Thursday, September 10, 2009


So what? So here I am at the end of another year long deployment. So what; what does it mean, what is there to learn or take away?

I have no deep thoughts or introspection on what it all means. I can articulate what I know.

I know that we will not leave Iraq having to shoot our way out. Who would have imagined this two years ago? Certainly not three years ago. While the Iraqis might not have any parades in our honor as we leave most will realize that their lives are indeed better than they were under Saddam. They know this. We know it too. Anyone who says otherwise needs to shut up and go there and see for themselves.

Three years ago we all thought that Iraq was "lost" and that we'd have to fight our way to the southern border in order to leave. Death tolls were at their highest. But that isn't Iraq in 2009. Nor will it be Iraq in 2010. Our military will be able to walk out Iraq with a sense of gratitude from the Iraqis; both for what we have done for them and for leaving.The way ahead is going to be harder for them than under Saddam Hussein because the days of an "entitlement society" are quickly fading.

I know that the future of Iraq is far from clear. Iraq is far more vital to the region than most Westerners realize. Iraq is strategically, economically, culturally and religiously important to the Middle East and the world. There are many who have an interest in seeing Iraq go their way. Iraq will continue to be the center of a tug-of-war for all of the above reasons for generations to come.

I know that the hardest part of the deployment is on the family. Reconnecting, even in the strongest of relationships takes time and patience. We, as Soldiers, return home into a pattern established by the ones we leave behind. For a while we are intruders into the status quo. Establishing new patterns takes time.

I know that I am neither a great or terrible leader. Many times I tried to make the decisions for the team that were in the best interests of everyone. Other times I found myself having to yell at people for no other reason than they pressed my buttons in the right order. I also learned that leadership can be lonely. With very few peers around the FOB I had to choose relationships carefully. Although I would do anything for my Soldiers and defend them against abuse by "Big Army" I never got close enough to them to call any of them friends. I know that a majority of that was my doing.

Finally, we did our jobs. There are less heroes, but no one wants that distinction anyway. I cannot tell you that we worked hard because that simply wouldn't be true. None of my guys should feel that their time was wasted - although many could. There is a lot of down time in this "phase" of the war. The Iraqis are taking care of their own security and are reacting to critical incidents in their own way. As the army and police do the jobs that they have been training to do there is less of a role for us. In the next twelve months there will be a rapid off ramping of personnel and equipment from the country.

Iraq will cause confusion and consternation as they stubble into their future. Iraq - a deployment - leave an indelible mark on you. There are moments that are difficult to explain except to someone else who was there. I suppose, in closing, that this blog at least shared some of those moments.

That's all there is; no grandiose epiphany because I don't think one exisits . That's it. Thanks.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Welcome Home

(The following are my comments from the welcome home ceremony yesterday.)

Three weeks ago my wife was called for jury duty for this week. When she explained that I was coming home from a year in Iraq and needed to come and pick me up the woman said, “I don’t mean to sound cold hearted, but can’t someone else get him?”

Sixty five years ago we were a nation at war. The war was a part of the national consciousness and everyone made sacrifices. Hundreds of thousands of families hung blue stars in their windows. Industry altered its production to support the effort and no aspect of daily life went untouched from gas rationing to war bond drives.

Forty years ago the nation was again in a war that again elevated to the national consciousness, although at times the battle seemed to be among ourselves as some openly challenged the system and the government because the sacrifice of the draft in an unpopular war was a bitter pill to swallow.

Today, we are not a nation at war. There is no sacrifice made across the whole of society and the events in Iraq and Afghanistan barely register the national consciousness. Right now the greatest sacrifice the nation has to pay in the global war on terror is having to take off their shoes in the airport.

While we are not a nation at war, we are an army at war. The greatest strength of this army is that we have volunteered for our service, dedicated to the preservation of freedom at home and even the establishment of freedom in a place called Iraq. Without the nation behind us and with only volunteers, we go off to war. And indeed sacrifices have to be made. Most of these sacrifices are borne by our families and friends during our deployment.

Soldiers can endure most anything; heat, dust, bugs, and long days with little sleep. When they do sleep it’s on hard cots, or in seats on 15 hour bus rides. Most times a Soldier will gripe, for that is our nature, but they’ll also be thankful, knowing it could always be worse. It’s easy for a Soldier to make sacrifices and endure.

