In Iraq for 365

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

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Getting out

It’s been one of the more difficult decisions of my life. For nine years, I’ve served the Army National Guard with every thing I have. I’ve been to the majority of the Army bases across the country for training, conducted actual operations in Nicaragua, Kuwait and of course, Iraq. But the time has come for me to get out. My ETS date is in October, and now, the retention types and fellow soldiers are telling me that me getting out is a great loss to the Army.

To be honest, when I hear these words, it hurts. At times, it feels like I am betraying my soldiers and country for opting to no longer be a soldier. My decision is not based off of money, passion or disgust for the military. Rather, I just feel it’s time to have free weekends, a full summer and no deployment looming.

Part of me wants to continue climbing the rank ladder, train soldiers and retire. But that desire only comes from serving others, not myself. When I look at the reasons I would stay, none of them are about me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a selfish guy. My life is storied with helping others to the point that I often ignore my needs to benefit my fellow man. For once in my life, I am truly making a decision that is just about me.

I don’t need the money, albeit the offered $15,000 bonus is tempting. Professionally, I believe I’ve gained everything the Army can offer… I’ve led soldiers in combat, strategized and implemented good plans. And I certainly have taken away the most valuable skill the Army gives young people – honor.

However, it’s time for me to build my life as a civilian, to finish this book and maybe one day, raise a family. One thing is for sure… whatever becomes of my life, I will always look back on my nine years of service and one year in Iraq as my greatest accomplishment.

So, I thank the Army for all the good years and the chance to serve my country. The Lord knows that I wouldn’t be the same had I never joined.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Jane Fonda

VFW is proactively speaking out against Fonda's latest anti-war tour...

Jane Fonda is back on the anti-war trail. Citing support from veterans in her book-signing audiences, Fonda is planning a nation-wide bus tour beginning next spring to protest the war in Iraq. According to Fonda, "numerous" military veterans had provided the needed encouragement for her to end her silence about the war in Iraq.
VFW Commander in Chief John Furgess, who appeared on ABC's Good Morning America shortly after Fonda's July 25 announcement, said her proposed protests would only hurt those closest to the war: America's military men and women in uniform.
"Jane Fonda's anti-war stance back in the 70's helped the North Vietnamese prolong the war," Furgess, a Vietnam veteran, said. "Let her tell the loved ones of a 18-year-old soldier killed by a roadside bomb that his/her death wasn't worth the cause."

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Doing more to stop terrorists

In London, police killed a suspected suicide bomber. They shot the man in the back after seeing wires from a backpack. When I first learned of this incident, I was proud of the English for being brash enough to shoot a terrorist on the open street. Then, after it was reported the man was innocent, it made me think.

Turns out, the man did indeed have wires dangling from his backpack, but he was an electrician. Although he didn’t physically meet the search criteria from the broadcast APB, the man looked suspicious. So the police asked him to stop and the suspected man with wires dangling from his bag took off running. I ask you… if your city had just been bombed, what would you have done in this situation? I know I would have shot him, too. He took off running! If you’re innocent, you stop and clear things up.

Now, the British Muslim community is saying no Muslim is safe. First, to my knowledge, there has not been a government that has come out and said “if you are Muslim, you will be sent to jail, searched and interrogated for terrorist activity.” Both the British and U.S. governments have been very lenient to Muslims in their country, not intruding on their religious rights.

Rather than publicly questioning authorities in their respective countries, I suggest Muslims begin questioning the extremists who are giving their peaceful religion a bad name. I certainly feel for the good Muslims who simply live a peaceful life just as Allah intended, but they must be more proactive in policing the extremists. You have to believe that the good Muslims can get through to the bad guys. After all, they both believe in the Koran and it’s just the interpretation that is skewed.

As for the police, there is no easy way to spot a terrorist. At every ball game, every political event and on every subway or airport, men in uniform scan for suspicious backpacks and abandoned cars. They have a difficult job in this age of suicide bombs and Islamic extremists. And let’s not forget the English still have issues with the IRA and we have anti-government militants, like Timothy McVeigh, plotting to overthrow Congress.

There are many threats within our own countries. But how do you stop them?

Racial profiling? While I could think of dozens of reasons why profiling would be appropriate, I believe this is inappropriate for the simple reason this tactic breeds hate. Statistically, suicide bombers are of Middle Eastern descent, and without a doubt, Islamic extremists are the world’s biggest threat. But I believe that good Muslims or Arabs would turn against authorities. Maybe that’s what is happening now and is the reason why Muslims are not doing more to quell their evil counterparts.

Random searches of Muslim communities and militia compounds? This, too, could easily be favored and would probably lead to the arrests of dozens of terrorists. But again, it would also breed hate among good Muslims.

