29 January 2007
What I miss most: My wife, Justice (who has yet to learn he is a dog), Mom, Dad, Sister, family and friends… enough said.
What I miss second most: Sleep. Too bad I can not get that in a care package. I go to my room after midnight, change to take a shower, walk 50 meters to the shower, take a five minute shower (great experience attempting to predict when the water is going to go ice cold or boiling hot), go back to my room, brush my teeth, check my three alarm clocks and sleep for about five hours. Next morning- argue with the alarm clocks (they win most mornings), get dressed, brush my teeth and go to work. Everyday.
What I miss third most: Making and drinking (especially drinking and drinking) beer.
Most needed: Photos from home. Soldiers can never get enough of pictures of family, friends, pets, and just common everyday life. Photos by “snail” mail are great – so are the digital ones.
Most abundant: Dust. A close second is candy. Tons (no exaggeration) of candy in care boxes. Soldiers leave the boxes out for the common good and it is hard to pass by without taking some.
Most painful: Being away from the real world for A YEAR! I used to think training in the field for 30 days was a long time, or six month deployments… a year is just too much. It is missing one of everything (Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years Day, Valentines Day, Birthdays, Anniversary, winter, summer, spring, fall etc…).
Most Depressing: Funerals. But are also a motavation - * See Most miss-undersood
Most interesting: How quickly the days go by, yet how slowly the months craw by.
Most Surprising: The food (it’s good). There is only one place to eat, located 1 kilometer from my office; those cooks hired by Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) from India, Pakistan, Philippines, etc do an outstanding job.
Most Common myth: There are only a few hours of electricity in Iraq. I often fly over Iraq and most often Baghdad, at night; it is easy to see most of the lights are on. It is true that the free electricity is limited, but capitalism has been born from necessity- During “rolling blackouts” neighborhoods will link and sell their power to other neighborhoods (careful not to blow their fuse. The fuse is like our meter – as long as you do not blow it, you are not charged). Some entrepreneurs have bought their own generator sell power that way.
Most seen on Iraqi houses: From above- laundry and many new satellite dishes; they have popped up like dandelions in spring… everywhere. From the ground- trash.
Most beautiful: In a country where piles of trash and standing sewer water are commonly found in the street – there is not much. But with all the dust and pollution, the sunsets and sunrises are awesome.
Most Surprising: I saw snow here once (in the air - not on the ground).
Most overrated: The oil. Most is of bad quality.
Most underrated: The potential of the industry and agriculture in this country.
Most Outrageous: The reporters and political leaders (these VIPs should also be listed as the “Most Hassle”) who fly in for less than four days to get an understanding of the “situation”. They spend all their time in the relatively safe Forward Operating Bases (FOB) getting information from Power Point presentations in a comfortable conference room. The background video footage used is often “B-roll” from the first month of the invasion. Some reporters stay long enough, and are open enough to try and find the real story; but I have not seen a politician who has come for anything more than gaining credibility in Washington DC by “talking to the leaders on the ground” (translation: got the one hour canned VIP brief and heard what I wanted to hear). Granted, they say, and I believe, that in their hearts all want to support the troops… but very few know how to support the mission (that is how you really help the Soldiers).
Most ingenious idea: Get these people over here some fireworks. Some alternative method to firing bullets in the air (that eventually fall back to earth) every time they get emotional. Every Iraqi citizen has the protected right to own a weapon and ammo – (typically an AK-47 assault rifle).
Most “WOW” job: TIE: (1) The engineers given the task to find the bombs on the routes. One of the reconnaissance vehicles used only has room for just one Soldier, and is built to be blown up. I met two Soldiers who had been working for only a couple of months who both had already been blown up twice and were none the worse for wear. Only a couple of Soldiers in the unit had not been blown up at least once. (2) The Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams that get called to deal with the explosives (sometimes found by the above group). Often these bombs are very old, unstable and rigged to kill. Also, understanding that the bomb they are looking at could very well be a decoy for another bomb meant for them. Both of these groups think they have the best job in the world.
Most unnerving: TIE – (1) The sound of incoming artillery; outgoing artillery; car bombs; improvised explosive devices (IEDs); and controlled detonations (EOD blowing up stuff) all sound the same. I remind myself that the one I hear is not the one that got me. (2) Birds – not just any birds, but the ones oblivious to the helicopter I am riding in. It’s the sudden jerk of the aircraft the pilot makes to avoid this bird with a death wish.
Most appreciation: Everyone involved with the process of improving the survivability of the military vehicles with better armor. I have a lot of visibility of this process, and it is amazing how quickly it is being done by some really committed people
Most powerful image: TIE: (1) American Army doctors working to save the life of a premature Iraqi infant whose mom was shot by insurgents. The baby did not make it. (2) Watching the Soldiers go out the gate. Pure courage
Most miss-understood: The call to Professional Duty felt by most of the Soldiers. This is a new type of Soldier – much less interested in killing (but can do this well, if needed), and more satisfied when helping a fellow human. And the duty to the fallen Heroes from this war. Those Soldiers who gave their life to a great idea – the idea to bring freedom to a part of the world that has never seen it. It is overwhelming to me understanding the possibility we can have with success and I’m so proud to be part of this major historical event – I could not watch it from afar. I also have the responsibility so that the deaths of our friends are not in vain – that the end will justify the means (this quote is paraphrased from a wife of a fallen hero from the 410 MP CO read during the funeral).
I have been to the hospital in the “Green Zone” many times, met many Soldiers soon after losing part of their body… or watching their buddy die, and there commitment to duty could not be any stronger. The word “Hero” does not come close to describe these Americans, yet they (to the person) do not see themselves that way… but just as a man jumps onto the subway tracks to save someone who has fallen; these soldiers have placed their life between you and the enemy. It is such an honor for me to serve next to these men and women.
