Saturday, August 11, 2007

Combative Philosophy

During my last post, I mentioned that I was considering a return to the military, possibly utilizing Reserve Officers’ Training on campus to facilitate such a future move. As this is, no doubt, a life-altering decision, it is also one that is causing me to do a lot of thinking.

For example, I really love a good war movie. But did I love war movies before I joined the military? Or do I love them now because they play on feelings that I can personally associate? More pointed: why do I yearn to return to the military? Is there something about the action that my being necessitates participation? Or is it because the military is means to a relatively financially-comfortable lifestyle?

While I am not feeling at my most philosophical currently, these are questions that have been tumbling in my mind for the past few days. For that reason, I am going to develop them here as it is on “paper” that I find the best medium for my deepest thoughts. And, via this method, the reader, too, can understand what motivates one to fight.

Additionally, I have questions that I need answered. I need to know if the thoughts that I feel, if the drive that motivates me, are isolated dynamics – all of my own – or common among soldiers. Do people outside of such highly life-threatening professions feel these same tugs at the soul?

Let’s start the analytical process with an example. I have found that I really enjoy the movie, 300. If you are unfamiliar with the film, you can substitute any of your own from this same genre. That is to say, the intended genre is that that categorizes films such as 300, Gladiator, Braveheart, et al. While this will tie into the thought-process at hand, it is worthwhile noting now that all of these movies are amongst my very favorites. But, what is the reaction that one has upon the completion of any of these movies? Is it only satisfaction in the sense that one finds that they have been well entertained for a few hours or is there more? Because, for me, there is most definitely more.

Sure, when the intensity builds and the drama is at its highest during the movie, I get motivated, often to the point of voicing such pleasure audibly. However, I feel so much more. I watch a movie like 300 that, in only the most indirect ways compares to soldiering today, and I feel a very real personal association. I get a stomach-tightening pang that yearns to be part of a Spartan culture. I am getting a similar feeling in simply describing the phenomenon currently. It’s not as if I live in some fantasy-world of a 20-something male, imagining that I am borne into a certain caste or set to do a certain thing, but yet, I walk away from such movie-going experiences and want to do more.

My thoughts get deep when stimulated by these subjects that are hardly intended to be thought-provoking. To the one that relates, they are. If, say, Leonidas dies at the Hot Gates in the movie 300 as he did in reality during the Battle of Thermopylae, I am stuck with a feeling not of sadness over the loss of the heroic character, but a deeper inquisitive feeling: What is one’s life in the long telling of the world’s combined lives? If everyone dies at some point, and surely we all do, what is the difference in the method we die or the lives that we lived? Moreover, what is that life if it is only recorded and spoke of among small groups of close relatives and friends? Surely, in this case, any single life would eventually fade from existence in the expanse of time.

And, at this point, my thought process comes nearly full circle. There is a reason why the name Leonidas echoes throughout time. It is the same reason that people still talk of Patton, Pershing, Stonewall Jackson and so many others. They made their life mean something. And, by doing meaningful things, their lives will forever be recorded throughout the halls of time. Of course, one doesn’t have to choose military endeavors to leave such profound impact, but if one finds himself strong at such a profession and has any enjoyment in pursuing it, than the option becomes very much viable.

Now the mind shifts to a different question: What is it about military life that is enjoyable? And, really, this is the quintessential question presented to a man dealing with such a drastic decision. I mean, if we remove legacy from the question and deal with only the complexities of enjoying the only life that one is provided, than there is no more profound question. So, truly, what do I enjoy about military life?

And here is where my own personal thoughts become muddied. What seems fun from a distance can conjure utterly different emotions when put into personal practice. This is to say that, while I enjoy watching movies at Grouchy Media of aggressive field problems with motivating rock music, I have found that I don’t always find participating in aggressive field problems particularly fun. However, on the same note, for every ounce of pain that I felt rucking with 100 pounds pulling down on my shoulders, I certainly felt satisfaction at levels ten times that weight once the mission was completed and once I considered myself successful.

And it is the action in the war movies that gets everyone going. The dynamic here is exactly the same as the one just described. Very few people (although, I can attest that I personally know *one* person that does) enjoy life or death battle as it is occurring. In my experience in such situations, there is hardly time to distinguish enjoyment from fear from any feeling otherwise. Yet, on numerous occasions, I have returned to a base-camp after such an adrenaline-draining event happy to be in relative safety but, yet, yearning to return to action.

If it is not distinguishable that it is the field-craft of the military that I find particularly enjoyable, than what is it? There is something to be said for the life that one lives as military personnel outside of the actual work required. Financially, I most definitely lived more comfortably while in the service than I do now while in college. Of course, this is to be expected. But the point shouldn’t be taken lightly. If I were to follow through with ROTC until commissioning, I would achieve the rank of 0-1E. This is good pay. Combined with benefits and the funding provided for housing and meals and, ostensibly, I could be living a rather luxurious style. Moreover, I know as much as anyone that the world is open to the single soldier. A pay-stub proving one’s employment by the military is worth 1000 times its weight in gold, especially if the military member is willing to purchase on credit. And with today’s high rate of deployment, it is ever so easy to amass money while stuck in locations where one is unable to waste their financial accumulations. So, certainly, comfortable lifestyle plays a part into the decision-making process.

These are things that I can tell you: I yearn for adventure, I am a work-out obsessive individual, and I fail at standard repetitive tasks. Moreover, the possibility of working "normal" nine to five hours is likely to be met with an utter lack of success. I desire stability; however, I spin towards chaos when such stability presents itself. I am thoroughly enigmatic, in the sense that I am always just a bit off center from the herding crowd. While I am in a fraternity, I am certainly the atypical frat-guy. I keep distance, yet I make good friends. However, as strongly as I bond, I quickly disconnect. I was always popular whether in high school or in platoons. But upon leaving both, I severed all ties. I thirst for independence, and often do well when given it, but – ultimately – find myself being bailed out of given negative situations by my propensity for strong networking.

