In Iraq for 365

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

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Gold Star

Some of the best soldiers I have served with are not even American citizens. While in Iraq, I was fascinated with non-U.S. citizens who fought for America even though it wasn’t technically their country. I wrote stories on soldiers originally from Hati, Iraq, Australia and New Zealand, all of whom cared more about America than your average citizen. To me they represent what America is about more than anything: People leaving their homeland for a second chance.

Many of these non-U.S. citizens have been killed in combat, protecting our freedoms. One of those soldiers was Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Lagman, a Filipino. He was killed last year in Afghanistan when his unit came under fire during a mission to drive out remnants of Taliban and al-Qaida forces.

His mother, Ligaya Lagman, is not a U.S. citizen either even though she lives in the states. Since her son’s death, she applied for the American God Star Mothers Inc., an organization of mothers who lost children in combat. The organization is currently being bombarded by letters from citizens and of all people, Sen. Clinton is actually calling for the organization to permit Lagman into their organization. But according to the organization’s bylaws, it does not permit non citizens to join. The organization’s president had this to say…

“There’s nothing we can do because that’s what our organization says: You have to be an American citizen,” national President Ann Herd said in May. “We can’t go changing the rules every time the wind blows.”

The group receives national funding, which means it’s subject to public scrutiny more so than a private company. I for one am disgusted. While I certainly feel for the mothers who belong to the Gold Star Mothers organization, they must admit Ms. Lagman. After all, the only thing that separates her from the other members is a piece of paper that says “U.S. Citizen,” a title her son died for.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Some random guy

Whoever this "guy" is on this interview, he sure is handsome. You have to wait for the president to stop talking before this handsome guy starts speaking. Did I mention he is handsome?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

One year ago today

It’s been one year since my first close call in Iraq. For as long as I live, I will never forget this day. Nor will I forget SSG Charles Kiser, the Wisconsin soldier who was killed when we were conducting operations throughout Mosul after suicide bombers hit the police stations on June 24, 2004. Kiser was a soldier’s soldier and a loving father and husband. I know this day will be difficult for his family, as I’m sure every day has been hard since his passing. Please keep them and all military families in your thoughts and prayers. Below is the post from one year ago….

June 24, 2004, is a day I’ll never forget.

7:30 a.m.
I wake up, yawn, take a shower and walk to the palace, for what I thought would be an uneventful day of downloading the past day’s photos and writing a couple of stories. Little did I know, this day would be anything but boring.

9:00 a.m.
I am told that a car bomb exploded outside of a police station in southwestern Mosul. They wanted me on the scene to photograph and document the carnage caused by terrorists who kill children and innocent civilians with every bomb they plant.

10:00 a.m.
I stand over a 5-foot deep crater where the explosion occurred. People wrapped in blood-drenched bandages are walking to and from the area. I counted seven cars with severe damages. I photographed them all, grabbed my gear and headed back to the humvee. The temperature at this point was about 98 degrees and climbing. It would eventually reach 115, but as the day progressed, I didn’t even realize how hot it was.

The police station was now documented and I was on my way to download my photos and send them to the Pentagon and media news services. As we drove over a bridge, I noticed there were no people standing on the sides of the road, which is odd. People are always on the road, watching the cars pass by in Iraq. Then, I hear gunfire. We stopped the vehicles and see Strykers ahead of us engaging a large enemy force. We set up our defensive firing positions, and I of course have my camera along with my M-16 ready. Bullets were flying every where. Tracers could be seen bouncing off the Strykers’ thick armor. And loud explosions echoed off every building in sight.The fire fight lasted 40 minutes, without a single American casualty. The bad guys, however, suffered quite a few.

The Strykers move closer to the objective and out of our sight. Fighting is still going on, but very little. We didn’t feel the need to stick around any longer, so we were preparing to redeploy back to the palace. Then, I hear a ping, ping, ping. They were 7.62 rounds from AK 47s bouncing off the pavement. We quickly returned fire and then I see a rocket propelled grenade flying in between our humvees. It was a dud and did not explode. It felt as if time had frozen when I saw this baseball bat looking thing with a tail of fire. My heart pounded like a race car engine and I felt relieved that we were leaving the scene. The dud landed about 10 feet from me. After the immediate enemy was no longer a threat, we all felt like we cheated death. Little did we know death was still following us.

We were heading toward our Mosul home just after minutes of intense combat when I heard a familiar ping. We’re being attacked by a different set of terrorists. Nobody was hurt and we eventually returned home to the palace, where everybody wanted to see my pictures.

