Sunday, September 23, 2007

"As I write this, there are outgoing artillery shells flying overhead."

Another hours-old family and close-friends letter from my soldier friend in Iraq - posted here not to further any agenda, but to give us a personal connection to the ongoing, awful war in Iraq - so we can better feel and relate to what's going on there; and pray.

Blessings all,
The year is sailing right along, September is coming to a close, and October, our last real month of combat operations, is nigh upon us. Ramadan has arrived, which changes... nothing. Though not allowed to eat or drink during the day, there are still those who brave the heat to blow us to bits. The law allows for military and government workers to waive the usual custom for the good of the nation, so no doubt your enemy and mine, the terrorist, considers himself among the former even though he works to destroy the latter.Our new sector is known by the locals as Chaka 3 and Chaka 4 (pronounced SHA-ka, as in Chaka-zulu). In one the folks seem quite friendly and endearing and as willing as we are to rid themselves of the folks in the other, which remains the bastion of Al Qaida in this area. Pray for our boys as they work with locals to find out who "needs to go" and then proceed to "send them on their way."

No rockets this week. Not sure if anyone is keeping track anymore, but the last four rockets aimed at this place were 107mm, made in Iran in 2006. Of course, we've also been fired at by good old NATO 5.56mm rounds too, so they use a little bit of everything over here. As I write this, there are outgoing artillery shells flying overhead. The guns are facing this way; they must be shooting RAPs (rocket assisted projectile) because the whole tent rumbles along with the core of my body, and everyone inside gives a nervous chuckle and looks around the room to see if anyone else was about to dive under the table. After being here a year, one can tell the difference between the hollow boom of outgoing and the crashing whump of incoming. But for a while there, we just dove for cover for all of it :-)

We have to laugh; it's the only way to stay sane. We laugh as everyone crowds into the bunkers jostling for space; we laugh at how a $40 bomb takes out a $150,000 armored Humvee; we laugh after close calls at the insanity of it all; we laugh as we bleed, relieved and just thrilled to still be alive.

My roommate, the Company FSO (Fire Support Officer) is an artillery guy. He's big into U.S. history; Uncle Don, you'd like him. We were up last night discussing, among other things, military leadership in the Civil War. At the top, you had Lincoln, probably the best orator to ever hold the office who could sum up the cause in so few words and so simply, even a rifleman could grasp it and be willing to die for it. Then there were the Generals, leading their troops in battle, in sight of the enemy, taking hits on the front lines, driving their men forward. Then at the bottom the Captains and Lieutenants charging into the fray as entire companies were wiped out in the melee.

It's a far cry from what we're doing over here. It's a platoon fight. Every now and then we'll do a Company mission and the Commander will go along, but the Platoons are out every other day, talking with locals, gathering intel, hitting targets, securing routes, supporting the Iraqi Army and Police units. Rarely is the Commander out there. Rarer still, the Battalion Commander. They have so many responsibilities as part of the "garrison war" that if they are away from their email for a couple days, everything grinds to a halt. Well, that's an exaggeration, but not by much, and it's not their fault. It's just the way it's going. We have so much new technology, they often ask us to take out a new gadget or some new "combat multiplier" on a mission just to see how it works. More often than not, it's a burden that takes up one more gunslinger's seat on the helicopter. It's something else to laugh about, at any rate.

Redeployment (the Army's word for coming home) is an operation all its own, and a mighty complex one, as it turns out. You'd think we could just say, "Got everything? Great! Let's go." Ahh, if only. But the endstate is home, so spirits are high, perhaps as high as the workload even.

Thanks for the mail sent. Just a reminder, don't send anything after 3 OCT as it will be forwarded to Ft. Richardson, Alaska. I think prayers are an exception, but if God forwards them to AK as well, I'll have a nice big pile waiting for me when I get there.

Take Courage,
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