I sat with a friend, Joe (described in the latter half here), and discussed our future lives many months ago under the Ramadi sun. In both of our cases, it was decided that if we were to do what it seemed we were molded to complete, we would surely be following future lives unlike that of the typical Americans. Joe was the product of adoption and never found solace in his family life. While I have a strong family, I have always found my own solace in independence. It was figured that either or both of us could drop off the face of the Earth and continue enjoyable lives despite total disconnection from all that was familiar. In my assessment, this is an ability rarely found in most Americans. If only such an attribute could be positively tested for and determined and, surely, our nation’s clandestine services would be of great benefit. This is all building to the climatic idea that I am not only destined to be single but that I would also rather be. I desire a life without restriction to any sort of home-base as represented by the customary wife and kids. I absolutely live for my ability to be sporadic. If I choose tomorrow to enlist in the Army to finally attempt and complete Special Forces training (as I continuously contemplate) than I want it be a decision that will only hurt or benefit me solely. I am much too selfish and much too little responsible to have others depending on my stability in life.

Now the challenge remains to funnel all that has been described above into some suitable category. Does all this mean that I am destined to a life of military duty? Is that what I truly yearn? Or does better opportunity await? And, more prominent currently, when do I decide? When is the day that I make the decision that shapes my entire life? Have I made it already? Did I do so when I enlisted in the military with much less thought than I am delving now? These are important questions and ones that present challenging paths to the revelation of answers.

Ultimately, this is the dynamic that most interests me: I am hardly typical by any means. My dedication to physical fitness is probably mirrored by a rather small percentage of the nation’s population. Yet, I combine pure meathead desires with an obsession to write. And, oddly, as I do so tonight, I listen to Arvo Part and, currently, Mendelssohn. A book lies before me, on my desk. It is the biography of Vincent Van Gogh which I am reading ferociously. The reading wasn’t directed; instead, I find myself fascinated with Van Gogh’s method of antagonized thought and how this thinking led to his artistic productions. All this is being completed in a fraternity house where I participate very actively and socially. These factors combine to describe an individual that is more unique than any other I know. Which, in my limited ability to reason successfully, dictates that I shall follow a career path that is also unique. I would want nothing less.

The final, most daunting question remains: Is there something more, however, than what the military offers? I want to participate in the most defining challenges of our time. I am committed to the effort that our country has chosen to participate. Are there other means for me to engage myself so? If so, will they offer the adventure, action, and satisfaction that I desire? Is the military my glass ceiling prohibiting me from more grand aspirations or the height of my desires?


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Odd Before the Storm

Sorry for the unannounced and unexpected hiatus. No excuses here; just needed a couple of days away from the computer. I appreciate your understanding.

Ultimately, tonight I would like to talk about the days PRE-Iraq War; yes, that blissful, happy time that found America united against a common enemy but yet bound by a world of total uncertainty. For me, the world was even more surreal as I found myself in the desert wasteland of Kuwait, contemplating and doubting my pending experiences in war.

Before the telling of that tale, however, I want to relate a personal current event. Since the inception of Educated Soldier (and, certainly – by other medium - before), I have affirmed my ardent support for the efforts in Iraq. I was separate from the masses in suggesting that I agreed with entering the country in the inception and, I was like many others, in declaring that we must follow the mission through until its completion- however “completion” may ultimately be defined. While I felt that I had weight in my words because of my experience in Iraq, I still felt hollow in my assertions. For this reason, and many others, I have been in discussion with the liaisons from my campus’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). While the decision is certainly not set in stone, I can say that I am thoroughly contemplating some future participation in the military via the Army’s corps of officers. To those that understand what the following means: I would definitely choose to branch Infantry, if available, and return to Active Duty.

The most daunting obstacle may not be my desire to participate but a few various blemishes on my credit record. I sure hope that these past mistakes don’t prohibit the opportunity to commission should I decide to do so. It is said that the purpose of gaining a security clearance (which dictates the necessity of an investigation where my credit record would be analyzed) is to find if one is trust worthy. I am certainly that. I just missed some bills. That shouldn’t reflect on my ability to be loyal but on my ability (or lack thereof) to make money. But I digress…

I will post more here concerning my possible continued progress in this regard as it presents itself. Until then, moving on...

Kuwait, 2002

While I am sure that the winter of 2002 was a trying and thought-provoking time in the United States, it was surely that and much more for those of us that were in the military at the time. In 2007, it is with no doubt that I can suggest that nearly all members of the Army are quite familiar with the idea of deploying. This wasn’t the case in 2002. While we had troops in Afghanistan, most of these seemed to be Special Forces folks or Airborne troops, either of which seemed steeped in a situation a world away from any mess that I would have to dirty my hands in. True enough, I would never smell the air of the Khyber Pass nor live life on a base in Kandahar; I missed the opportunity to fight in Afghanistan. This surely isn’t to say that I missed the chance to fight altogether, however.

Ultimately, I would get that opportunity – twice. I talked about some of those experiences here, here, and here. The first post told of a devastating situation that occurred while “invading” Iraq from the South. The second, a recovery operation that allowed me to meet the most amazing of United States warriors whom most definitely derived from a Spartan lineage. The third link leads to a story of a sensitive situation: a hostile mosque. My battalion found a way of dealing with and clearing the dangerous facility, but because of the peculiarities of the dynamics presented by a mosque, the results ended in both positive and negative sentiments. Tonight, though, we are tackling something totally differently; life in Kuwait. Life before the Iraq War and life with a band of troops that were absolutely naive towards the conflict that stood before them.

SCENE: Desert night, outside of the group immediately before us, there is no life visible in any direction at any feasible distance. While darkness would conceal such life, none is to be hidden. It simply fails to exist; this is Kuwait – land of only endless, rolling dunes of sand and waves of blistering heat. Tonight, the temperature is bearable. A slight breeze ruffles the flames of a large campfire that is the focus of the scene. Surrounding the campfire, in an unmeasured and roughly thrown-together circle, are humvees; the reflection of the dancing flames visible in yellow-orange on the sides of the lightly armored vehicles. These, however, are not the humvees that are prevalent in 2007. Instead of supplemental armor, many of these have doors removed. Almost all have gas cans mounted on every open piece of external body. Guns are mounted on the tops, ruck-sacks tied to the backs, and orange fabric panels attached to the hoods above the engine compartments.