The rest of the day
People of all ranks asked to see my photography. I was the most popular soldier among the men in uniform for a few hours. See, the insurgents were firing at us from a Mosque and my photography would prove this and the insurgents couldn't say we unlawfully fired at a holy site.

When all the excitement settled, the press wanted interviews. So, we set up live interviews with soldiers involved in the fire fights and with the Mosul Governor. My part in this? I guarded a cord to make sure nobody unplugged it during the live interview feed. You might wonder how somebody can go from documenting combat to dodging bullets to guarding a cord. Well, I’m a soldier. And I’ll do anything my country asks of me.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Should we be in Iraq?

Should we be in Iraq? Let’s analyze this.

Ask this 40-year-old terrorist captured in England if it was easier getting into Iraq or America to detonate his car bombs and suicide belts. Or we could ask any one of the thousand terrorists living in France or other parts of Europe if they’d rather attempt to enter Iraq through Syria to kill an American or would they like to make it past our airport security, which trust me won’t even let you bring a jagged penny on board.

Better yet, just look at the statistics that state most suicide bombers are Saudi and in fact that less than 20 percent are Iraqi. Let’s ask Zarqawi about these claims.

"The infidels once again are claiming that foreign fighters are responsible for initiating the attacks and an increase [in foreign fighters] is the true danger," the Zarqawi said in a May 10 Internet posting. He added, "who is the foreigner . . .? You (Americans) are the ones who came to the land of the Muslims from your distant corrupt land."

Now back to the question: Should we be in Iraq? The answer is yes.

Forget the reason of why we went. Just think about this: the war in Iraq is keeping us from another September 11. If we don’t fight these Saudis, Syrians, Euro Arabs in Iraq, then where will we fight them? On our own soil, and I’m sorry, but I could not stand to see one of our schools hit with a suicide car bomb. I have lived through the Oklahoma City bombing, September 11 and saw more dead bodies in Iraq than ever even dreamed of. Many of the bodies I saw were precious, little children who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s sad enough that these vicious terrorists will kill fellow Muslims. We cannot let them kill anymore of our civilians.

And if you don’t think the terrorists working in Iraq aren’t thinking about hitting a church, hospital or school, then think back to October when we found computer disks containing blueprints to U.S. Schools. It’s proof that Iraqi insurgents are looking into their next big hit on America. So, would you rather read about a car bomb in Iraq or on a U.S. school?

To add to this argument, I will use Zarqawi’s own words, “You are the ones who came to the land of the Muslims from your distant corrupt land.” Well if this is the case, then why haven’t they declared war on Qatar or UAE, two Muslim countries that import non-Muslim workers for manual labor and have very large Caucasian populations? The fact is, the insurgents hate Americans and will kill us anywhere. And you know what? We are also freeing a group of people who were absolutely miserable under Saddam.

As for, “when do we leave?” Well, we’ve had at least 30,000 soldiers in Korea since the Korean War and even more in Germany. We’ve also had soldiers in Saudi (not anymore) and Kuwait since Desert Storm. We must stick around and finish the job because the fight will come to our soil if we don’t take the fight to the enemy.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Seattle and Oregon

This past week I was in the Pacific Northwest on business. In Seattle, I was at a convention for horse publications, where I sat on a panel to discuss media kits. I know this sounds about as boring as watching a one-eyed pigeon fly in circles, but schmoozing editors and clients was actually quite fun.

However, I couldn’t get over how anti war and anti Bush the city of Seattle was and how opposed to the war the many of the convention attendees were. In fact, at the banquet, the topic of conversation for my table was Iraq. And only one person at the table knew I had been there. They were talking about how it was such a waste and how we shouldn’t be there. Their material was the typical uninformed jargon. Because I was representing my client, I kept my mouth shut, which took a lot of control. After their anti-war conversation died down, they began talking about the weather (imagine that) and how hot it was outside. Without even thinking, I added to their conversation. “Yeah, this time last year, I was cooking like a baked potato wrapped in tin foil.” After I said this, I knew I messed up. It’s not that I wanted to hide the fact that I had served in Iraq; I just didn’t want that awkward moment. Nor did I want to grill them for being so ignorant about their information. When somebody asked… “Oh really and where were you last year that was so hot.”…. I knew I was in trouble. When I talk to total strangers about Iraq, I try to be as generic as possible, especially in professional settings. After I said Iraq, I think everybody felt bad for their previous conversation and then they asked “so what’s it really like.” So I told them. During my discussion, everybody’s eyes were on me. They didn’t play with their salads or sip on wine or fold their maroon napkins. They just listened and after my five-minute spill, nobody said a word. I hope I impacted their views.

