Monday, January 14, 2008

I Knew It Was Coming

I actually wondered why it hadn't happened before. Our press tends to assassinate us. In their fervor to recreate the journalistic glory of Viet Nam, you knew that they had to do it. They had to begin to portray veterans of this struggle as "troubled," leaning towards, "murderous." Perhaps it has happened before and I didn't notice it, but here it is;

Here's the headline:

Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles - New York Times

Chilling. Dramatic. Oooooh, deadly. What's deadly?

The New York Times actually did a series addressing the "trend" of murderous veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. No less than 9 journalists and researchers created new demographics in order to suit their needs, drawing the conclusion that veterans are a dangerous lot because so many of us suffer from PTSD and the government refuses to help us. The Viet Nam specter is clearly invoked, and the underlying theme is that hundreds of thousands of mentally diseased trained killers are knowingly and/or negligently unleashed upon the peaceful people of the United States by an uncaring military establishment and a wantonly careless government.

"The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killing in this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction." - New York Times

Not only that, but we are very very very likely to kill our own families. And... SHHHHH... we tend to own GUNS. >gasp! <

Imagine the horror. I, personally, am totally angst-ridden. I can't believe that any responsible government would create monsters like... well, like me... and then unleash us upon an unsuspecting society?!?!? What in the name of all that is decent is going on in this world?

We, ladies and gentlemen, are the Love Canal. We are the radon gas of society. I am the avian flu.

The article actually made me afraid of myself. Since reading the article I am constantly looking around to see if I am sneaking up on me with murderous intent.

Well, let's take a look at that, shall we? With the limited information that I have available on the internet, I've discovered that there are roughly 700,000 veterans of the Global War On Terror who have been discharged. That does not count the number who have not been discharged (remember, there are nearly 1.4 million active duty military members.) I have also discovered that the murder rate in the United States is roughly 7 per 100,000 people per year. That means that in a population of the size of the discharged veterans, you would expect a total more along the lines of 294 homicides over the course of six years.

Now... am I stretching here, or is someone manipulating information to make it appear that I and my brothers (females accounted for 1 of the 121 murders cited) are unconscionable risks to society? Now, remember, 9 people worked full time to produce a printed series on this issue. Tragic stories were told. Tragic graphics were created. Any story of a senseless murder is tragic. You can manipulate all kinds of emotions when you tell stories of a 20 year old father who beats his 2 year old to death.

Unfortunately, that happens several times a year in most decent sized cities. It was one of the cases involved. One. Not a dozen, not a hundred. One. Yes, it is pitiable. Yes, it is heinous. It's absolutely heartbreaking; but it is one guy out of 700,000 in six years.

Again, I say to you; our own media is manipulating this war and the information that is coming from it in some twisted attempt to recreate their society-shaping role of the 1960's. Where were the teeth of the people who run the media at this point in time cut? They were cut on the stories of Watergate, Viet Nam, McNamara, My Lai, and Kent State. Deranged combat veterans are mother's milk to these most esteemed professionals.

Oooops... here's another number; they earlier mentioned 121. Now they bring in another number. Let's see what that is, shall we?

"The Times used the same methods to research homicides involving all active-duty military personnel and new veterans for the six years before and after the present wartime period began with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

This showed an 89 percent increase during the present wartime period, to 349 cases from 184, about three-quarters of which involved Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The increase occurred even though there have been fewer troops stationed in the United States in the last six years and the American homicide rate has been, on average, lower.

