30 May 2011

Let us never forget.

JFK's famous words at Arlington National Cemetery

I’m annoyed this Memorial Day.  On the front page of my hometown paper there is a huge headline, “Memories of War.”  This article features four gentlemen who served for our country…in WWII.  Now while I know that their sacrifices are honorable and deserving respect it perturbs me that this completed the entirety of the coverage. 

I know one of the reasons I'm out here is to show the troops fighting these wars that they are not forgotten, but here in my hometown newspaper is proof that to some they are.  Here are four accounts that are nostalgic, but unrelatable to most of today’s population as the men discuss their war stories from 1944.  Have we forgotten that there are men and women still dying for us TODAY?

Where are the stories this Memorial Day from a soldier, airman, marine, sailor, who just returned from Iraq or Afghanistan?

There are also three editorials in the paper, two of three which mention have no mention of Iraq or Afghanistan.  I think we are doing a disservice to ourselves if this Memorial Day we just sit back and only think of these old troops who are enjoying their golden years, but still haunted by memories of their time at war.  They get to have their golden years.  

We also need to remember this Memorial Day the men and women who lost their lives this past year, and the past ten years. 
Temporary headstones and newly made plots at Arlington eerily waiting for casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan to fill them

The ones who will never get to see their daughter or son grow up.  The ones who were never even old enough to legally drink a beer.  The ones who fought hard and laid down their life for a friend.  The ones who never saw it coming.  The ones who suffered.  The ones who now live, but without a limb.  The ones who have seen a friend die right beside them, but still go out the next day to that same place to do their job.

Along with our WWII and Vietnam veterans we need to remember these men and women, our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.  We need to not let a day go by that we don’t think about our troops, because that one day you forgot that they are out here at least one family is heartbroken because their brother, sister, son, daughter, husband, wife, friend has been killed.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

I encourage everyone to join the Facebook group, “Military Wall of Honor.”  It is a group that posts about every troop that perishes in Iraq and Afghanistan.  After posting the war casualty, this dedicated group of volunteers then tries to find as much information as possible about the deceased to make them real to all of us.  They put up pictures from their Facebook profile pics and list comments that people have left on the deceased’s wall.  They also tell the official story of how they paid the ultimate sacrifice for us. 

As I scroll through my news feed laughing at the latest pictures of my friend’s bar hopping or stalking someone’s statuses, I’ll come across a Military Wall of Honor posting.  For a moment when I see that young face of a smiling troop looking back at me, I am reminded he or she is gone now.  I always take a second, even if it is just a second, to say a prayer for the fallen troop and their family and loved ones.  In that moment they are not forgotten.

This is a link to the story, "The Marble of our Heroes' Headstones" shown on CBS News Sunday Morning about the creation of headstones at national cemeteries.  It features the creation of Daren Hidalgo's headstone.

28 May 2011

My Boys

I found myself a family in Afghanistan.  They’re a smellier, more foul mouthed, definitely more male version, than my family back home, but they’ll do just fine.  Being one of three girls in my immediate family and one of a gaggle of mostly female grandchildren, I always secretly longed for a big brother, well doesn’t God have a funny sense of humor, now I have about 25 of them…who are armed and dangerous. 

I arrived in Afghanistan on September 30 and on October 31 I met some G Co.  More than a thousand soldiers come in our center’s doors everyday, but these guys, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Calvary Regiment, Ghost Company, (G Co for short) there is just something about them, like a mold that rapidly grows and seems annoying at first but then you realize it's really penicillin that's amazingly awesome and saves lives.

Gentry and Hidalgo obviously up to no good on Halloween

Cindy and "Butter Bar" Hidalgo on Halloween

It all started when I spotted a wounded warrior who was leaning on crutches looking bored out of his mind, I told him I could offer him a seat if he wanted to volunteer behind the desk.  He took the bait, finding nothing else remotely entertaining to do and became our first G Co volunteer.  That was Gentry.  Then Hidalgo spotted Gentry behind the desk and wondered what he was doing.  I quickly roped him in as well and then Cooper soon followed too.  Hawes, although in H Co, still belongs in the cool kid group because I met him on Halloween with the rest of the guys.  Then although they didn’t volunteer, Perez, Grover and some others started hanging around the USO.  These guys were the first troops that made me laugh harder than anyone I had met out here.  They will do anything I ask of them, although making sure to give me a hard time first, then eventually doing it.  They make fun of me, and get it right back.  They are also fiercely protective, even if they have fun watching me squirm when a creeper approaches.  It was like having instant brothers I never knew I wanted.  All my coworkers came to know the guys and Cindy and Sarah York became close with the crew as well.