After the Seattle convention, I traveled south to Oregon to work with another client. In my opinion, Oregon is the most beautiful state with its uncanny vistas and colorful wildflowers. My job here was to photograph Oregon’s roadsides and forestry tracts.

On one shoot, I was hobbling in and out of traffic as cars passed by. “Boy, you’re going to get yourself killed being that close to traffic. Be a little more careful.” He was right, my feet were right there on the yellow line, but it was a familiar feeling. It was a rush to be so close to death again.

After completing my photo shoots, I drove through Oregon. When the gas light flicked on, I pulled into a gas station. As I pulled to the pump, a kid ran to my car and started opening the gas lid.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“I am pumping your gas.”

“No you’re not. I can pump my own gas.”

Honestly, I thought the kid might be trying to rob me, so he’s lucky I didn’t tackle him to the ground. Needless to say, I left this gas station and went to another. And just like the previous one, another kid ran to my car and started opening my gas lid.

“Get away from my car.”

“But I’m going to pump your gas. Oh, you’re not from around here are you?”

“No I’m not. Now get away from my car before I hurt you.”

My only thoughts were “what the hell is wrong kids these days. Trying to pump people’s gas? That’s a weird way to rob somebody.”

Come to find out, it’s a state law in Oregon that you cannot pump your own gas. I feel like the good people of Oregon are missing out on a very valuable privilege. I mean, they will never know the satisfaction of squeezing off a little more gas to get to an even amount of $30 nor will they ever accidentally drip a little gas on their shoe and laugh about it later. By God, I am a combat veteran and it’s my right to pump my own gas. Of the many freedoms I fought for, pumping gas ranks up there with being able to freely clip your fingernails. Let’s hope Oregonians don’t have that privilege taken away too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Army blog memo

Not quite sure how I feel about this or if I can even give an opinion. Long story short, it’s a memo that states official and unofficial unit web sites must be registered with Multinational Forces Corps Iraq (MNCI). This means that if a company or platoon level leader wanted to keep families informed by maintaining a web site, he or she must go through an official registration process and inform their higher. However, it says that personal web logs do not need to register with MNCI, but pretty much gives this impression… “if you write it, we will read it.” Note: This memo only applies to deployed soldiers, not CONUS. In my opinion, it's just a matter of time before blogs are taken away from soldiers (in my opinion).

Saturday, June 11, 2005


People have really been encouraging me to write a book since I started this blog. And I have been working on one since February. It's a fiction, partly based on my experiences in the military. I'm trying to make it comical while serious. And I will use the pen name Bob Sminklemeyer. I've been in talks with an agent, but I'm not really trying to make a buck or get famous. In fact, I turned down a screenplay opportunity just because I didn't like getting hassled by this producer. I'm not saying I would become famous if it gets published, but I really like my privacy and I don't want to end up in the tabloids for getting my morning paper in nothing but my boxers. To be honest, it's always been my dream to walk into a coffee shop and see somebody reading my work.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Question everything

I firmly believe that as U.S. citizens, we have the right to question anything our government does. So while it's hard for me to listen to people question our actions in Iraq, I know that it's their privilege to criticize Bush. In addition, I have a hard time understanding how people can support soldiers, but not the war. A commenter from this site had a very good take on this...

"Being anti-war and pro-soldier is like thinking about war on a tactical level versus a strategic level. On the level of individual soldiers and units it is impossible for me not to respect people that have sacrificed so much. Anyone who has a problem with troops on this level is stupid. But it is very wrong to expect people to support things on a strategic level. So if I were to say something like “but I respect the military for the job they’re doing” what I'm actually saying is that I support the battle but I am against the strategic decisions and policy that have led to it. The troops have no more to do with the strategic and policy decisions than I do. Pro-war right-wingers love to link support for the troops with support for the war because it kills debate. It is possible to be critical of strategy but love the troops."

This statement from Jake makes complete sense. Hell, I've questioned every government move in my life... Why are we going through with NAFTA? (It will kill American foresters)... But just because I question the government doesn't mean I hate a secretary at the FDA. I appreciate the way he or she can staple 55 papers per minute (PPM).