Seated in folding chairs in various positions within the radius of trucks are leisurely looking soldiers. Most are wearing desert pants; many have no shirts on. Some are wearing sandals, while others wear boots. None of them seem occupied by any important task. Small talk is made but the scene is encompassed, in a general term, by silence.

It is mid-March, 2003. Each of the men of this scene would soon be traveling on a journey unlike any other they have ventured. They are the Combat Observation Lasing Team soldiers of Echo Troop, 9th Cavalry of the Third Infantry Division. In just a few days, they will make one further movement to northern Kuwait, stage there temporarily, and then, ultimately, invade Iraq. However, just a few days before, many of them still doubt if the war is really going to occur.

And this is the unaltered truth. Up until the day that I stood beside a television reporter and watched from about 100 meters the first shots of the war being fired, I was on the side of the argument that truly doubted that this war was going to occur. In Kuwait, prior to the war starting, we – as soldiers – had pretty decent access to the “outside” world. By this point, having established bases in Kuwait for the past six months, we had dedicated internet access in all of our tents. We heard of President Bush’s demands and our leadership suggested that we may soon be entering Iraq. However, the word of confirmation came hardly a second before I was crossing some imaginary border.

What’s interesting is that I knew my role should an invasion occur the day I landed in Kuwait. This isn’t a statement that should ignite a conspiracy theory; this is just how war works. Battle plans and operation orders are developed in preparation for nearly any situation far ahead of the time of utilization. I am convinced that thorough and directed digging would unearth the plan to invade Canada via guerrilla tactics with only small arms and strong motivation; every possible scenario has to be prepared and planned for. What’s peculiar is that the plan regarding Iraq that I was briefed in September of 2002 held nearly without alteration when it was enacted in March of 2003. Of course, in 2002, I paid little note. The winds of war were most definitely not present in Kuwait and we were the only maneuver brigade present in the area of operations. The day of the briefing was only notable, to me, in that it was another of many that I could mark off my calendar until my six month tour in Kuwait would end.

I remember utilizing the makeshift gym on my camp in Kuwait one night early in my deployment. On a radio somewhere, after a weird mix of Arabic-chant-over-string-ensemble followed by Britney Spears-straight-from-America pop, came the “local” military news that is ever present on the only available station: the Armed Forces network. While working out that night, the newscaster explained that the Brigade of the 3rd I.D. that we had replaced would be returning. This was certainly unscheduled and unexpected but, to those of us following events back home, it was recognized as an act of might. My argument was that our President was building forces south of Iraq to force the hand of the dictator to our north to allow for the proper inspection of his weapons arsenal. Soon, we would find out that the 101st Airborne Division would be joining us in Kuwait and still, oddly, war seemed far, far away.

To those that have military experience in the Middle East, this paragraph is dedicated to you. The Kuwait that exists today is not the Kuwait that I struggled through during my initial six months there. Kuwait is sort of an odd country. On its east coast is the beautiful Kuwait City and the equally as appealing Gulf. However, as soon as one exits via highway to the west of Kuwait City, all becomes desert and all also becomes property of the worlds’ allied militaries. One passes a few checkpoints, losing track of all civilization in trade for endless sand, and is suddenly in the middle of the world’s largest military training center. Originally, all the camps in Kuwait were known as “Kabals” and, because no other word does the conditions justice, they “sucked.” At some point, it was decided that “Kabal” was a bad choice of designator and they became known as, originally enough, “camps.” Despite the change in their designations, they always held the same names in honor of the tragedies of September 11th. There were Camps New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Virginia. Soon Camp Connecticut would emerge as well.

If one were to visit these camps now, they wouldn’t have too badly of a time. However, some of the camps would be hard to find as they no longer exist. Instead, they have been replaced by enormous posts in the desert that feel more like home than would a base in Wyoming. The camps remaining are luxurious by Kabal standards. They have KBR-contracted dining facilities, internet access and other amenities. This isn’t to be holier than thou; I also enjoyed such facilities myself. However, in the beginning, these amenities were not to be. This is dedicated to those that suffered with me in those trying times. Remember, we didn’t know war was on the horizon. Had we known, we were too naive to believe. So, at the time, waiting in line for two hours for a phone that may or may not connect with your family members back in the states was a most dire situation. That was the Kuwait that I remember all too well.

Within my platoon, the debate was hot over the argument of whether we were going to war. I said, “No.” I read the internet, I was politically savvy, and I felt that I had a better grasp of the strategy being utilized by Big Government. I was wrong. It sort of worked like this:

A couple of days after the scene that was described above took place, all the units in Kuwait pushed north to tactical assembly areas to stage to fight. It sounds unbelievable, but even there –a few miles south of Iraq- I remained convinced that we were not invading. And little was done initially to refute me. To maintain all assurance of security, no one was absolutely informed that we were entering Iraq until we, absolutely, entered Iraq.

After moving to this new logistical area just south of the Iraq border, the first event occurred that suggested that war may, indeed, be around the corner. Everyone in my camp was instructed to keep their chemical protective suits within reach at all times. The standard performance time for donning these protective suits is eight minutes. It had been since basic training that I had taken any chemical training seriously enough to actually properly don this suit in the allotted time. However, about the same day that we arrived at the assembly area, we would be met by the sound of something never heard before: the siren warning of incoming rounds. Worse, the chemical alarms also sounded. We were being “slimed.” My chemical protection suit, all buttons buttoned, all zippers properly fastened, was in place, on my body in little more than three minutes. Nobody was timing this event, but I can attest that this was true. I helped a couple other buddies don their protective suits. Should I successfully navigate ROTC training in my current situation; events like this will cause me to always take training seriously. I hadn’t in the past and I was lucky that I maintained proficiency despite my lackadaisical nature. I can’t always count on being so fortunate. We weren’t harmed that day in the desert. Saddam had fired a SCUD in our general direction but it fell harmlessly in the desert somewhere near Kuwait City and it contained no chemical materials. Even at this point, I still had strong doubts that we were going to physically enter Iraq.