Most Least Known: What is really going on in Iraq. Understanding the complex combinations of peoples (Arabs and Kurds) religious sects (Sunni and Shia). What makes them different and why they hate each other so much?
Both Sunni and Shia Muslims share the most fundamental Islamic beliefs and articles of faith. The division between Shia and Sunni dates back to the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, and the question of who was to take over the leadership of the Muslim nation. Sunni Muslims agree with that the new leader should be elected from among those capable of the job. Shia Muslims believe the leadership should have passed directly to his cousin/son-in-law.
It should be interesting to note here that although these two sects have co-existed for centuries, yet the extent and gravity of sectarian violence has never been felt more than during the present times. The basic reason for this change in the situation is that a number of prominent scholars and knowledgeable personalities of both these sects have changed the roles that they played in the past. In the past, the differences of both the sects were a matter of intellectual debate between the scholars of these sects. The gravity of these differences was also fully known, but the scholars never promoted violence against each other. The situation has tremendously changed during the past few decades. The scholars of these sects now sit on their respective pulpits and use these differences as flames to burn the emotions and feelings of their addressees against the people of the other sects. They promote the killings of the followers of other sects by labeling these followers with various derogatory terms. They call such killings a part of Jihaad and they promise their followers the everlasting bliss of Jannah (paradise) if they take part in such killings. Leaders on both sides using religion to promote their own political gain.
Kurds have faced harsh repression in Turkey and Iraq because of their desire of an independent state. After the Kurds supported Iran in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein retaliated, razing villages and attacking peasants with chemical weapons. The Kurds rebelled again after the Persian Gulf War only to be crushed again by Iraqi troops.
Most ignorant: Those who do not understand history and understand it to keep from repeating it. I do not wish to be over simplistic… but: this part of the world is important to the security of America and the world– not just from the terrorist (who by the way has NOT been able to attack on our soil after 9/11. This is amazing to me given that this enemy would happily give up his life to kill you) but also from a collapse of the world economy. This conflict could very easily go regional – bringing in the world… we are facing the same situation our leaders did prior to WW I and WW II – they were NOT proactive, and so 40 million people died in WW I and then 62 million people died in WW II. And we (and in we, I mean the whole world) have gotten much, much better at mass killing each other since then. This cannot be allowed to happen again, but it could…
70 years ago would anyone have thought we could be friends with Germany, Japan, or Italy. The active mission in West Germany lasted until 1989 (over 40 years after WW II) and took 500,000 of our military (that is more than the total amount of Soldiers in the active Army today). It also took four times as long in Germany, compared to Iraq, to adopt a constitution. And it was worth it.
25 years ago (still today, in some isolated cases) we were still fighting our own civil war and genocide. There are many similar comparisons (albeit to a less extent) to the issues in Iraq and racism we have seen in America. Fought by leaders like Dr King and President Johnson; it was worth it.
15 years ago, no one could have guessed the peace that could be obtained in Yugoslavia… it was considered impossible because of the sectarian civil war (sound familiar?). President Clinton said we would be out in just one year – did you know we still have Soldiers in that country? You have not heard about this because great success does not make for good sensational “breaking” news. “Bosnia is doing well” is not a headline that grabs attention, and in turn, sells ads ($$$). Within the same analogy, Arab news is not evil – it is as simple as making America out to be the evil empire (sound familiar), sells ($$$). Yugoslavia is similar in many ways to Iraq, and was a major reason for the start of WW I. Our continued involvement in this region is worth it.
5 years ago I did not think I would see so many American Soldiers making Iraqi friends and cooperation from the highest to the lowest level of this newborn (from non-existence) freely elected government. I just do not understand those who think progress is not being made. Comparing this endeavor to anything else comparable, we are progressing at lightning speed. I blame microwaves, skipping commercials with TiVo, drive thru everything, etc… we expect instant solutions – it is difficult for many Americans that some things worth while, take time… but are worth it.
Most obvious solution: We are taking away the abilities of those who want to kill our wives, children, friends, etc and do not mind killing themselves in the process – we have taken the fight to them, and this has worked. Try to imagine our world today if for the past five years our enemy had the freedom to develop unabated in this region.
Training and equipping the new Iraqi Security Forces to do this job for us is also working and have slowly given them more and more of the responsibility; soon we will be only providing a supporting role. Backing this up is the progress that is being made developing essential services (water, sewer, trash pick up, etc) to the common Iraqi citizen. We also could use US industries investing in this country – a lot of these people want to work, they are a proud society and being out of work is demoralizing. Also, much of the violence here is akin to inner-city gangs in the US. Unemployed, poor youth with idle time is a bad combination no matter where you live in the world.
This is not a clever, fancy, sensational solution… it is basic and takes patience. Failing is not an option – it just isn’t- period.
And – Most Absurd: Most of the people who complain about our mission here have never even attempted to join the military or civil duty. I think anyone can and should have an opinion (and I'll fight for your right), but I very much dislike those expressing themselves to the masses that have no understanding of what they are talking about. One can not speak of how hard it is on the Soldiers here, unless you have been here yourself... can not speak of how hopeless it is here, without taking residence here - live with the people. Have an opinion, and discuss this with your friends and family. Watching the media, and getting an opionion from that is about the worst way to find the truth... Discover the truth with experience.
I wrote a bit more than I attended, but this has been the first chance I had to organize some of my thoughts on paper. I have also updated the photos at http://www.georgeandsandra.com/ It is a guarantee that I got more out of writing this than you did reading, so thanks for indulging me… if you even made it this far.
I’ll hop off my soap box now and get back to the mission.