 30 feet from a elementary school and church. As curious children will do, they opened the bag and it exploded, killing one small boy and injuring two others. We went by the site a couple of days after it happened, and the shoes of the one who died, still lay in the place where he fell, as a silent reminder of the small life that was taken by a group of cowards afraid to attack an armed patrol. The reasoning behind this attack is still unknown, as the area in which it happened normally was quiet, with just a few incidents happening in the months prior. The neighborhood is primarily Christian in denomination, with the general populace being mostly aloof as to the American soldiers. Most of them were distantly friendly, and did not make overt conversations with us as they were afraid of being targeted, which we understood, for every Christian church in our sector was attacked at least once throughout the year. We visited the two boys who were injured, about a week after the attack, to see into their welfare. As a soldier, some feelings are numbed by the sights that we saw, however, when our medic took the boy's bandages off of his hand to clean it and re-dress the wound, it tore at my heart to see this 9 year old child, minus one finger and with massive damage to the rest of his hand and a large portion of his arm. The very cowardice of this attack was senseless. As in most situations, however, there nearly always seems to be a silver lining. We had several men approach us and ask us how they could join the FPS (security guards for selected sites), the IPs (Iraqi Police), and the Iraqi Army. Their reasoning behind asking was that they saw this and finally realized that they MUST do something to prevent this from ever happening again. We gladly gave them the information that they requested and I sincerely hope that they follow up on their desire to help their country and their families.

Attacks continued throughout our last month and never seemed to let up. We began to tire of the attacks. On several occasions, I informed the people around the areas of these attacks that the men behind them were cowards. I told them that I cared not if they desired to fight like men and face us head on, as was the feeling of every man in my squad, however, the cowards behind these attacks hit and run. We told the people that we felt that THEY knew when these attacks were going to happen, as it takes time to bury a bomb, or sit up on a roof and shoot RPGs. The people know, but they are afraid to say anything for fear of lethal repercussions. My wish is for the populace to realize that freedom must be earned, for if it is not earned, they will never realize the privileges and the rights that they have and when we leave that country, freedom and democracy will fail for the people will be afraid of the men who wish to see that nation return to oppression.

18 March 2005

Finally, I am home. The past year's mission is complete. All of my soldiers have arrived back to their loved one's alive and well. We arrived back at Fort Hood on the 16th under a semi-cloudy sky, but with light hearts that the worst storm could not have dampened.

I have been remiss in my postings, however, there are several items that I will be posting in the days ahead to follow up on my January 30th posting. Upon completion of these posts, my writings here will be complete and this blog will be no more. I have received many e-mails from readers supporting not only myself but all the soldiers in the Iraq/Afghanistan theaters of operations, regardless of their political affiliations. Yes, there have been the offhand derrogatory remarks, however, those remarks have not swayed me in my resolve to complete this work. I thank everyone for their support throughout this year; family, friends, and even those who know me not.

God bless each and every one of you for the time that you have spent listening to an old soldier's thoughts on life in a combat zone. Ultimately, God bless America and we all pray, soldier and citizen alike, that one day, may we never be called upon to put young men and women in harm's way, however, if that call comes, the world shall know, that the American soldier is one who will complete the mission, regardless of the risk, regardless of the cost. Our military is rich in heritage and tradition, and that tradition continues today, thanks in part to the courage and honor meted out in the harshest of conditions by our sons and daughters. God bless and until next time...

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