Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Music

The song, “My Favorite Things,” will always remind me my parent’s Tony Bennett Christmas album, even though the song originates from the musical, The Sound of Music. And, while I’ll admit that some of the “things” listed in the Rodgers and Hammerstein lyrics are nice, they are not among my favorite. Cream-colored ponies and schnitzel with noodles are not ranked high on my list. But, upon returning to the States, I’ve gained a better appreciation of the little nuances of life. These are a few of my favorite things…

1. Indoor plumbing with fresh water. Sounds simple and ordinary, but waking up in the middle of the night and getting dressed to walk 20-50 yards is a drag. As a bonus, you can drink from an American tap without needing hospitalization afterward.

2. Women freely and openly appearing in public. Not covered up in a burqa or lurking in the shadows. Actually seeing women everywhere, busy living ordinary lives in full view of society, is comforting.

3. Crisp cool ocean breezes, second only to the fragrant scent of eucalyptus trees. I hadn’t caught deep breaths this pleasant in a long while.

4. 18 inches of snow in Boston while you're in San Francisco. A toast to all the times I’ve been stranded at Logan, Dallas and Philly due to weather.

5. The sight of old friends that you haven't seen in ages. Freely sharing stories of antics that occurred over the past 2 decades.

6. But, nothing tastes as a good as a beer at the Grant and Green while recalling North Beach nights of long ago.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Everyone is in the day-room. Guys are leaving for the first time in a year. 32 guys, one female. And those now leaving by POV are saying farewells to us who are awaiting flights from Philly to Boston and beyond. For the 1st time our year-long adventure together – guys are departing and going their separate ways. We've shared our immediate plans for return to civilian life with each other. Most involve ample amounts of beer. For the first time in a long while, we’ll have no accountability of each other. No more feeding off each other’s personalities and quirks. Or tolerating each others grating annoyances. No more living with our limited circle of 33 familiar faces as we always have, over chow, early in the morning, late into the evening, daily duties, missions – everywhere. It’s a concluding moment for a unit that a year ago was coming together and as a unit, training in the crazy, often frustrating environment at Ft. Bragg’s “FOB Patriot.” Who knows who will stay in contact with each other? I know that I’ll be keeping ties with Cheeks, Jim, Ron and Joe D, Joe M, possibly others too.

For all the oddness that leaving brings today, it’s the goal that we’ve all worked for this year. We all came back relatively healthy. Some are struggling with cases of PTSD, as evidenced by tempers that are so close to the surface that the most minor slight will cause an eruption. Hopefully, time and comforts of home, or even some profession help, will help these guys pacify these demons.

But, despite all the challenges and frustrations, it was truly awesome to serve with most of the guys in my unit. I keep on reminding myself that had I not chosen to serve in the army, my walk of life wouldn’t have afforded me the chance to even meet these guys, let alone share formative experiences with them.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Weight has been lifted

Now back, after nearly a year’s hiatus in Kikuk, Iraq. My trepidation for posting anything on this blog is nearly assuaged, as our tour is wrapping up. Please accept my apologies for my extended absence. Though, recapping what I couldn’t post is nearly impossible due to space and time limitations and my inclination to focus only on the positive aspects of my experiences in support of the civil affairs effort in Kirkuk.

One of the fundamental supply related concepts you learn quickly in the army is that you’re held financially liable for equipment for a variety of reasons. You might not even have been the soldier that has actually lost the equipment. But, because of some paperwork snafu, you could be charged with a financial loss. Also, a commander is often subject to personally liability for equipment that he “signed for” but that he didn’t personally lose. Interestingly, corporate America adopted this idea of piercing the executive corporate veil and extending personal liability to CEOs/CFOs after Enron/Worldcom through the 302 certifications under the Sarbanes/Oxley act of 2002. Well, the army has been doing this for years and I soon learned that this financial exposure also extends to supply sergeants. I’ll just say there were various equipment transactions and issues that kept me up at night during the course of this tour. Luckily I had supporting teams sergeants that kept close tabs on their equipment and quickly reported their status to me. Increasing my challenges was the logistical hurdles of sustaining and tracking supplies at 4 remote FOBs throughout the tour. With our change of command inventories nearly complete and the replacement unit slowly assuming more responsibility over supply activities, I’m only now drawing a sense of relief.