What Soldiers don’t realize and never expect are the sacrifices our families and friends make every day that we are away because, for us, there is no void in the deployment in Iraq where our loved ones used to be.

For our spouses and significant others; you went to bed every night feeling that divot where we used to lay. You acted as both sets of parents having to be both the disciplinarian and the sympathetic shoulder to cry on. You managed the household; the bills, the lawn, the dishes, the snow.

For our parents; rhere was no end to your worry when the phone rang unexpectedly late at night. You hung your blue star with pride and prayed that you’d never join that exclusive club who turned their stars from blue to gold.

For our children; you played your games with one less fan to cheer you on. You played in the band with one less set of hands for applause. You turned a year older without us there and hoping for a fifteen minute phone call and a good connection.

For our friends; you went out with the gang on Friday nights minus one; the one who could be counted on for a laugh or a ride home. You missed that one person who you could vent to about your latest soon-to-be ex.

Many of you had joyous moments that you spent alone, a child’s first smile, a great promotion at work, or a great report card. You also anguished without us being there during moments of tremendous sadness; intolerable loneliness, the passing of friends, the loss of a child.

You carried all of these burdens; many times with exquisite grace. You not only kept your selves afloat but also managed to keep our spirits up – 8,000 miles away – as well. There is no depth of our gratitude and we cannot begin to appreciate what you have accomplished in our absence. Without a doubt, of the two groups, you mission was harder.

When the nation’s attention finally does turn to the Soldiers standing in front of you they refer to us as “heroes” – a title befitting to each and every one of us. However, we stand before you today to say thank you. We are indebted to you. We could not have done our job without you. We applaud you.

(We're home. It's done. All of my Soldiers are on their way to their families. One more post to go.)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bring On Da Funk and Other Musings On the Trip Home

We are back in the United States! First and foremost that is the big news.

The Odyssey

Our trip began in Iraq on Wednesday with a ninety minute convoy to the airport. We flew to Kuwait the next day. On Saturday we cleared our bags through US Customs, courtesy of the US Navy. Once a unit clears Customs it must wait in a "sterile" area without access to external comforts to include food and the PX until we depart. Our first plane broke down while we were waiting to get on it so we waited another day for another plane. That night was a long miserable night of sitting on a bus within eyesight of the plane only to drive the hour plus trip back to the base camp. We spent the day sitting on floors or chairs while the Kuwaitis turned the AC off and on in order to service the system.

On Sunday we finally got out to the second plane only to find out our flight was moved to the right (delayed) two more hours. Somewhere close to midnight on Sunday we boarded the DC-10 with just barely enough room to spread out with a space between people. The engines fired up - and stopped. Another delay. The engines started again and stayed lit. As soon as we were airborne I fell asleep for the first time in 20 hours.

We landed in Shannon, Ireland in the wee hours of Monday morning. Our hour layover was doubled as the mechanics tried to fix whatever was ailing this plane. However, the luck of the Irish was with us and we got airborne once again to the rising sun. Looking out the window at the green rolling hills of Ireland made me happy. We flew in the growing morning sun all day long and arrived in Atlanta, GA late Monday morning. It was then that we discovered that someone (not us) forgot to tell the military assistance people that we were coming. No follow on transportation was set up for us. Furthermore, there was only one person to process airline tickets for almost 100 people.

We came up with the best option for us; charter a bus from Atlanta to New Jersey. Yes, this was the best option. The bus was loaded and we were on the road by 1600. At 0645 we arrived in Ft Dix. We began work to DEMOB (demobilize/demobilization) at 0700.

Tonight will be the first time we've slept in beds, as opposed to floors, chairs, bus or plane seats, since Friday night.

Bring on Da Funk

The last time anyone got to shower in our odyssey was either late Friday night or oh-dark thirty on Saturday morning. The customs lock down area only had a set of sinks to wash up in. The the 120* heat began to take its toll. You couldn't help sweating just sitting still. By Sunday evening I knew that needed a new uniform but shrugged the idea off because I was sweaty, nasty dirty and putting clean clothes on a stinky body made no sense. That was Sunday. After the plane and bus rides, by Tuesday we were rancid. We tried to wash up in Atlanta. Imagine being a random traveler walking into the men's room to find a dozen soldiers all trying to wash their bodies in motion detector sinks.