The Pentagon was given The Times's roster of homicides. It declined to comment because, a spokesman, Lt. Col. Les Melnyk, said, the Department of Defense could not duplicate the newspaper's research. Further, Colonel Melnyk questioned the validity of comparing prewar and wartime numbers based on news media reports, saying that the current increase might be explained by "an increase in awareness of military service by reporters since 9/11." He also questioned the value of "lumping together different crimes such as involuntary manslaughter with first-degree homicide." " -New York Times

Uhhhhh-huh. Hmmmm. A little more arithmetic, Copernicus, please? Ah-ha! Okay... now we see that three quarters were combat veterans. Okay. Three quarters of 349 is 274. Now, we already know that we are missing some veteran's numbers... the ones who haven't left the service. Oh, perhaps a hundred thousand or so (out of a pool of approximately 1.4 million, I think I'm being generous.) But we'll just go with the number that we have. We already determined that over a 6 year period, we would see roughly 294 in the standard population, or twenty more than in the comparable military population... actually an admittedly larger population, which should have more homicides, not less.

A crime wave. It's shocking. It's heinous. How can we, as a society, tolerate the wanton abandon with which our veterans murder us??? I demand action.

Thankfully, our press, led by no less than the venerable New York Times, has leapt to our rescue with the greatest of attempts to educate us all about the dangers that people like this bring. Oh, I'm sorry... I mean people like me.

I saw the wholesale slander that was levied against Viet Nam veterans. I remember that it went so far that the Veterans Administration had to run television ads begging people to hire veterans. Laws were passed to protect the rights of veterans. I am protected by those laws at my civilian employer. But where did the man on the street get the idea that war veterans were undesirable? Gee... I don't know. What do you think?

Remember "The Deer Hunter?" You know, Christopher Walken is still crazier than a shithouse rat after that one, just from playing a Viet Nam vet. I'm assuming that's what did it to him. "Rambo"... great entertainment; it played upon that Viet Nam killer vet who's really no good for anything other than killing kind of thing. Hassle him for vagrancy and he'll tear your whole town down. Tens of thousands of Viet Nam veterans struggled for years, practically ashamed of their veteran's status. I remember that. My brother was a Viet Nam veteran. He never forgot what his country... not his government; his country did to him. His country threw dog crap at him and turned their back on Viet Nam veterans for years.

I was wondering when it was coming. Our media is so damned predictable. You knew it had to start sometime. Now it has. Now comes the slander of the soldier. Oh, their statistics are constructed by the best journalists they could find sitting around the assignment desk... at least as reliable as mine, I'm sure. I mean, if you can't find a real statistician, find a journalist, because they are the most trustworthy and accurate people in the world, other than statisticians and tobacco company PR guys.


Yep, some of us are going to have problems. Guess what? Lots of people have problems. A Marine just murdered some girl that he apparently got pregnant by raping her and he was apparently afraid of the baby turning out to be his. Guess what? Scott Peterson wasn't even in the military, and he killed someone he got pregnant while he was married to her. Oh, by the way... that Marine was never deployed to a combat zone. That's not a military issue, it's a human issue. That's not PTSD, it's just crime.

I am a tiny voice in a corner of the web. I started this to share with some of my friends and to jog my memories when I get home. I never want to forget what this feels like. It turns out that sometimes people who I don't know read this. So, I will raise my feeble cry and throw the bullshit flag. I will not tolerate this without raising my voice, for I have one.

I just sent a bunch of the finest young men that South Carolina has ever offered the world home. Don't you dare slander them. Shame on the New York Times for trying to paint our veterans with this brush. Shame on them as much as I have ever shamed anyone in my life. Those nine people have earned my everlasting disgust. Here are their names:

DEBORAH SONTAG and LIZETTE ALVAREZ, Alain Delaquérière, Amy Finnerty, Teddy Kider, Andrew Lehren, Renwick McLean, Jenny Nordberg and Margot Williams

Now, ladies and gentlemen, if you would care to make amends, why don't you come to where I am and see what is being done for the people in the little AO (Area of Operations) that I work in? Why don't you come here and see the flood control project in the village down the road? How about the bridge up the other way? I got a road for you to see. Why don't you come here and see the village assessments, involving the village elders in improving their conditions, the schools that have been built? Why don't you come here and see the huge hearts that these young soldiers have? Why don't you come here and see the clinic on this FOB that is specifically for the local nationals? Why don't you come here and see how we are working to iron out the corruption and improve the Police? Why don't you come here and see how we are working to get this problem-riddled young nation to stand up?

