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April 12, 2009
Easter '06By Greyhawk
Don't let the title fool you, this is an entry from Easter, 2009 - it's a slice of life from three years before that, now (unbelievable...) five years ago. Without getting into the 'why' of it - no matter how you slice it, 2006 was a low point in the war in Iraq. Without getting into the 'how' of it - by 2009 things were much improved. In fact, by 2009 we were beginning to focus more on Afghanistan; when I first wrote this post I linked it to two others that addressed one of the ways I thought that would be a very different war. Prior to 2009 it was going downhill fast, I'd heard. Could we turn it around, too?
Two years later - and no matter how you slice it, due to time differences between here and there, by the time you've read these words (in America in 2011) the same number of troops - or more - will have eaten another Easter dinner at Landstuhl.
Previously: Ancient History
He was one of forty or so who had helped consume the largest Easter dinner Mrs G has ever made. The daughters had helped in preparation but wouldn't be involved in delivery. That's where I came in - helping transport every serving container we owned from our kitchen into the car, down the autobahn and to the facility where the spillover troops - those whose wounds were minor enough not to require in-patient care at Landstuhl but significant enough to merit evac from Iraq or Afghanistan waited in limbo. Their next destination might be the States, or back to their units "on the front".
The majority wanted option two. In the meantime they waited, housed in a dorm in the middle of Germany, visiting the docs but mostly doing very little and probably dwelling much on where they'd been a few days earlier and where they might be tomorrow. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the DFAC - a fine facility to be sure. But that particular Sunday Mrs G burst into the dayroom, her husband in tow (in civilian clothes) and a home-made dinner for forty in hand.
Most were surprised. Few were there long enough to experience multiple visits from MaryAnn or her partner in crime. And this was just a waypoint, after all - a place where they expected to be forgotten. Instead they were being thanked, but their universal question was inevitably why? Few Soldiers (or Sailors or Airmen or Marines) - surrounded most of the time by thousands who are doing exactly what they are doing - are aware they are doing something that sets them apart. Something worthy of thanks in word or deed.
Having done my bit for them that day I took repayment - intel on how things were going over there. In getting honest answers it helped that I was between tours myself, had been there before and already knew I was heading back. And these guys could be counted on for the worst possible view - they were, after all, the walking wounded from America's war. Many were relatively undamaged but had been in vehicles with others less fortunate, their seat on the right rather than the left making the difference between home cooked Easter meal and dinner from a tube - or even a last supper. So there they were in limbo with little to do but ponder their existence after dealing with the frustration of administrative details and the limits of medical science and families on the homefront convinced they must be far worse off then their brief communications would claim.
And it was 2006. Success in Tal Afar was in the past, unknown to most, and declared unrepeatable by most others. The Samarra mosque bombing was headline material for stories that couldn't fail to mention "civil war" and the American victims caught in the middle. The Anbar Awakening was a few months away, the surge a year out. The war in Iraq was lost. A mistake from the start. The war in Afghanistan was forgotten.
Who could possibly paint a grimmer picture than the individuals in the middle of all that? (American "journalists" and their readers or viewers who'd never been in country, of course - but this is a rhetorical question.) And it wasn't a pretty picture - but the worst I heard was the quote that prefaces this account. "All we do is drive up and down the highways, waiting to be attacked." A situation can be bad, but that assessment was grim because it indicated that as bad as it was we weren't really going to be doing anything about it.
That was one guy, and I didn't drill for details. I don't doubt for a minute that driving up and down the highway was all he did in Iraq - waiting to be attacked was his choice of additional detail. That was his perception, and it mattered. Whether that was his platoon's mission or his company's or his brigade's I didn't bother asking. And I didn't need to ask why that's what he did - they were keeping the roads open for convoys. Why? So the FOB could be supplied. Why? Because there were soldiers there. What were they doing there? They were keeping the road open...
And the circle goes on and on, and I knew it and didn't have to ask. The answer was in his eyes and tone of voice when he replied. And he was tired (though not hungry) and didn't know where he would be in a week - home in the States or running route clearance in Iraq, waiting for another flash boom that would mean he wouldn't make it to the DFAC that night, would miss out on enjoying the food that couldn't have been delivered without him...
And after a while the crowd dwindled and the wife and I cleaned up the dishes and packed them away and went home to an Easter dinner of our own.
And that was Easter, 2006.
Things are better over there now, of course. Which means that the guys who went back and made that happen are less on the minds of their countrymen than ever before. Funny how that happens.
"Dinner's ready", the wife just called from our kitchen in America on Easter in 2009.
So Happy Easter from our house to yours.
More to follow...
Posted by Greyhawk / April 12, 2009 11:14 AM | Permalink
For Easter I re-posted an old entry from the archives, something I'd written in 2009 about something I'd done in 2006. That got me into the April 2006 archives, too - in search of reminders of what I'd been writing about back then. Among other topics: ... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
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Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com