In Iraq for 365

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Memorial Day

I normally have something to say about everything, but yesterday, my first Memorial Day home, leaves me speechless. So, I'll just share a note with you from a frequent visiter

I don’t think I’ve ever had a Memorial Day weekend like this one before. I’ve always done the right thing and lowered my flag to half-mast, I’ve always thought about the people who gave their lives for our freedoms. Like I said, Dad raised us right. But, I’ve never had such a hard time with my emotions. Every program on TV, every newspaper article I read, every story I heard in the news made me cry. I’ve been trying to figure out why. I think a lot of it has to do with Seth’s deployment later this year. . . . . . that’s my baby boy . . . . . . the one who brings me such joy and makes me laugh . . . . . . the one who hugs me and tells me he loves me when all he used to say when I told him I loved him was “okay” . . . . . . the one that I realize might not come back . . . . . . that really brings it all home. But, I think some of it is because of you. You put a face and a life to the soldiers. You made the Iraqi people just that . . . . . . real people. You told me what was really happening over there and didn’t sugar-coat anything . . . . . . you just told me the truth as you witnessed it. You shared your feelings and emotions about both the funny things and the heart-breaking things. You’ve made this war real for me .

Now I understand why Kleenex warnings are necessary!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Interview with a journalist

I normally decline interviews, but this particular fellow was quite respectful and complimentery when he asked for an interview. Most journalists want to use my real name, which is a show stopper but the fine folks at did not. Yes, Sminklemeyer is something I made up in college. At any rate, here's a link to the recent interview....

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Star Wars

I didn't think the latest episode of Star Wars was that good. However, I couldn't help but put the fictional characters into perspective. Jedi's are like Navy Seals. Yoda is a general. Princess Amidala is Chelsea Clinton, but much better looking. Count Duku is an arthritic Mike Tyson. And Sen. Palpatine is Don King without streaky hair. The regular army dudes are just like the infantry. Instead of tanks, they have huge lizards. Instead of fighting terrorism, they fight the Dark Side. Despite all these similarities, there is not one single combat photographer in the movie. Where is the justice in the movie making world? Perhaps I should call George Lucas and suggest a new species for the Force. The Star Wars photographer would definitely have four arms: two for lasers and two for Nikons. We would also have a tail with a spike and live off of pizza and beer. Our language would be ESPN, a hip form of English. Oh, and we would also be Jedi's and our cameras would shoot special lasers that would balance the Force. Give me a call, Mr. Lucas, I think this new character might give you another episode... Star Wars 7: the laser-shooting-camera Jedi's. Now that sounds like a movie.

Saturday, May 14, 2005


Life is a beautiful thing. It’s precious. A gift that many take for granted and just toss aside like a pair of dirty gym socks. I have always cherished life and the blessings that come along with it. Family. Friends. Music. Green grass. The smells from a cool lake breeze. I love every minute, every second of every breath of my life. I used to be adventurous, cunning and always chipper and happy. In high school, I rode bulls and most of my friends were complete opposites of me. In college, I read poetry and drank lattés as I wore my dark rimmed glasses and an out-of-style turtleneck by day; at night, I wore preppy clothes and went to fraternity parties. In my professional life, I dazzled clients with words and then tutored second graders from broken homes. In Iraq, I cared about my soldiers and every mission I was given and the cute little Iraqi kids who handed me flowers or cutely asked "mister, mister, picture, picture."

Now, I am broken. Not in a sense that I cannot walk or move my arms. Rather, my insides feel as if a large bubble surrounds them, and I can’t escape. I receive probably three or four emails a day from folks, telling me how much my writing has meant to them and wondering why I don’t post more often. Once, a reader wrote me saying she saw a soldier in Wal Mart and recognized his uneasiness because of me sharing my "readjustment" experiences.

I mainly stopped posting as frequently not because I had nothing to say, but rather I had nothing positive to share. I wish I could write you and tell you how wonderful my life is and that it’s like I never left, but I can’t. Some days I feel like I’m on top of the world and nothing can bring me down. Other days, I hit the snooze button 20 times and don’t want to move… I just want to crawl in a hole and hide. But most days, I go through the motions, trying to joke around and saying all the right things. Most people would look at me and think everything is OK. But those who know me see it. They see the difficulties I have remembering things and how I don’t have the same desires to set the world on fire. In counseling, I find myself embarrassed to share my problems and the dreams. And then when I do, I start sobbing like a little girl and I feel worse. My counselor says I’ll never be my old self; that I am forever changed.

I’ll say. I get dizzy when I’m in crowded areas. I go to Brewers games – who by the way are two games over .500 – and I see the potential for mass casualties. The drop of a plate in a restaurant scares the crap out of me. And while I try to consciously not react to sudden noises or not feel this way, it only worsens. When I’m alone in my apartment, I sit on the best leather recliner ever made and listen to CSNY or Marvin Gaye and just relax. I love those moments, because it’s just me and my thoughts. My lifetime memories and the soothing sounds of great melodies.