Why don't you write about that? Because it's easier to sit find stories of shocking crimes and heart-wrenching human tragedy. It's easier to manufacture data and then make the blanket statement that our homicide rate is higher because... you say so. Because a school in a tiny valley in Afghanistan doesn't sell. Bastards.

I know that was just wasted electrons, but I had to offer you the opportunity to make it right.

Now, I have seen young men who have been referred for treatment. One was the young man who had a machine gun blown in half right in his face and then just scant days later, he took an RPG in the door and was wounded. Yup, it shook him up. Yup, he needs a little help. Can't blame him at all. That was so scary that most of you can't imagine it. He's going to be fine. The other one from our little group was referred because he saw his friend (the aforementioned soldier) blown up with not one but two RPG's. Of course, he was a half a bubble out of plumb when he got here, so I'm not sure that he counts. It's good that he got a little help, though. Doubtless he needed it.

Just this week a Combat Stress Team came here to the FOB. Leaders were encouraged to have their soldiers talk to the trained mental health professional who was here. Plenty did. Our government has abandoned us and is clearly not taking combat stress disorders seriously. It took a helicopter to get that team here. Total lack of commitment.

There are people who will have problems. There are millions of Americans who will suffer from mental illness this year. There is stigma about mental illness in every sector of American society, including ours. But to manipulate data and emotions to stir the shadow of fear in people about our combat veterans is a careless misuse of the power of the press. Shame.

This article was on the front page of the New York Times web site. Journalistic integrity is an oxymoron.

My sources were the US Department of Justice, the DOD, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and my own eyes full of the dust of Afghanistan.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Poorer By Two

Our district lost an ANP officer this week when the second Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) that he fired back at the attackers of his checkpoint exploded before it left the tube. That's the second such incident that I've been personally aware of in this country. We are not sure exactly why the RPG will sometimes blow up as it is fired, but this is more than a coincidence. We have several theories as to why this occurs. He was the only ANP casualty in the encounter. While the newspaper accounts claim wounded insurgents, I doubt that anyone at all was hit during the fight. The fight was a long range engagement in a snowstorm at night.

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,, 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, 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.
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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Guest Posting By B-Mo O! (Supplement to the previous post)

This is amazing! From way up north, where he is guest-starring in a command performance of "Stone Cold: The Saga of a Bear Named 'Human Without Feeling'" at the Bundeswehr Amphitheater, the famous B-Mo O has added to the previous post with a point so excellent that;

A) I'm embarassed that I did not make the point myself, and...

B) It really deserved to be put out there to supplement the answer to the previous post.

> Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "By Request Again: COIN
> Operator Question":
> you first have to get the fruel out of the water with an
> escalator. "O"
> Good point on post. I couldn't have written so eloquently. To add to
> your point if I may. The purpose of mentoring specifically with the
> police is to allow their normal activities to be unhindered by the
> insurgent. As sexy as the headlines will read; "US and Afghan Troops
> Battle Terrorists in the Street," it is exactly opposite of the intended
> result.
>To investigate, arrest and prosecute the insurgent as a common
> criminal takes all greater purpose out of their fight. Once this
> occurs, it becomes common practice and de-sensationalizes the
> insurgency. A strong local governance and effective police force will slowly bring
> this change. I can only hope that in 90 days the guy filling my shoes
> can walk the same line.
> "O"

You may indeed add to my post, Sergeant. Actually, you can have one of your own. You are not only timely and eloquent in your own right, but directly on target. That is a point which really can't be left out of the police side of the counterinsurgency issue.

I can always trust O to have my back.

LSHMBFO on the authentication, O. No one but you, man.

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By Request Again: COIN Operator Question

> Army Sergeant has left a new comment on your post "COIN Operator":
> This is an amazing explanation of the Afghanistan situation. My only
> question is: this seems like a great common-sense explanation,
> especially given your USA metaphor. Would it work for Iraq, in your
> estimation? And does the fact that we're not using that model hurt us?