Cooper picking on me
Well because soldiers gossip more than high school girls, word must have gone around that the USO has free internet, delicious coffee and some employees with soft spots for G Co and when some more G Co came through for various reasons like stryker maintenance, going on leave, or detainee guard I met some more of the boys: Ortega, Young, Moser, Shaw, Irons, Dalrymple, MacDonald (H Co), Morgan, Sgt V and Garcia to name a few.  They were all like the rest, hilarious, inappropriate, brave, funny, exciting, ridiculous guys.  Then there were our "voluntolds" James, Christiansen, Knutson, and Gaultier, who provided endless entertainment during their stay.  Later on I met Runkle, Goff, Cole and Thompson.  I've become closer with some than others, but with G Co I've had countless DFAC meals, Catchphrase nights, Green Bean runs, Egyptian Rat Screw games and even Young and Moser acted in a video for my friend back home.

Cooper picking on York
Just like family, they were there for me after Hidalgo’s death.  My heart swelled the day after I attended his ramp and at four different times G Co guys came to the USO with heavy hearts but determined souls to break the news to me.  Much to their relief, I already knew.  As I embraced each one I thanked God for the support system he had given me.  Throughout the months the guys have talked to me and made me smile with memories of Hildago and pieces of stories I never knew.  These stories are reassurances to me that this great guy would never be forgotten in any of our minds, and that his example lives on in all of them.

Hawes wearing my sweater, lil snug, no?
As I’ve showcased, I have a strong attachment to “my boys.”  Since I arrived at KAF there’s always been one or more here at any given time to annoy, I mean, entertain me.  Almost 7 months I’ve known these guys.  Now they are back at KAF one last time to redeploy (go back to Germany).  A couple days before their arrival Hawes was introducing me to some H Co and he said, “Don’t bother trying to impress her, G Co is her favorite.”

I was so disappointed (okay maybe a lil more than that, pretty much devastated) when I found out their date had been pushed back and I would only get to spend a few days with them before I left for my vacation to come home.  I’d have to leave one family for another.

Young and I eating homemade cookies Bonnie Mattas sent the boys
They’re leaving to go back to their lives.  Although I’m sure I’ll meet other soldiers who will become my friends, none will compare to G Co.  I want for them the absolute best, because they deserve it.  They’ve had to deal with a lot of injuries and death this deployment, but they are all incredibly strong men. All the words in the world couldn’t thank them enough for their service to their country, the sacrifices they have made, the things they have had to endure, and what their friendship has meant to me, but I thought I’d give it a shot.  When I took this job I thought of how much I’d give, I never realized how much I would get.  I picture that scene in The Blindside where one of her rich friends says, “You’re changing that boy’s life.”  She immediately responds, “No, he’s changing mine.”
As I’m sure with all the friendships one makes throughout life, some might become life long friends that see me through anything, and some of them will drift away and just become names I see on my Facebook feed.  But even then, I won’t be able to keep myself from cracking a smile.  Because although I may forget specific conversations, or not know their current situation, I’ll never forget the way my boys made me feel…like I wasn’t half way across the world from my family, they were right here.

Toujours Pret.

03 May 2011

Reaction Time

After hearing the news, processing it, and writing a blog about it, my journalist instincts kicked in and I wanted to know what everyone else thought about it.  So, I asked.

One of my friends out on a COP said, “When we heard it was like thumbs up, okay back to work.”  Another had his Facebook status say, “So Osama’s gone, but we’re still here, go figure.”  Another soldier expressed his disdain that he has spent 4 years of his life deployed because of this guy, but will not see any proof of his death.  For the most part, everyone here is not reacting.  They’re all just going about their business, because there are still more evil men out there to fight against every day.