Sometime that night, my team was ordered on a mission. We were to escort this peculiar gray humvee to a specific point on some map. It wouldn’t be dangerous. In fact, it wouldn’t even take us any closer to the border. The atypical gray humvee happened to be manned by journalist Greg Kelly, his camera crew, and assorted video and computer equipment. My truck and another escorted Mr. Kelly’s to a seemingly random point in the vast desert. All was black; I could hardly discern fifteen feet ahead of me with the naked eye. Mr. Kelly’s crew set up his cameras and equipment and prepped a satellite feed to Fox News headquarters in America. As a lowly driver, I was totally unwitting to what was proceeding before me. On this same note, I truly believe that everyone in our two trucks from Platoon Sergeant to fellow low-ranking Joe were equally as uninformed. Quickly Mr. Kelly’s cameras were rolling, a light was on his face and he was about to go on air…


Let me tell you, as a forward observer, I work with our guys on the cannons often but I had no idea that there was a Howitzer any where near me that night. It was that dark and the tracked vehicle was that quiet. Its eruption echoed throughout the vastness of the night. Suddenly, everything became frenzied. The cannon bellowed several more times, sending rounds into Iraq. Mr. Kelly reported that he was live and the first rounds were being fired in this new war. And I was no more than five feet away. The journalist turned to my platoon sergeant and asked what was going to happen next. My platoon sergeant, ever dedicated to duty, answered truthfully. However, I truly believe that had he suggested that pigs were going to fall from the sky, Mr. Kelly would have informed America, via Fox News, that pigs were about to be fired into Iraq. And that was it; the war had started.

Mr. Kelly did some further journalistic things and, eventually, packed his gear and we returned to the assembly area. After the frenzy of “war” that I had just witnessed, things became again oddly serene upon returning to the logistical area. The war was only open on certain fronts and this wasn’t one of them. My emotions went from “up,” back to steady. The following day I would enter Iraq and they would peak again. Days after, they would flat-line as the “invasion” through southern Iraq proved mostly eventless. The biggest news on any given day during the early ride through Iraq would be the compromising of our team on any certain song to be played in the C.D. player that we had rigged for the journey.

And this is how it started. The night before we rolled into Iraq, I was still convinced that we were not going to go. As we rolled into Iraq, I remained convinced that modern war was fought with air forces and Special Forces soldiers. I even suggested that the only chance of injury for my team would be a wanton missile, which was an act of eerie prophecy.

You know, looking back, I can say, in retrospect, that I was naive in so steadfastly believing that I wasn’t being sent to war. That naivety has comforting values, I guess. It could be suggested that when I first engaged an enemy or when I first saw pure devastation that a loss of innocence occurred. However, I can say this wholeheartedly: I don’t want that naivety back nor do I desire the return to innocence. I am proud of my war experience, proud of service in a just cause and, ultimately, the more I write, the more I yearn to return…

Saturday, August 4, 2007

G.O.P. Faithful Demand to Know!

Today’s issue of Educated Soldier is going to be relatively brief so that I can allow us to focus our efforts in something that I feel is very important that we attempt.

As most of you know, there is a CNN / YouTube Republican Party Debate tentatively scheduled for September 17th. While this event may or may not occur given the paltry interest expressed by most of the G.O.P. candidates (besides, notably, Senator McCain, Representative Paul, and Governor Tommy Thompson), it could still be an ample opportunity for Conservatives to truly get to know the hopefuls – if, and only if – the right questions are submitted and subsequently presented to the candidates.

In this vein, I think that I have developed a question that absolutely MUST be asked. It is to be directed to Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani and follows:

“Given certain ambiguities in your ideologies concerning these issues, Conservatives want to know if you would be willing, as President and given the opportunity, to nominate a highly-qualified individual to the Supreme Court whom has in the past ruled strongly in the favor of Pro-Life decisions and against all further Anti-Gun legislation over a more moderate but equally as qualified judge.”

I would submit this question myself; however, I have good reason not to. Most notably is the obstacle that exists in my lack of owning a web-camera. Nor do I have the talent to create a catchy flash animation of, say, a SNOWMAN to ask this question on my “behalf.” Moreover, if more individuals submit this question, or one similar to it, it is much more likely that one will be proposed that is of high-enough quality to warrant presentation at the debate than had I only created one myself.

Furthermore, if you so choose to submit this question feel free to do so without any mention of my name or website. If you want to plug Educated Soldier, feel free. However, my objective is to get this pointed and important question asked, not drive traffic to my website. Also, of course, this question is just a foundation; feel free to edit / add / take away from it as you choose. You may even choose to add a snappy request to its conclusion to demand that “candidates do not dance around the question,” as many of the users did during the Democrats’ debate.

I feel that this is an absolutely essential question. The method in which it is answered will go a long way in separating the ideals of Governor Romney and Mayor Giuliani from the rest of the pack. Or, on the other hand, it could show that they share more in common with the Conservative base than some of us may give them credit. In either case, the answers are sure to be quite telling.

I appreciate any and all effort that can be dedicated to the success of this mission. Thank you!!

Post Script

In developing this question, I got to thinking that this debate may be very beneficial to Fred Thompson. Consider this:

Let’s suggest that he declares just prior to the scheduled date of the debate but with enough time to request his own invitation to participate. If he did just that, I feel that he would put himself into a “win/win” situation. If he demands a spot in the debate, there is the possibility that other Republican candidates will follow. If so, it then shows that Senator Thompson is on the drum and the other hopefuls are following his beat.

If others still refuse to participate in the event than Senator Thompson will only have to compete against fringe candidates with extreme ideals (see, Paul, Ron et al). This is also positive in the following sense. It isn’t wrong to suggest that Senator Thompson already possesses the support of much of the Conservative base. Against competition so extremely to the Right that they seem unelectable, Senator Thompson would benefit by seeming more moderate in relation. This, in turn, would turn modern conservatives in his favor.