If only life were like a song or a movie that ends on a happy note. But it’s not. Life is filled with sad stories like the two little Illinois girls killed by a sadistic father. However, there are good memories. Like all the times, my father took me to Texas Ranger games and OSU games. And the first time I met Samir in a guard tower. He said the Iraqi soldiers were afraid of me. "They say you look mean. Let’s play a joke on them. Make me do push ups and yell at me. That will scare them real good, sergeant." Samir’s portly frame could only muster one or two push ups, but the soldiers were really afraid of me, that’s for sure. We later had a good laugh with them and shared a Miami, Iraq’s most popular smoke.

I had a good time that day. And those will be the stories I share with my kids. The stories that make you smile and feel warm inside. That’s the thing with life. You cannot choose which stories or experiences that randomly pop up in your head. They just surface. If I could, I would delete the sights of dead bodies and craters from car bombs. But my brain isn’t a hard drive. And there’s no telling what pop up window will come up next.

I now have three reoccurring dreams. The latest is of me standing in the mirror and rather than seeing my own reflection, I see my friend who was killed in November. I’ve only had it twice, but it is the hardest of all dreams. Do I feel guilty for still being alive?

I certainly do not write this for attention or to get it off my chest. Rather, I write it to inform you. To let you know that if you have a soldier or you know a soldier who just returned, that there are days he or she would probably want to lay in bed and do absolutely nothing. I wish it were different, but it’s not. Soldiers are strong, determined people, but also very human.

I am trying and doing everything I can to regain my old ways and routines, but my life has changed and I have a lot of experiences that will never go away. However, my perspectives on life have not and will never change. I love baseball more now than ever and laughing feels better than before. And most of all, life will always be a beautiful thing. Except now, I have to work a little harder at realizing that.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Nazi 'bout to be sent home

Do I believe in forgiveness? Yes. Do I believe in paying for crimes committed? Yes.

Below is a very intriguing story about a former Nazi who's lived in the U.S. since the end of World War II. It makes me wonder what I would do if a former Iraqi insurgent lived in my neighborhood.

In my heart, I have forgiven the insurgents for killing my friends in Iraq, because that's what you do as a Christian. But does that mean I would let them be my neighbors? Hell No! In fact, it would take everything in my power to not kick their face in. I can only imagine the anger a WWII vet feels for somebody like this...

An 80-year-old Racine County man who has lived in the Midwest for nearly 50 years has been stripped of U.S. citizenship for his service as a guard at Nazi concentration camps.

A federal judge this week revoked the citizenship of Josias Kumpf on the grounds that it was granted in violation of the Refugee Relief Act of 1953, a law that barred people who had "personally advocated or assisted persecution" from entering the country. He may now be deported.
Kumpf, who didn't tell immigration officials of his service in the camps, only of his service in the German military, has argued that the law didn't apply to him because, by his account, he never shot or harmed anyone while serving as an SS guard.
But Judge Lynn Adelman of the U.S. District Court in Wisconsin sided with the federal Office of Special Investigations when he ruled that "a person who served as a guard at a camp or prison in which prisoners were subject to persecution 'personally advocated or assisted' in the persecution of those prisoners."
Admitted armed guard
Kumpf had admitted that he stood armed with a rifle in the guard towers at Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin; on the perimeter of the killing pits at the SS labor camp in Trawniki, Poland; and at another forced labor camp in occupied France. He admitted being at Trawniki on one of the deadliest days of the Holocaust when 8,000 men, women and children were murdered as part of a slaughter code-named "Operation Harvest Festival."
"By virtue of such service," Adelman wrote in his decision, Kumpf "personally prevented prisoners from escaping."
His decision marks the 100th legal victory for the Office of Special Investigations, which has been working since 1979 to revoke citizenship of immigrants involved in Holocaust atrocities on the basis that they did not fully disclose their Nazi activities to immigration officials. Kumpf is at least the third person in Wisconsin to be targeted.
"The court's decision to revoke his U.S. citizenship has secured a measure of justice for the victims of that massacre and their families," said Eli M. Rosenbaum, the office's director.
Judge to determine status
Bernice Birnhaum, who survived three years in a concentration camp before being freed and moving to Milwaukee, agreed.
Unless it's appealed, the case will go into immigration court, where a judge will determine whether to deport Kumpf. Birnhaum said he should be forced to leave.
"The U.S. is too good for him," she said. "Let him suffer. I have no mercy for him."
Kumpf, a hunched man with a wrinkled face, emigrated from Austria to the United States with his wife and children in 1956. The family settled in Chicago, where Kumpf spent decades working as a sausage-maker.
Moved to Caledonia
Three years ago, Kumpf's wife died, and he moved to Caledonia to live with one of his daughters and her husband. He has a son who also lives in Caledonia, and other children who live in Milwaukee, Chicago and California.
If he's deported, Kumpf, who cannot read and write, will likely have the option of returning to Germany, because he is an ethnic German, or the city of his birth in the former Yugoslavia, which is now in Serbia and Montenegro.
He said Wednesday that he has a sister and brother in Germany but doesn't want to leave the care of his daughter.
"She's good to me, and I'm good to her," he said as he sat on a living room couch dressed in flannel shirts, sweatpants and slippers, watching daytime TV.
"If I have to go, I go," he said. "But I'd rather stay."
Appeal is unknown
Kumpf didn't know whether he would appeal the federal court decision, and his lawyer could not be reached for comment.
In 1990, a federal judge revoked the citizenship of Anton Tittjung, formerly of Greenfield, after the government discovered that he had served as a guard at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. He appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he lost in 2000. Then 75, he was ordered deported to Croatia.
In 1991, the citizenship of Anton Baumann, formerly of West Allis, was revoked after a federal judge determined that he had served as a guard at the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland. An immigration judge ordered him deported to Germany but said Baumann, then 82, could stay in the U.S. until his ill health improved. It never did, and he died in 1994.
Ordered to stop prisoners
Kumpf, who says he was forced into the SS guard and feared that he would be shot if he left, described to the judge what he saw at Trawniki:
"I was watching them shoot some people and some of them come out and run away again. . . . Some people was shot and not good enough so they was still able to move, you know."
He said he was instructed to stop any prisoners who tried to escape, even if that meant killing them.
"After I finished with my breakfast, I have coffee on rye bread with butter, that's all I know. I get and then out, out, out, out, out, take your rifle and go and stay around and some of them move. I say what we have to watch, they say some of them are still halfway alive and they run out. So - and then I say if somebody come like that, shoot them to kill, shoot them to kill."
Kumpf said Wednesday he still thinks he did nothing wrong.
"I was a good boy," he insisted. "I never hurt anyone."