Tonight with my work nearly finished, I spent an evening of recreation by playing extended games of ping-pong with “G”, Ron and Mike at the nearby gym. I’m so happy to have caught up with these guys and been able to release some steam. Throughout the tour, it’s been Ron that’s kept the camaraderie of the unit together and essentially kept us all sane amongst all the surrounding craziness of our daily lives. And I’m only now finding the time to reflect on all that’s happened over the past year and put it into some meaningful context.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Thank you for saying this

The following is a very profound blog entry written on Aug. 30, 2008, by Army Specialist Stephen Fortunato, who was killed this October in Afghanistan when the vehicle he was riding in was blown by up an improvised explosive device. This entry was forwarded to the Boston Globe by his mother, Elizabeth "Betty" Crawford.

If I may …

I'd like to say something....Just to get it out there so it is clear.
To all the pampered and protected Americans who feel it is their duty to inform me that I am not fighting for their freedom, and that i am a pawn in Bush's agenda of greed and oil acquisition: Noted, and [expletive deleted] You.

I am not a robot. i am not blind or ignorant to the state of the world or the implications of the "war on terrorism." i know that our leaders have made mistakes in the handling of a very sensitive situation, but do not for one second think that you can make me lose faith in what we, meaning America's sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers in uniform are doing.

I am doing my part in fighting a very real enemy of the United States, i.e. Taliban, Al Qaida, and various other radical sects of Islam that have declared war on our way of life. Unless you believe the events of 9/11 were the result of a government conspiracy, which by the way would make you a MORON, there is no reasonable argument you can make against there being a true and dangerous threat that needs to be dealt with. i don't care if there are corporations leaching off the war effort to make money, and i don't care if you don't think our freedom within America's borders is actually at stake. i just want to kill those who would harm my family and friends. it is that simple. Even if this is just a war for profit or to assert America's power, so what? Someone has to be on top and I want it to be us. There's nothing wrong with wishing prosperity for your side.

I am a proud American. i believe that my country allows me to live my life more or less however i want to, and believe me, i have seen what the alternative of that looks like. i also believe that our big scary government does way more than it has to to help complete [expletive deleted]-ups get back on their feet, a stark comparison to places where leaders just line their own pockets with gold while allowing the people who gave them their power and privilage to starve. I have chosen my corner. I back my country, and am proud to defend it against aggressors. Also, if you dare accuse us of being inhumane, or overly aggressive because we have rolled into someone else's country and blown some [expletive deleted] up and shot some people, let me remind you of just how inhumane we COULD be in defending ourselves. Let me remind you that we have a warhead that drops multiple bomblets from the stratosphere which upon impact, would turn all the sand in Iraq to glass, an d reduce every living thing there to dust. Do we use it? No. Instead we use the most humane weapon ever devised: the American soldier. We send our bravest (and perhaps admittedly craziest) men and women into enemy territory, into harms way, to root out those whom we are after and do our best to leave innocent lives unscathed.

...One last thing...a proposal. i know it has been stated time and time again but i just think it is worthy of reiteration. If you find yourself completely disgusted with the way America is being run, and how we handle things on the global stage, you can leave. Isn't that amazing? No one will stop you! If you are an anarchist, there are places you can go where there is no government to tell you anything. That's are left solely to your own devices and you can handle the men who show up at your door with AKs in any way that you see fit. Just don't try good old American debate tactics on them because you will most likely end up bound and blind-folded, to have your head chopped off on the internet so your parents can see it. However if you insist on staying here and taking advantage of privileges such as free speech and WIC, keep the counter-productive [expletive deleted] to a minimum while the grown ups figure out how t o handle this god-awful mess in the middle east.