And, regardless, it seems given Thompson’s strong oratory skills that he would benefit from action in any debate, given any competition.

And finally…

Given the relative brevity of tonight’s post, I would really appreciate if you check out the following publications that I have made in the last few days. They all regard situations that occurred to me while in Iraq and each of them poses strong questions and deep personal emotion. I dedicated much effort in developing them and would appreciate if they find strong audiences.

Thanks again!!

Links to previous posts follow:

The Destruction of the 2nd Brigade Tactical Operations Center (2003)

Long Range Reconnaissance / Surveillance Team Recovery Mission

2005 Mosque Raid in Ar Ramadi

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Destruction of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd I.D. T.O.C. (2003)

The story that I tell tonight may be the most important that I ever post here at Educated Soldier concerning my experiences in war. It is also the most somber. Certain ambiguities in the recounting of this tale may also prove volatile. It is not my intention to raise controversy but it would be offensive in the telling of this event to not include all details- including some rather shady conclusions that were drawn in developing the lessons learned. The disastrous event that is retold below occurred just south of Baghdad on

April 7th, 2003…

At this point in the war, I am not sure if I was yet “battle tested.” I have no physical journal to assist in recounting my memories nor to help keep them in some semblance of order. In any case, this event occurred during the same short time period as the Long Range Reconnaissance / Surveillance team mission that I posted about here; both taking place during the Third Infantry Division’s drive toward Baghdad. If I hadn’t been made aware of the horrors of war by this point, the events of this particular morning would surely change me in that regard. In fact, the events of April 7th were the only ones that had a lasting impact on my mental being for time after returning home (an issue that will be addressed in the epilogue).

My team’s mission on April 7th was the same one that we had been partaking for the previous week or longer. Our humvee was assigned to provide security for our Brigade’s Tactical Operations Center (T.O.C.). To this point, this simply meant that we had to maintain a local placement in relation to the T.O.C.’s vehicles during the extended convoy through southern Iraq. The convoy was extended in both time and physical length. This is to say that our invasion technique up to that point was to line nearly all the vehicles of our brigade in a row and roll directly through the country. This may not have been the most strategically advanced tactic, but it was presumed to have thorough psychological effects on any enemy we might meet. This line of vehicles literally stretched over a mile long. Of course, my description is estimated but not exaggerated. In a mechanized brigade, there numbers hundreds of vehicles ranging from wheeled-humvees to tracked M113’s and their larger counterparts, M577’s, all the way to the massive Bradley and Abrams armored juggernauts.

Pauses in this journey required this line of equipment to break into smaller groups. Each group would form their own security perimeter; their vehicles forming the areas’ outside radiuses. These rest formations would develop wherever convenient which usually meant that they would form wherever we happened to stop. There isn’t much in the way of discernible terrain and land features in southern Iraq which caused most any area to be just as worthy of a rest location as any other. After digging foxholes that would presumably provide us some protection should we receive incoming artillery or mortar fire, we would utilize these hold areas to relax, eat, rest or, again – in my team’s case – play Pictionary.

Actually, it is worth pointing out because this is not an unimportant detail, that I had somehow come into ownership of a hand-held electronic “Yahtzee” game. Had I owned this simple electronic game in America, I would have definitely discarded it. Only in the most austere of conditions would it satisfactorily cure boredom. However, my current environment being, in fact, as austere as any, I played this game repeatedly. I must have logged over a thousand individual played games. While the numbers may again sound hyperbolized, I promise that I am limiting all exaggeration.

However, on the day immediately prior to April 7th, we had started to enter the very southern suburbs of Baghdad. This was significant in many ways but, in the case of this story, the most important aspect that was provided by such urban terrain was the possibility of our unit finding actual hard-covered facilities to utilize as temporarily rest areas / headquarters. In fact, we found exactly such a structure. This building sat on the east side of the main highway that we had been following towards Baghdad. It was off the thoroughfare a bit and in between its location and the road was ample area for a large, makeshift parking lot. In this area, we placed all the vehicles associated with the Tactical Operations Center. By the 7th, this had grown to well over fifty vehicles of various sorts.

Between the lot and the building itself was a brick wall about ten feet tall. Opposite that wall sat the building that would house the Second Brigade T.O.C. for the unforeseen future. This structure was rather long and fairly tall for a one story facility. It resembled an empty warehouse of some sort. At the far end of the building, an Army Special Forces Detachment had taken residence. They were the cool guys with their baseball caps and Toyota pick-up trucks. They held my fascination and respect then and continue to do so today.

From that far-end, the building stretched back towards me. The warehouse-type facility ended at a courtyard and, across this small opening, was actually a second, smaller building. If the warehouse was a prison, so to say, this second building would represent, basically, an oversized residence for the guards. To maintain focus and recap, this entire two-building facility was behind the aforementioned brick wall that surrounded and separated the entire location from the working parking lot.

Before progressing to the heart of this story, there are two more details that I must ensure that all readers understand: the makeup of a Brigade Tactical Operations Center, and where each of the parties in this makeup was located on April 7th. The T.O.C. is the absolute center-mass, “brain” of the Brigade. Typically, the Brigade Commander and all his assorted high-ranking officer companions reside here. There are usually three or four Brigades that compose a Division. To give some gravity of the importance of the actors in such a location, there is no other level of authority between the Brigade and Division Headquarters. The Brigade Commander answers to the Division’s Two-Star General commander and the Brigade Commander subsequently orders the commanders of the assorted maneuver battalions within his auspices. One more detail to add credence: much has been said of the success of the 3rd Infantry Division’s so-called “Thunder Runs” into Baghdad. These Thunder Runs were, more or less, the brainchild of 2nd Brigade Commander, Colonel David Perkins, who also physically directed them. The people who reside in the T.O.C. are of the utmost importance and because of the depth of information and commands that are generated by them, the T.O.C., itself, is one of the most vital locations within the Brigade. For thorough understanding of the importance of the T.O.C., I suggest reading this report from Michael Yon. He describes a currently functioning T.O.C. in Baqubah, Iraq in detail.