I guess you could say people from this site have opened my eyes to different viewpoints and ideas. I used to think that people who questioned the actions in Iraq were anti soldiers. And then I started writing this blog, where I heard from hundreds of anti war / pro soldier types. If there was any question that such persons exist, read this great post "The Debate for Iraq" from MJ. It really makes you think and say... it's OK to question our officials. After all, that's why we're Americans.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Top 10 Nice Thing List

After being home for four months now, I think I am in a good position to analyze this country’s feelings toward soldiers. It seems as if everybody in the states has a “Support the Troops” bumper sticker and anybody will say they have a lot of respect for servicemen. This is fine and dandy, but I have this saying… “put your money where your sticker is.” I’m not saying you have to donate money to support soldiers, but there are a lot of people out there who give fake support. Let’s take these corporations that are saying a “percent” of their profit goes to support soldiers for example, or corp. that uses soldiers in advertisements. In reality, these marketing managers could care less about soldiers and their families. What they see is an opportunity. If supporting troops were not popular amongst Americans, do you think Boston Store would promote sending phone cards to soldiers? In the Vietnam Era when, sadly, supporting troops wasn’t cool, do you think companies would stage a pro-soldier commercial? No. In other words, it’s all about making a little money and there are a slew of corporations right now who are fattening their pocket books by using soldiers as marketing symbols.

With that being said, there are tons and tons of good U.S. citizens who “put their money where their sticker is” and there are tons and tons of U.S. companies who support soldiers not thru words and million-dollar ad campaigns, but deeds. Just based off of my experiences, here’s a top 10 list of nice things that businesses and people have done for me since I’ve been home.

10. A reader from this site sent me an email that put me in tears. A girl from Pennsylvania really touched me on a day that I needed the support. I’ve received thousands of emails, but this one was different. It was five pages long and filled with very touching words.

9. Olive Garden would not let me or another soldier pay for our dinner. The manager said: “It’s our store policy that we pick up the ticket on any meal eaten by a soldier.” I wasn’t even in uniform. So how did he know? The hair I guess.

8. Every Sunday, the Milwaukee Brewers give free tickets to service members and retired soldiers. I love baseball and you better believe that I take advantage of this benefit. Every time I get my ticket, the person in the ticket window looks me in the eye and very sincerely says, “Thank you for your service.”

7. The YMCA gives a free gym membership to any returning soldier. All you have to do is show them your orders and you’re in the gym for free. This is a $1,000 yearly value.

6. My first week back, I tried to check in at a Holiday Inn and they wouldn’t let me pay. I asked if I could get a military discount and the really nice lady said, “you sure can, honey, now put your wallet away.”

5. I was having dinner with a friend in Minnesota when she unexpectedly told the waitress I just returned from Iraq. They sang a song for me, which was actually kind of embarrassing. Then, an old man walked up to me, grabbed the ticket and said Thank you. He was a WWII vet.

4. A friend threw me a surprise party, inviting friends I hadn’t seen in a very long time. It was a great time.

3. A Nissan Dealership waved $400 worth of repairs on my vehicle and purchased me a car rental, just because I was a veteran.

2. I bought a $1,000 dollar Italian suit for $350, just because I was wearing an Army sweatshirt and my haircut. I didn’t ask for any type of discount; I think the store owner was a Vietnam vet. I told the cashier that there must be a mistake. “Nope. You get a special discount, soldier.”

1. The countless sincere thank you’s I’ve received from people I don’t even know. Those two words when genuinely spoken can mean the world to a vet.

On crutches

Right now, my foot is in a cast. And I use crutches everywhere I go. At my company softball game last week, I slid into third and cracked my left ankle. Yes, I was safe, but then I was out. I am now on the DL after what was a great start to the season. I was batting .876 with 7 RBIs. No homers yet, but I would have eventually ripped one. So now the most common question is no longer “so what’s it like being back?” Rather, it’s “what did you do to your leg?” After they hear the story, they tell me…

“You survive a year in Iraq and you injure yourself playing company softball.”

Surprisingly, I’m enjoying my time on crutches. I get rock star parking, people open the doors for me and old ladies offer to push my shopping cart. When I go to the VA, everybody looks at me like I’m some kind of hero. To be honest, this country – at least in Milwaukee – treats people on crutches like kings. I wonder if being on crutches will get me out of a speeding ticket. Imagine the possible excuses… “sir, I swear I couldn’t feel my foot and the pain pills were making me drowsy.” Yeah, that’s probably not a good idea.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Vietnam vets

This is a wonderful story I highly recommend. Thanks, PA, for the tip. Your pops seems like a real hero!