It’s not a simple fix. And I don’t know the answers. I just know that there are people in this world who could play a bigger role in squashing the problem. We should work together to rid the land of terrorists instead of blaming one another.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

If you look closely in the Iraqi soldier's left eye, you can see my reflection. It's one of the few pictures from Iraq that I have of myself. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


We were on a patrol in Tal Afar when this specialist asked me if I ever heard of VigRX. From the sounds of it, I assumed it was a creatine or some kind of supplement. In Iraq, guys were always taking muscle pills or protein shakes with the dream of being more muscular or cut for their girls when they returned home. Every soldier looks at deployment as opportunity to return as Tom Cruise or Sylvester Stallone. This specialist was a skinny dude, so he definitely needed all the help he could get. But he wasn’t speaking of a pill that would give him bigger biceps. Rather – how should I put this – he was taking a male enhancement tablet and in fact, “it really works,” he boasted on that hot Iraqi day. The specialist also told me that several soldiers in his platoon were taking the “pill” with the dream of returning not as Brad Pitt, but as John Holmes.

Here’s a recent article from Stars & Stripes that talks about steroids and performance enhancing drugs being sent to soldiers.

First, let me tell you that soldiers are not perfect. We are just as susceptible to drugs and other illegal “fixes.” But the consequences and ability to attain such substances are more difficult. Even in combat, soldiers must take urine tests and the penalty for doing drugs is very, very severe. In my opinion, there is absolutely no excuse for taking any kind of drug, especially in combat. You need your head in the game and your body certainly does not need the stress of a foreign substance.

Nonetheless, guys and gals want to look perfect, so they take diet pills, ‘roids and very dangerous pills for a private part. And they don’t care about the consequences. And that’s just sad.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Women in the military

Women serve a vital role in our Army. And recently there have been talks about banning women from combat situations. Currently, women are not allowed to join combat occupations, such as infantry, artillery and cavalry. But as seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, all military jobs see a fair share of combat. As a result, there have been several women killed in action. Now, some legislators want to restrict women from joining MOS’s that they’re traditionally allowed to join because of the occupation’s potential risk. The jobs include but are not limited to combat camera, military police and civil affairs.

I am against this movement. For one, I think our military should allow women to serve in combat arms units. I mean, I know women who could kick the butts of nine out of 10 men. With that being said, I understand the fears of the American public. It’s not exactly easy to stomach a mother or daughter being killed in combat. But I am here to tell you that women bring balance and a sense feminine compassion to our ranks.

What’s more is women are absolutely vital to our missions in Muslim countries. It’s considered an insult for a man to search a woman. Therefore, when we conduct raids or random searches, a woman must search a woman. If a man searches a woman, it could cause animosity and cause problems in the particular community.

Speaking from my own experiences, I have seen female soldiers accomplish great feats and I know my unit would not have been successful if it were not for females. I had one soldier who was tough as nails when she was on a mission. She captured combat through the lens of her camera and experienced more combat than 80 percent of the combat arms soldiers. Time and time again, the leadership from other units told me that they had never worked with a female before. But after working with her, they realized female soldiers are soldiers too, and that she was just as good, if not better, than any soldier they had worked with.

See, there is no problem with the performance of females in combat. They react the same as males when somebody shoots at them. The real problem is much deeper and I don’t think the military has or ever will fully address the issue. As you can imagine, women receive a lot of attention from male soldiers. On our camp, there were maybe 30 females mixed in with hundreds of males. You do the math and think about all the possible scenarios.

Most female soldiers will encounter dozens of sexual harassment situations. And the majority of females suffering from PTSD were sexually harassed or worse, raped. While the Army does a good job of warning soldiers not to harass females, they do not do an adequate job prosecuting sexual predators in combat situations. I have a friend who was taken advantage of, and although she filed a report, nothing was ever done until she contacted a legislator six months after she returned from deployment.

The mindset of a lot of male soldiers is that women bring the situation on to themselves. While I believe that women need to take responsibility and be a “bitch” at times, there is no excuse for taking advantage of or saying something inappropriate to a woman. I was like a dad to my soldiers, always on the lookout for soldiers staring at them. On more than one occasion, I told a horny soldier to not stare at my females.

So, rather than banning women from potential combat MOS’s, we should look at the real problem. Women who want to serve their country should be able to. In my opinion, gays should be allowed in the military as well. I believe that anybody who wants to risk their life to preserve our country’s freedom should be honored. These issues shouldn’t be considered distractions. Rather, they should be looked at as diversity, which is always a good thing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

We're not to blame

A terrorist loaded a vehicle full of bombs, waiting for the moment he could ram it into American Soldiers. Meanwhile American Soldiers were cordoning off a section in Baghdad searching for weapons. In between searches, like we do on nearly every mission, these soldiers passed out candy to Iraqi children.

Today when these soldiers had two dozen children surrounding them, a terrorist rammed the car right in the middle of the children. He killed 27, mostly children and one American soldier.