On the fateful day of April 7th, most of the high-ranking officials were operating out of the above-described secondary, smaller building. Outside of the officers, most of the strategy-developing units of the T.O.C. were staged in the courtyard. This included my friends in the Fire Support Cell who were working out of their armored 577’s. Also located in this courtyard were numerous upward-stretching antennae and other various communication devices. If I recall correctly, we may have even posted a 2nd Brigade Guide-on (flag) here. In the warehouse facility itself were numerous resting soldiers as this was the makeshift quarters for all participating men and women. While my living arrangements were inside that building, on the morning of April 7th, my team and I were located in or near our humvee which sat just opposite the courtyard, separated by the brick wall. The far end of the building, home to the Special Forces Operational Detachment, was unoccupied as they were, presumably, out on mission.

As a side note, my team had very deep understanding of the complexities of this compound because the night before we had completed a self-motivated “reconnaissance” mission throughout the grounds. The result of this pseudo-mission was the locating of a kitchen and several ducks, a few of which my team leader slaughtered in a futile attempt to compose a “home-cooked” meal of sorts.

Absolute Devastation

The event that occurred at the T.O.C. on April 7th is forever engrained into my soul and will be carried onward for all of my living time

On that morning, my teammates and I were sitting in our humvee with as little apprehension as any could have given the environment. We were not in our protective armor. All of this equipment, including our flak-vests and helmets, was stored in our living area of the warehouse. We were relaxing. As such, we donned little more than pants and brown tee-shirts. I was just outside of the driver’s seat of the truck, attending to another game of Yahtzee.

Around eleven in the morning, I heard the distant sound of an incoming plane. This is a sound that I am quite familiar with having served as a Forward Observer. It had often been my job in the past to lead low flying aircraft toward ground targets during training missions. Initially, I was hardly startled by this rather routine sound. It may be a phenomenon of memory or a result of adrenaline that was suddenly developing, but I recall the sound of this airplane building ever slowly; like the pace of time, itself, had been reduced to a crawl. It just kept inching closer and closer.

At some point, the loud growl of the aircraft had become so intense and so close that I took the time to fully voice my frustration in such a wanton pilot. The sound just kept growing in its apparent proximity.

Apparently, my identification of the airplane was completely misguided. Instead, the approaching sound ended in the huge eruption of violent explosion from just behind me. In one quick motion, I dropped my game and launched my entire body into my truck, sprawling over my seat, across the middle of the vehicle, and into the passenger seat occupied by my team leader. For a brief second memory blurs, and then I recall my teammates expressing immediate concern for my well-being. Momentarily, a large object fell from the sky and impacted on the back of our humvee, causing the entire frame to dip on its shocks and then rebound upwards. Behind me, I would soon see all too clearly that the warehouse was destroyed; its remaining bits left to smolder. An object had dropped from the sky and blasted violently and directly on the courtyard only a total distance of, maybe, fifty feet behind me.

Everything was destroyed.

Nearly every vehicle that had been in the courtyard had, in one instant, vanquished from existence. All of the communication equipment was gone. At least half of the large warehouse had collapsed and the remaining elements were quickly burning down. Chaos of a scale I had never before been witness ensued. I immediately identified with the pictures of Ground Zero in New York City, the only event in which I could compare such singular destruction.

There were, first, a few moments constituted of shock, horror, disbelief, bewilderment, and all emotions in between and beyond. However, leaders did their duty and began to lead efficiently. I was directed to move my humvee as it was dangerously close to sources of ignition. After doing so, I followed the others in a mass of humanity that attempted to quell flames with rather feeble attempts. We filled buckets of water and splashed their contents on flames that seemed to only grow larger and more efficient. My two teammates, however, acted much more heroically.

Their minds raced and they made the quick realization that our equipment was still in the smoldering building. While it was likely that these pieces of equipment were destroyed, they had to attempt to retrieve them. In logic that only a soldier would understand, they thoroughly believed that risking their lives attempting to retrieve the equipment that we were negligently without was less bothersome than dealing with the reprimands that we would later receive for not having kept them in our constant possession. They raced around the building to the area of the night prior’s attempted bout of cooking. From that location, they entered the now completely unstable structure. Once inside, they located our equipment. More importantly, they located a very badly injured soldier.

In an act of bravery not often surpassed, they carried the body of their fellow brother-in-arms through raging flames and out the very hole that had been created during the source events of this destruction. Their actions extended the life of the soldier within their grasps. They rushed him to the closest source of medical aid. The soldier had a renewed opportunity to fight for life. Unfortunately, he would make the ultimate sacrifice in coming days because of the wounds sustained. However, this does not devalue the valor of my teammates’ in their attempt. They would be subsequently awarded for their heroics. While I am not going to express the name of the deceased soldier as I am not certain if his family has ever been made fully aware of the proceedings of that day, I am not going to be as guarded with the names of these heroes: Sergeant Michael Dalton and Sergeant Phillip Wilkens are both fully deserving of any little recognition that I can muster on their behalf.

Meanwhile, ranking enlisted members attempted to regroup and account for their soldiers. While this was occurring, it was becoming immediately clear that our close buddies in the Fire Support Cell were located in their armored 577 at exactly the point of impact during the exact time of impact. And now they were missing. Quickly, our thoughts turned to these men and we assumed the worst. Nearly every vehicle that had been in that courtyard had disintegrated. While everything was still awash in fog of memory and physical smoke, this was certain: the chances of survival in that courtyard were slim.

However, despite all this, I would become witness of another of the day’s seemingly unbelievable occurrences. From the wreckage of decimated vehicles and buildings that was the current courtyard scene, emerged our friends in their 577. Somehow, this lightly armored vehicle had sustained the attack and managed to recover strongly enough to drive out of the mess on its own accord. We had taken the unfortunate fates of these individuals as granted. But they defied our most dire predictions and death itself and left the scene of destruction shaken up but with hardly a bodily injury among them.

