The Iraq box
As a boy, I visited my grandfather’s childhood through his box of memories. Stowed underneath his bed, grandpa pulled out the “box” every Christmas. We gathered around our wise hero and listened as he spoke of his first horse; his mean uncle who road with the bank-robber “Pretty Boy Floyd;” and of course, his days in the military, which consumed most of the stories.
I didn’t realize how influential that box had been on my life until I returned home from Iraq. As the months went by, I felt the need to create my own box. I call it my “Iraq box.” Here’s what’s inside:
4 notepads: As an Army journalist, I carried notepads everywhere, even to the bathroom. In these notebooks are my most memorable soldier interviews and pre-combat checklists. I read through them and laugh or remember my exact feeling when I scribbled the words. But there’s one in particular I’m extremely fond of and that’s the one I used in November 2004. On the fourth page are the names of the soldiers I patrolled with when took Mosul back from insurgents. At the top of the page: David Mitts, SGT; Warrenton, OR.
Staff sergeant rank: When I was promoted in Iraq, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. I’ve always tried to be a humble person. Mom told me growing up: “Nobody likes a bragger.” But on this day, my fellow soldiers told me I earned the rank of staff sergeant. And that felt good. I bragged for a little bit. Then, my first sergeant told me I had more responsibility.
2nd Infantry Division Patch and 25th Inf. Patch: Both are very important to me. You don’t receive a combat patch unless you’ve been in combat.
All the top emails from blog readers: One simply reads, “can I hook you up with my daughter?” I asked for a picture, but never got one.
Original clothing record: Anybody who’s ever served in the military knows paperwork gets lost a lot. When I attempted to turn in my equipment, the supply sergeant said I need not worry about my issued clothing. It was mine to keep. I made him sign a document, to prove it.
22 medals and awards: Although I believe they pass awards out like candy, these days, I am proud of my military accomplishments.
Athens 2004: When Iraq’s soccer team made the Olympics, we made bumper stickers. We couldn’t make enough of them; the Iraqis slapped them on everything in site, including their first born. I’m sure mine might be worth money some day. But to me it’s priceless.
Pocket dictionary: Because SFC Friedman always said to keep one. And she was my boss.
Hemp necklace: Not really sure why it’s in there.
250 Dinar: The only Iraqi currency I have. Samir gave it to me long ago.
One Riyal: Qatar currency.
Purple prayer button: My uncle gave me this, saying to hold it when I prayed. I did.
U.S. Army Medical Card: It holds all my military medical information, which will be important to have when I need proof of my Anthrax vaccination.
Key to my old wall locker: I carried it for so long, I couldn’t give it up.
Rejection letter from Tricare: While I was in Iraq, I continued to receive rejection of payment from Tricare. But Tricare thanked me for my service.
Rick Jervis, Chicago Tribune reporter, card: This guy asked soldiers, “wouldn’t you rather be watching a Cubs game at Wrigley than being in Iraq?”
Two religious medallions. One reads: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9b
Jim Bob’s Tailoring and Leather: At one of the bases, an Iraqi known as “Jim Bob” made custom leather jackets and shoes and dresses. He also ironed our uniforms. As you can tell from his card, he was quite talented and diversed.
Red rabbit foot: Brought me luck. Not sure why it’s red. I’ve never seen a red rabbit.
Dog tags: Nearly lost them a million times, but managed to keep the same pair for two years. And that’s remarkable.
Army Values tag: I will aways place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.