Some may find this confusing, as the comment itself is not posted at this point. I cannot get to the system to approve the comment and have it posted. I'm sure I'll be able to resolve that soon, though. I am posting this via email from the FOB I am currently working out of.

Another good question... a little out of my lane, perhaps, but I'll do my best.


That's the simple answer to both questions. The fact is that there is a simple answer and then a more complex and detailed answer. There was a recent article that outlined some of the mistakes that we have made in Iraq in USA Today of all places. The article was published December 19, 2007 and was titled, "Troops at Risk, IED's in Iraq, Strategy That's Making Iraq Safer Was Snubbed For Years."

This article details the effects of having soldiers on the streets, engaging the civil population (by engaging I don't mean with their weapons systems) and providing a consistent presence. This is what was occurring at first. Later, the commanders on the ground opted for an ostensibly more secure, protective defensive posture. This had a negative impact.

There is a fair amount of COIN doctrine and successful operations that is militarily counterintuitive. It doesn't not make sense to the conventional military mind that less protected is actually more secure; but it holds true. Withdrawal into the large, well-protected FOBs actually permitted the "insurgents" freedom of manuever, permitted them to map and observe the operations conducted, and subjected our soldiers to more IED's.

We ceded the streets to the criminal elements and withdrew into fortresses. We controlled only the space that we could observe while in the FOB, and the bubble around us as we rolled. The rest was up for grabs. In a vacuum there will be some authority, legitimate or not, who will rise to fill the void.

Being that the security forces of the fledgling government of Iraq were too underdeveloped to assume the task, the many "insurgent" elements of Iraq took the lead in each area.

End result? Security setbacks and soldiers engaged more regularly with IED's. Soldier deaths increased. Civilians in their neighborhoods who cannot count on their own police and army to protect them are cowed by the force du jour.

Remember, most civilians will go along with just about anything... as long as they are mostly left alone. They will do nearly anything not to get caught in the crossfire.

In Iraq, the situation is even more complex than in Afghanistan. There are many different groups interacting with each other. In Afghanistan, we have fewer organizations, but the basic task is the same. I think that another difference is that, by and large, the average Afghan actually leans a little in the direction of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (IRoA.) Also, there is not nearly the sectarian violence as in Iraq.

There is one large Shia group. The third largest tribe, the Hazara, are Shia while the rest of the population is Sunni. The Taliban tried to eradicate the Hazara when they were in power, but the average Afghan is uninterested in the difference. They tend to view all Muslims as Muslims. Iran has tried to stir this, and the Al Qaeda elements who remain in the area have tried to fan the flames as well. To the average Afghan, it has not made a difference. It is an irrelevant issue.

In Iraq; again... not my area of expertise, it will still hold true that the real aim is to separate the insurgent from the population and make him irrelevant. David Galula, in his primer on counterinsurgency, "Counterinsurgency Warfare; Theory and Practice," described the insurgents as fish, and the people as the water in which the fish swims. You must either remove the fish from the water, or you must poison the water in which they swim.

Kinetic operations seek to separate the fish physically from the water. You could describe various operations as fishing with a hook, and others as fishing with a net; but the end result is the same. You seek to physically pull the fish from the water.

COIN operations such as mentoring operations seek to poison the water in which the fish swim. Regardless of the environment, the principles remain the same.

In each environment, we see effective COIN operations and we see ineffective COIN operations. It is basically a function of the local senior leadership. In areas where we see great progress, you will find a master counterinsurgent operating. In areas where we see either no progress or backsliding, you will find a poor counterinsurgent operating.

My point, overall, is that we need to become an Army of counterinsurgents. Galula's book included case studies of two armies, each engaged in a similar counterinsurgency fight. One won, one lost. The winner was the British Army in Malaya. The loser was the United States Army in Viet Nam. One became an agile, learning organization, while the other remained a rigid, immobile, recalcitrant organization who did not adapt and learn.

