In Iraq for 365

About my experiences in Iraq... the frustrations, the missions and this country... and the journey home

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Taking the new guys to a memorial

The replacements followed me to the helipad; their gear wasn’t stained from sweat and dirt like mine. They carried useless equipment that Army instructors say are necessary, like a canteen when you’re issued a Camelback. For the first time in a year, I walked onto the bird with only my weapon, body armor, Kevlar, ammunition and eye protection. Typically, I carry my big Nikon, two lenses and enough battery power to keep the lights on in a small Oklahoma town. I felt naked without my baby, which is neatly packed in a huge shipping crate bound for the states. On just their second day, the newbies were assigned to cover the one mission I dread – a memorial. My job was to ensure they arrived at the forward operating base and that they understood their parameters… you have to be cognizant of people’s feelings as they mourn for a fallen comrade. Sometimes, they don’t want their picture taken, but most times, they look at it as a way to remember their brother or sister.

I also had to square ‘em away. You need to tie that off with 550 cord or you’ll lose your ammo pouch on a patrol. You should probably hook your weapon into a d-ring that way you can have freedom of movement. Got extra batteries, lenses and cards? “No.” Go get them. “Yes, sergeant.”

I want them to know everything that took me three months to figure out, so they can do my job better than I. They were surprisingly excited about the mission and receptive to my orders. For most of the month, they’ve been traveling, stuck in airports and waiting at military camps. These guys just want to do their jobs and then go home.

Like me, I’m sure they will never forget their first mission in a war zone. Mine was shooting for the cover of a major magazine. Their first was somber and filled with tears. I didn’t know the Soldier who died, but he sounded like my kind of guy… he got in trouble a lot and always made up for his mistakes with a good work ethic. He lost his life when an RPG hit his Stryker.

I don’t know what number he was, but I get tired of seeing the number of American casualties exploited in the news. Soldiers aren’t numbers; they’re people with families and friends. They’re white, Asian, black, Puerto Rican. They’re brave, friendly, caring, selfless. And it’s at these memorials that you see how truly pure our army is… speaking at this boy’s were several soldiers of different races and upbringings. But in the army, it doesn’t matter what color you are or if you came from a rich Catholic family or a poor urbanite family surviving off of welfare. Anyway, you could tell this private’s soldiers cared about him; it’s our job to convey this to the world. As I sat in the fold out chair, I felt awkward… I wasn’t the one with the camera. Rather, I was watching the replacements and holding on to the kind words spoken of my fallen brother.

As the soldiers talked about their comrade, my replacements marched up and down the aisle, snapping pictures and taping video…still wearing their body armor. You can take that off, you’re inside a FOB. “That’s alright, sergeant, we’ll keep it on if it’s OK.” Hey, whatever floats your boat, Bud. They did heed my don’t-be-so-intrusive advice, which made me proud. There’s nothing worse than taking a private moment away from somebody… flashes and microphones tend to do that.

As the service wound to a close, I began looking for the folks we flew with. For the past year, I’ve more or less hitchhiked all across the country. We either drive with Strykers or MPs, or fly. This time, we flew with the “boss” and he’s a busy man. Want to talk to a buddy, too bad, got to go. Of course, the new guys don’t know this. That’s why I was there. I circled my index finger in a twirling, 360 motion, signaling the replacements that it’s go time. Then, I hear a loud cling. “Sorry, about that sergeant my weapon hit the ground when I knelt down.” That’s alright; just don’t let it happen again. The camera takes pictures; the weapon saves your life.

When we returned to our camp, one of the replacements came up to me and said, “Hey, sergeant, I really appreciate you showing us around and helping us out.” No problem, specialist, good to have you here.

16 Comments:

At 10:36 AM, Blogger JUST A MOM said...

Best way to let go, is to pass it on. I am sure they will do you proud, you will give them your knowledge and your heart! They, I am sure will greatly thank you for it.
Hang in there!

 
At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you - they are not numbers. It breaks my heart every time I learn about somebody else who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. I cannot imagine how tough is to “brothers” and families. I just hope that you and your fellow soldiers know that we care. This soldier was from the unit that I mailed packages to and although I didn’t know him I felt enormous sadness.
Agnieszka
Denver, CO

 
At 8:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good job! I've been reading you off and on for a few weeks, and I wanted to let you know I appreciate your work. More importantly, it is terrific to read someone who can put the essence of the American NCO down on paper so well, and so thoughtfully. There are few things better in this world than a good U.S. Army NCO.

Thanks for serving our country; thanks for taking care of your troops. Moreover, particular thanks for expending the time to put your thoughts out there in the blogosphere so that your fellow countrymen might better understand the heart and soul of the American GI. You are the most recent manifestation of a fine tradition.

Godspeeed.

 
At 9:46 PM, Blogger strykeraunt said...

Nothing more to add than what has already been said above. I just want to thank you for giving us a glimpse inside of this soldiers memorial. In addition, I want to thank you for helping the world to see that this soldier was not just a number.

 
At 9:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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About the Author: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/4213466.stm
Copyright © - 2005 Entireweb

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