Then there are the millions of ridiculous Facebook statuses.  It befuddles me that Facebook is the avenue to have political debate.  If you really wanted to have an intelligent discussion of ideas, that’s what it needs to be, a discussion, not yelling on your wall and then what?  Refreshing your page every 10 minutes to see if anyone responded?  Maybe I’m the only one this annoys, and maybe honestly, I’m being a little hypocritical, after all I write a blog, but I at least try to be sensitive in my writing. 

We worry about the partisan divide in our Congress, well just look at it on an 18 year old’s Facebook walls.  On one point it does encourage me a little that people are getting involved in the debate and taking an interest in the leadership of our nation…but then I read the comments and realize they have no factual information and would rather just tear apart the intelligence and/or mother of the person they are responding to and that feeling of encouragement goes out the window.

It was really interesting to me that people found Bible passages to both support and admonish the celebration of an evil person’s death.

‎"Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles..." - Proverbs 24:17

When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy. - Proverbs 11:10

Same book , different chapters, different messages?  Religion confuses me sometimes.

Then there is the wise Dr. King:
"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

To one of my friend’s statuses that had this Dr. King quote someone had responded, "All it takes for evil to triumph, is for good men to stand by and do nothing." Edmund Burke

There’s just so much to take into consideration, should we feel happy at the death of a ruthless murderer, or sad at the loss of a human life no matter how evil it was? 

It’s hard to be sensible about this when everyday I meet troops who have been injured by the men Osama has trained or instructed to carry out his plans.  I’m still not sure if my feelings are taking the high road or just the easy road, but I think the quote that most sums up my feelings was posted on my coworker/roommate Erin’s facebook status…

‎"I've never wished a man dead, but I've read some obituaries with great pleasure." -Mark Twain.

*Disclaimer* I did not fact check to see if these quotes actually came from these authors; I trusted my Facebook sources, okay so maybe I don't have the greatest journalist instincts.

02 May 2011

Far from over

This morning I woke up, went to the bathroom and a female soldier told me, “Did you hear the good news?”  We’ve been on high alert the past few days because of the prisoners escaping in Kandahar, so I assumed she was going to tell me we caught some bad guys and were no longer on alert.  Little did I know she was going to tell me we caught the biggest bad guy.  I was excited, happy, even exuberant.  I thought it was pretty cool that years from now I’ll be able to say, yep I was in Afghanistan when Osama was killed.  I’ve been reading, Where Men Win Glory, and in the book they discuss how close we came to killing Osama at the very beginning of the war, but he escaped due to our poor planning.  I quickly got online and read as many news stories and Facebook status updates as I could.  I saw one person comment on one of my coworker’s Facebook status, “I hope you guys are having a big party.”

Then just like any other day, I put my tennis shoes on one at a time and went to the gym.  While I was there running on the treadmill, they came on with an announcement of a “controlled explosion.”  This happens about every other day, or sometimes three or four times a day.  It basically means they found an IED (improvised explosive device) on base or near base and are now detonating it.  The soldier running next to me stopped on his treadmill and took his ear buds out when he heard the announcement come on, I’m sure he was checking to make sure it wasn’t a more dangerous warning. 

Moments later “The Today Show” came on.  I could not hear it, but I saw pictures of Osama, and video of American crowds cheering.  I looked around me and not a single person was cheering, clapping or celebrating in any form… they were working.  

Our brave men and women who are out here fighting for us, are going about doing what they do, continuing to work out to stay in the best shape, so they can do the best job they can.  I swelled with pride.  It was the proudest moment I have felt while doing my job these 7 months out here.  I get the honor of serving them.  They don't have time for a party, they are continuing to train and fight, because this is far from over.  They might not have been on the mission to assassinate Osama, but in some way each and every single one of them contributed to bring an end to his terrorist reign.  As I ran elated in this sense of awe, I looked at the troops around me and  it was as if suddenly everything else turned blurry, and I focused in on their memorial tattoos and KIA bracelets and then gazed down at my own.

1LT Daren M. Hidalgo
KIA 20 February 2011 Mama Kiriz, Afghanistan
3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Calvary Regiment

I couldn’t help but think, yeah we got this one bad guy, but at the cost of how many of our good guys?

I thought of all the Americans who now think the war is over.  I got a message from a friend who said, “Does this mean you can come home now?”  Far from it.  The retaliation is sure to be strong, heavy and extremely dangerous. 

As I finished up my run, I heard another announcement, it was the test for the “mass casuality” alarm.