We have a great number of leaders in the United States Army who are agile learners, but we are still not there. I have seen both in Afghanistan, and we have certainly seen both in Iraq. I have seen it at the small unit level, and I have seen it at the senior level as well.

This war, and it is ONE war to my mind, is a counterinsurgency. The local flavor may be different, but it is like the difference between a MacIntosh and a Golden Delicious, not the difference between an apple and an orange. We became experts in AirLand Battle doctrine, the best example of which was the defeat in detail of the world's fourth largest army in 100 hours.

The United States Army was the most proficient, most lethal army in the world using that doctrine. The evidence is indisputable.

We have not demonstrated the same thing with COIN. We are hit and miss at best; but it is imperative, to this lowly senior NCO, that we become as expert in COIN as we were at AirLand doctine. They are two completely different animals. The question is twofold; can you teach an old dog new tricks or; once trained, can we learn nothing else?

I hope that I anwered your question well.
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Friday, January 4, 2008

As Dark As Osama's Soul

It's been really really dark around here for the past couple of nights. The night sky where I've been in Afghanistan is usually a thing of wonder; more stars than I've ever seen before, anywhere. I've been in some remote spots, but for some reason the night sky in Afghanistan, at least the parts I've been in, shows more stars than I've ever seen in my life. The Milky Way is a brilliant smear across the sky, and the stars shine so brightly that some constellations are hard to pick out.

Some are so perfectly defined that it's almost unbelievable. Where I am right now, we lose the direct sun at about 1545. It's pretty dark by 1700. By a little after 1800, Orion is coming over the mountain, canted so that he looks like a high jumper straining over the mountain in super slow-motion; arms outstretched, working to get his legs over the rocky bar.

This is the best place that I know of to see falling stars, too. Just wait a couple of minutes... there'll be one. It's amazing. Watching satellites is always amazing, too. There are lots of places where you can see those, but it seems like you see more of them here, too. It's as if the night sky is magnified here. The total lack of light pollution explains part of it, but somehow the Hindu Kush forms the atmosphere into a lens. The Hindu Kush forces the sky into a squint.

I think that the twinkle factor is highly underrated. From here, some of the stars actually seem more like police lights far off in the distance. There's one star that I swear alternates between blue and red in its dramatic display of twinkling. High twinkle factor there.

Now there's something I bet is pretty unexpected coming from an Infantryman. Twinkle factor. Hmmm. What else are you going to call it?

That's my story and I'm sticking with it. I don't know why, but the night sky here just impresses the hell out of me. It's something that I stop and look at every single night.

Except the last couple of nights.

It's been overcast, and there hasn't been much of a moon. The moon is waning fast, and it doesn't come up until late at night; it's been as dark as Osama's soul out there. I physically held my hand in front of my own face last night just to make sure. Nope, couldn't see it. I'm calling the ball on that one; it was officially so dark you couldn't see your own hand in front of your face.

Probably no stupid human tricks for the next few nights. It's a strong tendency that they like to stir things up when the moon is nice and bright.

The moon is another story. When the moon is out here, it's so bright that it's unreal. Everything is still in shades of gray, but very distinct shadows are cast, as if everything were being shot through one of those lenses they used to shoot night scenes for movies with during the daytime. Night vision goggles are actually kind of a disadvantage on those nights, because of the tunnel vision effect. On the moonlit nights, the stars are not nearly as visible. The moon is so bright that it actually hurts your eyes if you look directly at it.

We haven't had that problem lately. For now, we will enjoy the upside... peaceful nights are most likely.

But I find myself missing the stars.
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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Lucky 7

2007 was all about Afghanistan. It was training to do this job, getting here, and being here. I spent one day in 2007 not on active duty in the service of my country; the first day. A year ago today, I enjoyed New Year's Day with an elephant in my head. The day that I was to arrive in Ft Riley was looming large in front of me, the symbolic beginning of the kinetic part of this journey.