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Wedding vows

He is a cop. She is a nurse. You might remember him from such posts as “NCO Alley” and you have never heard of her. They wedded before we went to Iraq and they renewed their vows tonight. It was beautiful. He is Tommy. She is his wife.

They met some years ago when he was a personal trainer and she was a member of his gym. They later hooked up at a local watering hole and their lives have never been the same since. They originally married in November 2003. And the wife said goodbye to her husband, as we boarded a plane to serve our beloved country. Their love was tested, but their faith and affection for one another withstood the firefights he endured and the difficult nights of newscasts she survived. He purchased an Iraqi cell phone and called her every night. He would skip NCO Alley at times just to talk to her, and we would give him heck, calling him “whipped.” But now I know that he wasn’t whipped; he was in love… In love with a woman who would never leave him and could endure the trials of any war. She is just one of a thousand women who stand by their men after they kiss their loved ones goodbye. Why? Because there is not another man – or woman for that matter – who could fill their heart with such raw emotion. And their love could never be captivated by words or a movie.

Tonight they said “I do” for a second time, and I was honored to be there. Tommy told me that I was like a brother and his wife said I was family. Those words were special and filled my heart with joy beyond belief.

For all the things we experienced and endured, I realized that this is why soldiers do what they do… so Americans can be happy. And love can be felt.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Great blogger

This is a link to perhaps the best journalist-type blogger I've ever read. He's in Mosul and is the fellow who took the picture of the soldier holding the wounded child. You have to read Michael Yon's perspective; he's a very passionate writer.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

This is just stupid!

I guess these 31 law schools want our military to dwindle. They are attempting to ban recruiters from working on campuses, which is where I was confronted to join the military nine years ago. At any rate, I'll let you form your own opinion, but if you want mine, we should send a squad of these lawyers into Iraq and ask them if we could maintain operations with our Army's current size... not that size matters.

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court said Monday that it will settle a pivotal battle over whether colleges can ban military recruiters from campuses without losing federal funds.
The case pits free speech and academic freedom against the power of the purse and the need for a strong national defense.
A coalition of 31 law schools says forcing them to accommodate military recruiters also forces them to endorse the Pentagon's discrimination against gays and lesbians, at odds with the schools' anti-discrimination policies.
They say a 1994 law that threatens to cut federal funding for colleges that ban military recruiters violates their rights to choose what ideas they embrace or support. Other employers who discriminate are also banned from recruiting.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia agreed with the law schools and declared the law unconstitutional.
But the government says the law, known popularly as the Solomon Amendment, is an essential tool for "effective recruitment ... to sustain an all-volunteer military, particularly at a time of war."
Government lawyers say the measure doesn't violate the law schools' free-speech rights because it doesn't force them to allow recruiters. They can bar them and forgo federal funds.
The case arises at least partly because of an increased need for recruitment after 9-11.
The law has existed since 1994, and most colleges had worked out compromises, neither banning military recruiters nor giving them the kind of choice access reserved for favored employers. Often, military recruiters were denied assistance from placement offices or excluded from some recruiting events.
But after 9-11 and with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the government began to demand that law schools give military recruiters the same access as other employers. In 2004, Congress amended the law to that effect.
The court will hear the case in the fall and likely decide it by June 2006.