Eventually every soldier on the ground that remained capable would compose their spirits and efforts and join in an amazing display of timely teamwork. The T.O.C. was quickly rebuilt, albeit in lesser grandeur, at a different location in the parking lot. While all this was occurring, our friends within the Brigade’s maneuver battalions were entering Baghdad proper. It was essential that the T.O.C. regroup as quickly as possible to provide the needed tactical support for these forward elements. And all soldiers worked eagerly to regain this combat readiness despite the devastation that they had just witnessed. No later than twenty minutes after the time of impact, the T.O.C. was up and running again. We had lost men and equipment to the destruction but not our soldierly bearing.


Ultimately, I am left with many questions concerning April 7th, 2003. I had initially identified the incoming object as an aircraft. While I was declared wrong, I am not ready to totally admit to such a misidentification. I feel wrong in continuing any sort of instigation. However, another event during that day, besides my own recognition of the airplane, has led me to be, at least, a bit unsure of the actual composition of what was in the air.

The entire time that the events of this day were unfolding, the radio in my truck was wrought with action; after such activity, nearly everyone is attempting to transmit information. I did hear a message immediately after the object made its impact: Our counter-battery radar crew (the technicians with the equipment to pinpoint the source of launch for such an attack) made it very clear that their computers had located who or what had initiated the assault. However, time followed that transmission before a more comprehensive one was aired. When the technicians came back over the radio, after this atypical pause, they refuted their previous statement and insisted that, instead, some error had caused the source of the round to be unclear. The only investigation that I am aware that proved the composition of the round was a quick one conducted by a Warrant Officer in my unit who was practiced in just this duty. After a quick assessment, he concluded that we had been the victims of an Iraqi missile attack.

Ironically, this was the first missile attack that I was aware of since I had been in Iraq. While I have been on the ground during many a mortar attack, never again would I face a missile of this magnitude (or, in fact, any missile at all) approaching my location. In fact, the only other attack that had any similarity to this one that I am aware were the sporadic and few SCUD missiles that Saddam Hussein launched at our positions while we were staging for attack in northern Kuwait, before the first actual American aggressions.

I love the military and I am proud of my service in Iraq. I have a desire to return to Iraq and I may do so with the military. For these reasons, I am going to leave any further conclusions to be drawn by the readers. I have my own. I will say this, however; it seems highly unlikely that the Iraqi military, at that point on its last throes as we had units pushed into Baghdad, would have been capable of directing such a well-guided projectile. Moreover, if they had such capable weaponry, I question why the Iraqi military only fired a single volley of this very effective, quite lethal round…


As I promised above, I wanted to use this section to tell of the scars that remained personally from April 7th, 2003. I must make it clear that I do not feel that I am the victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and I remain completely sympathetic to those that are. However, for a period of nearly a year after returning home, the sound of airplanes remained a source of great tension.

I can recount flying into an airport during a recess of leave. I was in the airport and walking around. Near the commercial airport were military runways. I want to say that this was in Chicago but if the description seems wrong than I could very well be mistaken. However, one of these military jets landed as I was walking around the terminal. I can’t describe the feeling that momentarily overcame me. I didn’t “flashback” to the events of April 7th; I simply felt a chill go up my spine and then developed fear throughout my body. This was a normal occurrence that even ordinary overhead plane flight would provoke. This happened notably again the first time I visited my Mom in Florida as she lived relatively close to the Tampa airport. The fear was never long-lasting; just momentary internal apprehension.

Slowly, these occurrences faded. The exited my life altogether, ironically enough, when I returned to Iraq. I guess the best cure for the ills of war is war itself.

However my memories are still strong. Again, I want to bring special mention to the heroics of these soldiers of Echo Troop, 9th Cavalry (detached from 1/9 Field Artillery): Sergeant Mike Dalton and Sergeant Phil Wilkens. Although their original intentions were a bit misguided in retrospect, their ultimate willingness to sacrifice for a soldier whom they had never met before should be worthy of the respect of all.

Finally, the pictures that I included in the retelling of this tale are not mine. I found them while browsing the internet in search of news sources telling of the events of April 7th. What’s more interesting is that the humvee in one of the above pictures (the uppermost image) is my own. I had no idea or association with it being posted online. The pictures were originally located on these sites:

I would recommend these articles for further reading on the devastation incurred by the 2nd Brigade’s Tactical Operations Center:

If you own any of these sources or pictures and feel that this material has been misused or cited wrongly, please contact for immediate removal.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Soldierly Political Musings

Before moving on to matters of more importance, I want to wax empathetically and briefly on the little intricacies of my life. Concerning this life of mine, I have made two observations that reek both of insignificance and personal amusement.

First, during my occasionally daily run today, around mile 2 of 4, it began to rain. This wasn’t drizzle nor was it a salacious downpour but something in between; just steady sheets of refreshingly, cool rain. It rarely dips below 85 degrees in my neck of the woods and more typically the temperature hangs around a muggy 95 degrees. During this run, wet and satisfied, I realized that I really, genuinely appreciate rain.

Observation number two may explain the sporadic nature of the first reflection: my sleeping pattern is remarkably peculiar. Last night, for example, I laid for rest at four in the morning. My roommate entered the room simultaneously as I attempted to sleep and his movement caused my lofted bed to sway in the most annoying manner, bouncing against the wall that it skirts against. Moreover, I am a fellow that enjoys sleeping to the company of music and, unfortunately, my lofted bed prohibited me from being able to stretch headphones down to the only source of tunes; my computer.

So, this afternoon, after the aforementioned run, I completed a total rearranging of my room, removed the loft bed, and placed my bed in such a way that I would be able to utilize my headphones at night. All this activity, ultimately, made me very tired. I began to nap at six p.m. At 7:30 p.m. my alarm stirred me which I disregarded. Eventually, I would wake again- at ten p.m. This four hour excursion into much needed sleep promises me another late night characterized by insomnia.

Welcome to my world… moving on.