You know it's bad when you can smell yourself and it's nauseating. You can feel the dirt in your clothes after they've been worn for as long as we wore ours. Times that by fifty other bodies.

We were given a half hour after we turned in body armor and weapons this morning and took a hot shower with lots of soap.

The Green, Green Grass of Home

What a world of difference being home from Iraq. Life is vibrant here. The green trees and grass; the blue skies with white puffed clouds; the cool air on your face - it adds up to a sensory overload, but one everyone notices. More that one rugged troop stood outside clearly soaking it in.

You would have to be there, in Iraq, or Kuwait, or Afghanistan - or any other arid, dusty, incredibly hot place for a long period of time to appreciate this feeling. Or maybe it's a phenomenon.

Welcome Home, Remember

We were met by our commander, my boss, with a big hug and hot coffee. People we haven't seen in a year were there to meet us. There was a moment of hugs and high fives as this particular Army family reunited.

Later in the morning we had another, semi-official welcome home where the installation commander gave us our unit's yellow banner that has flown with dozens of other yellow banners over the last year. I can just barely remember the ceremony we had hanging the banner in October 2008. The return of the yellow banner to us was symbolic of saying, "your job's complete, welcome home."

I found my cell phone and borrowed a charger. I haven't used my cell phone in a year and realized that I forgot what all the buttons do. Numbers. Send. That's enough for now.

I am trying to remember the other important things of being home. Things like; don't walk in the middle of street because traffic doesn't go 5 mph like on the FOB. Cold milk is awesome. Bugle calls on an active post means that you have to stop and render the proper military customs. Dunkin' Donuts coffee is a miracle. Calling my wife to say good night is so much easier without a seven hour time difference.

Jetlag is calling. My eyes are getting heavy. Good night from the East Coast.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Long Days

We left Iraq yesterday at 2016hrs local time. We are heading home.

These are the long days. The long days of waiting for our turn to fly to the United States. These are the days that test our patience and challenge us to fill our hours with whatever we can.

We left our base just after sunrise on Wednesday. I took a last look around the compound and made sure that I was the last one to get on the trucks that would take us to the airport. Most of the base hadn't woken yet and slipped out with no fanfare or notice whatsoever.

Looking at Iraq for the last time in a long time - maybe, probably, forever - I had no desire to absorb any more in and fell asleep in the seat. I was awoken to a machine gunner in the turret with an anger management issue because he was yelling at all of the traffic. Really? On the last day? I guess there are still some who didn't get the message that Iraqis are now in charge and can drive along side of us. Sigh.

We unloaded at BIAP and stacked all of the gear in one place upon learning that our flight wasn't for another thirty-six hours. I hate waiting but this was one reservation that I could not rush or "push to the left."

There isn't much to do when you have limited ability to do anything. I worked out. One hour there. I logged on in the internet cafe, another hour there. I took a nap for forty minutes and ate. And there was still a whole day to go!

Of course, we did leave. A cheer went up throughout the plane as the wheels left the runway. And we did arrive in Kuwait. We arrived for more waiting (where I am waiting now). I finally go the opportunity to call Lisa and let her know that I was okay. So far I have repeated everything I did in BIAP with the exception of finding a washer and dryer for my dirty clothes. And there is stil a whole day to go!

I discovered that some of my Soldiers could apply for a position of mattress tester or professional sleeper because given the opportunity they can rack out for hours. I am not so lucky and stare at the bottom of the bunk above me. I remind myself that these long days are just the required steps to get home and that the trick is to set the example.

Of course, all is well. I have been reunited with my brother in arms and there is a family reunion atmosphere in the air as people are connecting in person for the first time since October.

We still need to go through Customs and of course there is the twelve hour flight to the United States, but the fact is that we are on our way.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Last Thoughts

The pictures are packed and mailed home. The room is empty of the television and DVD player; both sold to my replacement. My bags are packed. Tonight we held the official transfer of authority to our replacements. It’s time to go home.

I go home as I did in 2005; with hope that all of this isn’t for nothing. All of this: a year away from my family, a year away from our lives, the loss of over 4,300 servicemen and women, the death and destruction of Iraqi lives. All of that shouldn’t be for nothing.