I listened to the NPR report on the incident from my car after work. The reporter painted the picture perfectly, depicting the horror of such a scene. The reporter also interviewed a grieving Iraqi woman who said, “the Americans are blowing up our children. They are the ones behind these bombs.”

Immediately outraged when I heard this, I parked my car and wondered how anybody could believe that American Soldiers are responsible for a suicide bomber killing children. In the reporter’s defense, she also interviewed a couple Iraqis who posed the question “why attack the soldiers when they’re surrounded by children.”

I just don’t get it. More than half the United States is growing tired of our involvement in Iraq. We get blamed for anything bad. The media rarely has anything positive to report, and anybody with an opinion against Iraq wants to share it (yet still keep bumper stickers on their car).

Today, I’m getting a haircut and my beautician saw my dog tags.

“So you’re in the military, what do you think about Iraq.”

“Well, I just got back in January.”

“I’m sorry, but I am a liberal and I just don’t think we should be there.”

I had nothing to say. I didn’t feel like educating her. I just sat there and let her cut my mop. I know what we’re doing is worthwhile and no haircut lady or anti-American Iraqi can change that.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Fourth of July

There in a farm field, under the beautiful night sky, I experienced one of those moments you hope will flash before your eyes as the final breath is released from the lungs. It was in the small town of Mattoon, Ill., and the day was July 4, our precious Independence Day. I was with the boys from NCO Alley, their wives and a beautiful girl whom I now call my girl.

We sat in lawn chairs on a roadside near an American red farm house. For miles, a sea of lush green is all we could see. Then night fell and the bright stars glowed on us.

The three men were all scared of what came when the night sky arrived. Since we’ve been home, fireworks have not been our friend. The bursts remind of us of mortars falling nearby and bottle rockets sound exactly like a 107 mm rocket flying overhead. But we had to be there, to see our first Fourth of July celebration since our return home. We guzzled enough beer to numb our initial jump or twitch, and most importantly, we all had our significant other there to rub our heads, to calm us. Then, the fireworks began. They lasted for 45 minutes, and with each blast rather than feeling scared, I felt joy. With each colorful display, I thought of how much I love my country. I thought of the girl sitting beside me, and my feelings for her. But most of all, I thought of my friends who died for the green crops, the little kids and the farm houses that make up America.

And for the first time, a tear or a sad feeling didn’t overcome me when I thought of T & Mitts. Rather a smile. It’s as if they were looking down from heaven, watching the country they died for and patting me on the back.

When the fireworks were over, I saw a cute little girl with her family. She held Old Glory close to her face. The image stopped me for a moment. And as I stood there, I hoped the feeling would never end. I took a mental picture of the fireworks, the flag and little girl, and the joy shared between friends. This Fourth of July had new meaning.

Friday, July 08, 2005


It looks like the Anthrax vaccine is making a comeback. In May, the Department of Defense reinstated the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program under new guidelines, which states the vaccine is voluntary and those who receive it must undergo an educational seminar. In other words, the chain of command will frown upon soldiers who do not receive the vaccine and for a briefing, some buck sergeant will be reading a pamphlet to the soldiers who decide to receive the inoculation.

On this site, I have rarely been critical of my country and or the U.S. Army, but I am telling you that the Anthrax vaccine is unnecessary. Much like the Agent Orange Syndrome, I’m sure 10 to 15 years from now (Iraqi and Afghanistan) vets will have some type of medical set back because of the series of Anthrax vaccinations. When I received mine, I remember my arm swelling up to the size of a tree trunk. (I know what you’re thinking – how could his massive arms get any bigger?) Luckily, I had no major side effects other than horrible pain. But many people had massive headaches, blindness or frequent dizziness. In fact, 75 percent of the Australian soldiers who served in Afghanistan in 2001 became very ill due to side effects linked to the Anthrax vaccine.

At least now, it’s voluntary. A year ago it was mandatory and good soldiers were going to jail for refusing the vaccine. But the Army medical command still contends that it's better to be vaccinated than to receive the disease.

And how many anthrax attacks have there been in Iraq or Afghanistan? Zero. The only attacks from the disease are the 22 cases in 2001 when it was floating around in the mail system.

I recall the doctor at our Anthrax briefing…

“Now, this vaccine will not stop you from getting all forms of anthrax. It will only slow down the process, and it’s completely safe.”

The hell it is. If I wouldn’t have been thrown in jail, I would have declined the anthrax vaccine. At least now, our soldiers have a choice.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Please keep our English friends in your thoughts and prayers. A day after London wins the Olympics, terrorists hit Great Briton. This incident should prove that it’s not just the United States under the threat of Islamic terrorists. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the blasts. Here’s a promise to those behind it: We will find you and make you pay, but I ask you... What did those killed and injured do to you?