I had no idea whatsoever what the coming year would bring, and as I look back on all the places I've been, people I've met, things that I have done, things that I've seen, and what I've learned, "Days Are Numbers (The Traveler)" by The Alan Parsons Project begins playing on my iPod. Perfect. Hadn't thought to do that for myself, but somehow this device has performed the iPod mind meld and knew exactly what I needed.

It's amazing how we can look at our preconceived ideas of what to expect from an event and find our naivety in retrospect. There was some of that; trust me. If I could go back in time, I'd tell myself a few things on January 1, 2007. I'd tell myself to relax, to be more forgiving, to feel secure in what I know to be true. I'd tell myself to sleep through commo class that first night at Camp Funston, because I was going to have to learn it all over again. I'd tell myself to start studying Pashto again. I'd tell myself to read more about counterinsurgency. I'd tell myself not to sweat most of the stuff that we did at Ft Riley, because it had nothing to do with reality.

I'd tell myself not to worry about the treadmill and to spend more time on the stair climber... with weights on. I'd tell myself to look into Chantix. I'd tell myself that the thicker socks would never be worn. I'd tell myself that tea with the Taliban isn't all that unusual. I had tea with one this morning. Start off your year with a civilized sit-down with an enemy; it's good for the soul.

I'd tell myself that when it all came down, I was going to be fine. I'd tell myself that at the end of the year, I would feel good about what I had done and how I had done it.

I would tell myself to be more accepting. I would tell myself to expect to be left hanging out on a limb in precarious positions, but that it would be fine anyway.

I'd tell myself to just have faith.

I'd tell myself to spend more time writing.

Last year was a year that was, except one day, given to my country. It was a year taken from my children, taken from everything that I had thought important; and, through my country, given to Afghanistan. I have come to care about this country. I have come to see the people here as worthy. I have come to hope for this country, for the children of this country. I have seen my own children standing by the road with no shoes on their feet. I have seen my daughter in a blue burqa trying to shield herself from the view of these strangers who seem almost from outer space, peeking under the strain of unbearable curiosity. I have felt the concern of a father carrying a sick child to be seen by these strangers because no one else could help.

I have seen unfathomable sacrifice. I have seen young men torn asunder in their service. I never understood the word "asunder" until September 10th. Now I will never forget.

I have had people try to take my life because of who I am and what I am doing. I am not the Lone Ranger. A lot of people have had it a lot worse.

I have been in the company of heroes. I have seen the very best that our country has to offer the world; and we are offering them up. There are some amazing young Americans over here.

I am simply a witness to all the greatness that surrounds me. Not all of us are great. Some of us deserve to be shot. I have witnessed greatness, heroism, unbelievable selfishness, sacrifice, cowardice, triumph, loss, dereliction, and quiet courage. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. We all have to live with where we fall on that scale. Times like these tend to follow us through our lives, and like the line from the movie: "What we do here echoes in eternity."

There will be echoes. Most I've seen have passed the test. Their echoes will bring pride to their families.

I have come to believe that we are winning; not because of our wonderful plans, but because of a few who truly have a tremendous impact and because the Afghans themselves really do want to be free.

2007 was a year of incredible experiences. It was a culmination, a definition, and a regeneration. I am grateful for all of it.

I know what it means to be the sheepdog on the far hill, and there are wolves out here. Soon it will be time to run back to the flock and raise the alarm, to bark about the wolves beyond the far hill until someone says, "What? Timmy fell in a well and he needs our help?"

In 2008, I will be near my children for most of the year. I will see them again, and I hope that I never forget how very hard this was to be away from them. It's the worst pain that I've ever felt. 2008 will carry me home, one way or the other. Others will come and continue the work that was continued this year.

There will be a lot of challenges in the coming year, but I think that if I look to the top of this page, I can find some advice to give myself. As I finish this, once again the mind-melding iPod works its magic and produces U-2's "New Year's Day." Perfect.
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