I am both enamored and annoyed with Iraq. The people of this country want to succeed and for that I am excited for them. They want to have stability and security and the prosperity that comes from having the second largest oil reserves under the ground. They want peace within their borders and respect from their neighbors.

However, greed and anxiety that those in power won’t “get theirs” leaves a nation in the lurch as the powerful grab what they can with no eye on the future except their own. It is the shame of Iraq. Laws go unwritten. Corruption is still a daily part of doing business. Budgets are still not dispersed. All of this to the detriment of the people.

It’s frustrating that they can’t get out of their own way.

Iraq is certainly a lot farther along than it was four years ago which gives me a reason to believe in Iraq. Iraq is not dead, nor will it ever die, but its old Soviet style governmental structure needs to.

No one can predict the future. Last November a man ran an agenda of “hope and change”. I have hope for Iraq that is can change into something new and different from the last forty years. In forty years I’d like my children to come to Iraq and be welcomed as guests. I would like to think that they’d be welcomed when it was learned that their father was here and that his contribution meant something. Maybe they’ll visit the Babylon Ruins and stand where dad (or granddad) did and stand in front of the lion statue.

“This is the same place my dad stood back in 2009!”

“Aww, mom, can I get a soda now?”

I hope it's something like that.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What Becomes of the Tokens to the Dead?

The war in Iraq is slowly coming to an end. In a year it’s projected that the last combat troops will leave Iraq and that a year after that, so too will go the advisory units to the GoI (Government of Iraq) and the Iraqi Army. In their wake we will leave behind the memories of 4331+ Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen who made the ultimate sacrifice. We will also leave behind thousands of plaques, portraits, and memorials in their honor.

What happens to those items?

What becomes of the sun bleached photos of Civil Affairs Soldiers who died four years ago conducting operations out of FOB Kalsu? There photos are arrayed on the wall outside our day room. Their stories are now lost to anyone on the FOB; 2005 was a long time ago and I can only guess in what context these men died. Since we are the last CA unit to occupy this compound who is the caretaker to these items? What happens to the photo memorial of one of the youngest West Point graduates (and a high profile death) when the base medical clinic closes its doors? How do you decide to throw it away? Isn’t there something sacred and reserved about each and every memorial?

I thought to take down what I could – all the portraits in our compound – and find the families of these Soldiers and send it to them. Is that right? Does a family want to receive another (painful) reminder to a terrible event that they have spent years trying to recover from? Then if not the family, does the military have an obligation to maintain or store these items?

Leaving it for the Iraqis is out of the question; I do not expect them to respect our dead in any manner. In fact I expect the opposite.

I think about the Vietnam Memorial and all of the items left there. They are cataloged, stored, and kept as if they were as hallowed as the names on the wall. I imagine we could to the same here; take it all down, give a ten digit military grid location where it was taken from, protect it, pack it and ship it home. Then what? Maybe one day we could display it on The Mall in D.C. in “our” own unique memorial.

We remember the uniformed men and women we never met and only see staring back at us in a still photo. Whatever the outcome, we remember the dead.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Unplugged; as in unplugged from the Matrix. I completed my last unofficial duty the other day by holding a conference on the regional governance and economic issues that confront the military and Department of State reconstruction teams. It was a great vehicle to bring the new guys into the current state of the issues in Iraq and hand off the reins to them for their tour. At the end I thanked my team and everyone for coming to the sound of applause.

And then there was nothing.

My relevance diminished along with my purpose and place on the team as someone else became the “belly button” to press for questions regarding civil military operations. Actually, my relevance is acting as the resource for my replacement to go to for questions. Everything else is fluff.

There are a few more formalities; sign over equipment, conduct a short transfer of authority ceremony, one or two final meetings (as an observer) but, for the most part, I am done. The big machine of the war/reconstruction/withdrawal of Iraq is continuing without me.

It’s an odd feeling made odder still by the fact that I still have over a week to go here. If I’m not needed then why stay around? Of course I know the answer is that I need to remain available for my replacement and, oh-by-the-way, our flight is a fixed date that can’t be moved.

Staying unplugged won’t last forever; soon we’ll all be back on US soil and I will plug back in to the Matrix to get all of my folks through demobilization and home to people who love them.

Until then, I’m okay.