The Commendable Attributes of Senator Biden

During the inaugural posting here at Educated Soldier, I voiced my own solution for the war in Iraq. It was a plan that included the separation of the country into three nearly autonomous states that answered to a central government for only the most basic of needs. I wrote this totally unwitting that legislation was in place suggesting almost exactly this plan.

The bill in question was developed by Democratic Senator Joe Biden, along with some outside assistance, and was deemed the Biden-Gelb Plan for Iraq. After more thorough scrutiny, I have come to my own conclusions that cause me to be less warm to such a plan.

However, tonight I want to give credit where credit is due, despite opposite political affiliation. In this regard, there is much to like about Senator Biden’s overall stance concerning the War in Iraq. However, I will get to Senator Biden momentarily. First, I would like to point out why exactly I have strayed from my own conviction in such a plan for Iraq.

Ground Experience-Based Strategy

The idea that Iraq could survive as a three-state, federalized nation nearly fully hinged on at least one of the states being completely stable. The state in question would be the Iraqi north, a so-called “Kurdistan.” This area seemed the least conflicted when compared to a Sunni western Iraq and a Shiite southern Iraq. However, it is this same Kurdish area that might be most susceptible to trouble if such a plan is enacted. Recent news such as this proves that, even in Washington, observers are wary that an autonomous north would cause conflict between its citizens and military opposition in Turkey. If a highly independent Kurdistan proved unachievable, little is left to lead one to believe that a similarly independent Sunni region would stand any better of a chance; especially given the aggressive nature of a Shiite Iran remaining so strong and so close.

Moreover, upon reflecting on my experience on the ground, I was given more evidence that such a federation was unneeded. Let me explain. While times may now be different because my experiences are based on time spent in Ar Ramadi from 2004 through 2005, the basic idea, I am sure, remains the same. When I interacted with the local populace and we discussed the problems that they had with terrorist actors in their communities, the discussion wasn’t about their evil neighbors or the bad guys up the street. Instead, our Iraqi friends would tell us stories that went much like this: after American presence would leave the area, the neighborhood would be plagued by masked-men who would use threatening means to negate any progress that our unit had achieved. This isn’t to say that the opposition was always successful in this regard, nor is this the point of this observation.

Instead, the importance lies in the fact that these enemy forces were described as being outsiders. While their identities were thoroughly concealed, most Ramadi residents were able to categorize them as being from outside of their own neighborhoods. This may suggest that the opposition was foreign in nature, and it may not. Ultimately, what I concluded was that the general populace within Ramadi was fully ready to embrace peace and was also willing to accept a nationalized Iraq. The people that were causing the strife were outsiders in their location of origin and their mindsets. If my observation proves true – if the “sectarian” violence in the country is really generated by a small ostracized segment of extremists – then the need for a defined separation of states based on ethnic and religious ties becomes less necessary. Recent developments in Ramadi give credit to my accounts.

A Republican Soldier's Positive Sentiments for a Democrat

Now this all comes back to my recognition of Senator Biden. First, I have to make a few important declarations.

I am a Republican. I fully intend on voting for Fred Thompson should he run for President. If he decides not to then my allegiance belongs to Senator McCain. However, I am partial to the G.O.P. mostly because of domestic issues. For example, Senator Thompson has stated that he would sign into law the Fair Tax act should it pass Congress during his Presidency. I have no fantasy that this will actually come to pass. However, the basic attitude regarding taxes that allows someone to endorse the Fair Tax Act is an attitude that is very much akin to my own. Moreover, Senator Thompson has proven a strong advocate on issues important to me such as his continued support for Pro-Life legislation. However, he has been much less clear on his stance concerning the situation in Iraq.

And this is where I must give Senator Biden his just due. Most Republicans are taking the angle that they are awaiting General Petraeus’s September progress report to develop advanced strategy for our troops in country. This makes sense. However, it is also a weak answer. One could simultaneously exhibit patience while taking a decisive stand on the issue. The acknowledged Republican candidates are not doing this and, to my knowledge, Fred Thompson has not either. Senator Biden has developed a plan that he seems committed unconditionally. For this, he should be commended.

However, Senator Biden’s plan does have a further weakness. His strategy for a three-state nation in Iraq goes hand in hand with his ideal of a slow withdrawal of American troops. This is a fallacy. Developing such a state would read much like starting from scratch. We have seen how long it has taken to gain the limited progress that we are now observing in Iraq, and it goes to say that a new beginning would require a similar prolonged commitment of American troops.

And this is precisely where a gap exists that I eagerly hope Senator Thompson exploits. Not all Americans are aghast at the idea that Americans may be needed in Iraq for an extended period of time. Moreover, some of these Americans that recognize the time commitment that is required for greatest success in Iraq are the ones most willing to participate actively in this commitment. For example, I am doing everything in my power to allow for my return in a more educated capacity to the region. I know that our presence in Iraq is going to be required for years to come. I am a fervent believer that a stable Iraq benefits the country itself and the global community as a whole. I am willing to sacrifice certain luxuries in life to be an active enabler of such an achievement.

So, here is to hoping that Senator Thompson details a stump speech that clearly states that he has a plan for Iraq. It is my hope that the Senator steps forward and declares unapologetically what many of us already recognize as an unmentioned pink elephant: Troops are going to be in Iraq for many years to come. We promised the citizens of Iraq a better life and we should not turn our backs on that promise regardless of the time and sacrifices it might require. Moreover, we promised the world that we would be the leading entity in developing a global climate less prone to terrorist activity. Let’s also make good on that promise.

I get the sense that Senator Thompson is an individual of great pride. He seems to embody the southern gentleman custom of holding to a handshake deal. Senator Thompson, as a soldier myself, I have one request: Let’s show the terrorists as well as our Iraqi brethren that we are not the nation sans backbone that they may take us for. Show them that we have made a commitment and we intend to fully follow through on it. In turn, this dedication to our obligations will ultimately lead to a safer world. People will recognize America for the leader that it intends to be.

I genuinely believe sustained travel down a path of commitment will make America the harbinger of peace that today’s world so thoroughly requires.