It was a statement, not an assault. The only casualty was the victim of a defective round of ammunition or a damaged launcher. He was, however, bravely doing his job. He was defending the checkpoint, defending his brothers, and defending his country. He died in his efforts.
Afghanistan lost another good man.
There was another piece of news this week. MAJ Andrew Olmsted was killed in Iraq on January 3rd. MAJ Olmsted had a website, AndrewOlmsted.com, and had been blogging for about five years. Apparently he was a pioneering milblogger. I never would have thought of keeping a blog if it weren't for people like MAJ Olmsted.
Of course, the first blog that I read wasn't even written by a soldier. It was written by Scott Kesterson, an independent journalist who went through the process of getting approved to embed with the 41st Brigade, Oregon Army National Guard when they were preparing to mobilize to come here to Afghanistan. He went through training with them at Camp Shelby, MS and deployed with them to Afghanistan in early summer of 2006. He left Afghanistan a couple of months after I arrived. I had some vague hope of meeting him. I never ran into him.
I've emailed Scott a couple of times, but he's a busy man. I get emails about his movie, but I have never heard from him directly.
The second blog I found was Bouhammer. Great blog. It told me a lot about the ETT mission and life in general for him and his team in Afghanistan. He was here at the same time as Mr. Kesterson. He went home safely last summer as well.
There have been others, but MAJ Olmsted was a pioneer. His blog was being published by the Rocky Mountain News, an arrangement that the Major made sure to get Army approval for. I read today that MAJ Olmsted had written a contingency posting... something that I have considered... and left it with a trusted friend to post in the event that he was killed. His trusted friend performed this duty and made the Major's final post.
It's a tremendous thought, writing something like that.
I think that I've made my wishes clear to my family. I gave my brother, the patriarch of the family since my father's death over 20 years ago, some instructions to be opened only in the event of my death. One of the main ones was that my service is never to be used for political purposes. I feel so sorry for SPC Casey Sheehan. I would be absolutely mortified to have my corpse abused in such a manner. That poor young man's body has been dragged through the streets in a Munchhausenesque Mogadishu drag that would make any soldier cringe.
That was one of the Major's points in his final post. I can fully appreciate the thought. It's one of those things that makes a man think of writing a contingency posting. I have never actually written one. I'm not sure why. I've actually started and then stopped.
There was more, much more... or so I'm told. I cannot read the post. His website, AndrewOlmsted.com is blocked by the military servers as the same thing that all blog sites are:
Access Denied (content_filter_denied)
Your request was denied because of its content categorization: "Message Boards and Forums;Productivity PG"
For assistance, contact your network support team.
The part that surprises me is that someone actually had to go into a system and block his site specifically, because it's not a blogger account of a wordpress site or anything like that. Someone actually manually blocked his site from access as a waste of time.
Those of us who are far enough "out there" to have our internet access limited to military systems are really the only ones who are blocked from accessing those sites. The larger, more established FOBs have commercial systems that the soldiers can access or can buy into. Out here, we are stuck with the military networks. Note to the IT boys... the man is deceased, and anything that he had to say, I think, should be available for soldiers to read. We can read US Magazine online, delve into the private life of Britney Spears, but we cannot read the thoughts of a published United States Army Major who may have some valuable advice or a shared experience. Enough said.
My condolences to MAJ Olmsted's family and his friends. I didn't know him, and while I know that I have read some of his words in the past, I can't claim to know the man. What I can claim is to have benefitted from his example. The Major set an example of telling people at home how it is out on the ground, in spite of the mainstream media. People like the Major set an example of sharing the experience, so that it is more of a national experience than a singular thing felt by just one man. Now, he's set an example of sharing his thoughts on his own death, to be shared after his death and made part of that same national consciousness. That's putting it out there.
Another thing that MAJ Olmsted said was that he died doing what he loved, and that he wished that everyone who read what he wrote would be able to say the same thing at the end of their lives. That's strong. What a wish.
It's a terrible, awesome, and introspective thing to contemplate one's own death, especially months in advance. While I can't say for sure, I think that every soldier who deploys to a combat zone considers it in his or her own way. I can see the end results of these thoughts in many soldiers, but I am not privy to their thoughts. It's a private thing. For most of us, this whole journey, ordeal, sacrifice, and walkabout in a strange land with strange ways and instant, violent death is pretty private. The thoughts that come when one considers the big "what if?" are probably the most private of these things that we go through internally. Most of us do not share them with our loved ones, and only very rarely with each other; though we all have them.
In our processing of these thoughts, some write letters that will never be read. Some write letters to be mailed in the event of. Some don't express it all except in their actions. The most expressive many are about it is to write that letter. That letter will be shared only with one person, or perhaps their family. Most of them will actually never serve their purpose, for their writers will live and that letter will become moot. MAJ Olmsted's commitment to sharing his experience in this war went so far as to share these most private of thoughts. I cannot read them from where I am now, but I can imagine them.
Is it possible for death to have purpose? An American soldier typically does not serve out of a fatalistic sense of self-sacrifice; more an optimistic sense of purpose and duty. Typically, I think. A soldier wants for his life to have purpose, for his actions to have purpose, for his death, if it comes, to be for something. I'm sure that Major Olmsted's life and actions had plenty of purpose, and he gave his life in the pursuit of those purposes. His death served to bring that posting forth; revealing the depth of one man's consideration of these most private thoughts, which came to being.
I wonder; if Said Mohammad could read and write, and if he had written something to leave behind, would it have been much different, in the end, from Major Olmsted's thoughts? We will never know. What I do know is that this week the world is short two good men, and it is poorer for their loss and greater for their sacrifice.