Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I Can Taste It

Going home is a beautiful, terrifying thought to have once it gets this close to happening. Not only am I in the twilight of the deployment, but of my military career that began three years ago yesterday. It was then when a nineteen year old chubby kid found himself bound for Ft. Benning, Georgia, fresh and malleable as molten copper. Weeks from completing a fifteen month tour, I’m as confused and apprehensive as that teenager with the twiddling thumbs and darting eyes that had no idea where he was going, or why.

You may want to sit down for this.

This occupation, this money pit, this smorgasbord of superfluous aggression is getting more hopeless and dismal by the second. It’s maddening to think that more than a year’s worth of blood, sweat and tears will lead to little more than a pat on the back and a hideously redundant speech from someone who did none of the bleeding, sweating or crying.

Despite being in a meaningless situation, my life has never had this much meaning. I watch the backs of my friends and they do the same for me. I’ve killed to protect them, and they’ve killed to protect me. For friends and family, being deployed is like being pregnant or surviving a car wreck; everyone is nice to you all of a sudden. People I don’t even know send me kind words and packages from all over. They came out of the woodwork knowing my plight and shared with me heartfelt hope and luck. The fact that you’re reading this now, dear reader, is a testament to that. Would you have cared about what I thought, felt or did two years ago? This position I’m in, shared by less than one percent of the U.S. population, has given me the distinct privilege of sharing my experiences and ruminations of this war, observations undiluted by perpetually delirious officials like General Petreaus and mainstream media sirens. I have felt every extreme of the human condition, physically, morally and emotionally. I’ve never laughed so hard, cried so long or felt more ashamed of myself in all of my life. In a matter of weeks it’ll be over, and I’ll have just the memories of enduring 130 degree heat, and poker games lasting well into the night. I’ll look back on the hysterical laughter during fifteen hour Baghdad clears, the terror of being pinned down by machine gun fire, the sight of a Stryker on its side and the unfolding of a body bag under the flames of a nearby school, unzipped tenderly to fit the body of Chevy as RPGs screamed overhead. Soon this place will all be in the past.

What a beautiful, terrifying thought.

Next month we’ll be the first unit home that completed a three month extension. We were one of few to see Iraq before and after the surge. If the media got anything right, it was that the surge failed. The idea, as birthed in a bloody, mucous-y blob of counter production by General Petreaus, is quite simple on paper, impossible to execute in a meddling reality. The concept is that combat troops would move from their huge bases that housed obscene luxuries like beds, flushing toilets and running water, and into outposts within the most dangerous parts of the city. The key to it all would be 24/7 interaction with Iraqi Army and a constant presence among the Iraqi citizens, giving them confidence in the mission of coalition forces. The building we picked used to be a whiskey distillery, and we’ve been busy putting up concrete barriers and wire around it. A house was too close to where the wall was supposed to be, so engineers blew it to smithereens and sent the family packing. The father owned the plot for forty years and comes by every so often to collect the useful bricks left scattered a hundred yards in every direction. Before he entered once, I patted his seventy year old frame down like a common criminal.

Talk about community interaction!

Our mission now revolves around the outpost. Engineers and Iraqi workers toil day and night to build it up to an acceptable level so we can hand it off to the unit replacing us. We conduct patrols, raids and selective clears of buildings identified by insurgents (1920s) that potentially hide other insurgents (Al Qaeda) while future insurgents (Iraqi Army) sleep all day and eat our food.

So close, yet so far. Deployments start to get dangerous and deadly around month nine, when people start to let their guard down and get sloppy. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. We were ahead of the curve since soldiers in my unit didn’t start dying with regularity until month ten. Now in month fourteen, eight have died in the past week.

General Petreaus must be given accolades for his selflessness. A weaker man would have trembled at the arduous sight of forms authorizing a surge and extension. Thanks to his steadfast character, I’m still here while eight men are not, working toward the noble goal of the surge: building an outpost in podunk Baqubah so the Iraqi Army has a place to sleep, sleep, sleep as the country goes to hell.

Thank your lucky stars we have produced such fine leaders that are brave enough to send us to man these outposts day in and day out.

The most interesting reports in the world must come from the Army Center for Lessons Learned, a government think tank dedicated to updating doctrine based on what soldiers experienced in war. They came out with shocking developments like putting doors on Humvees and having every soldier wear body armor. The most fundamental suggestion they issue, one we’ve heard countless times, is that we shouldn’t set patterns. It boils down to simple things like changing patrol times and reorganizing the order of vehicles in a convoy. But for these outpost operations, that gutless, nonsensical suggestion goes flying out the window. We take the same roads in, at the same time, with the same vehicles going to the same place. It doesn’t take a genius jihadist to see a pattern after a couple of days.

And that’s how we’ve been leading our lives for the past year and two months. Going from place to place and hoping we don’t die on the way there or the way back. With our GPS tracking satellites and laser guided warheads and scientifically developed helmets for ultra comfort, we’re getting beat to the punch every day by a dude crouching behind a wall with a battery and a spool of wire. We’ve been killing the innocent with the guilty because we don’t have the luxury to tell the difference when that bomb goes off and you don’t know which of your friends are dead or alive. In essence, we’ve come here to help each other survive. It worked in most cases and sadly, not in others. We’ve still got a few weeks left until we cross the border of Kuwait, until someone else comes and tells us our job here is done.

I have a chapter that I’d like to add to the next report from the Army Center for Lessons Learned, something that will hopefully be useful in the future of our country:

Chapter 1: Occupation

If you don’t have to, don’t.


AH

35 comments:

Jeff said...

Once again you cut to the heart of the matter with a scalpel wielded like a broadsword.

Love,

Dad

Samantha Hagenston said...

You are correct in the fact that, generally, people are nicer to you when something like this happens... However, I would like to say that it takes someone like you, going through this to open our eyes to it... We need to, not always want to, but need to know whats going on. With that being said, Thank you. I wouldn't have known who you were two years ago, this is true... and in all actuality, i still have no real idea of who YOU are now... You as Alex. But i know you as a soldier. You as one of those guys, brothers even, who is watching the back of someone I love.... in a quite literal sense. And with that I read your powerful words, and I am grateful that Tom has you... that all those men out there have you. You are meant to be where you are, regardless if it's a giant shit stain from satan's asshole... You're meant to be there, Alex. Keep your head down and your eyes up.

With Love,
Samantha

mamalew said...

Alex Alex Alex - hang in there!! We can taste it too. It's been too much for too long and it's time to come home to those that love and miss you and are sooooo proud of you!! Steven has told us so much about you, we can't wait to meet you and hear your side of the Great European Adventure!! LOL

Till next time,
love & prayers
Teresa - mamalew :)

Anonymous said...

My prayers are with you. Please make it out alive, you're a great writer. Your stories need to be told.

The Big E

Susan Wardezak said...

You bring tears to my eyes..with clarity and vision you bring the truth to America. Thank you..and thank you for answering those late night "IM's from an Army Mom up north!

Foxxy Brown IM'd me today........seems a bunch of Calvary soldiers rigged the net in the barracks? along with a JV stereo? CO came down pretty hard, for disturbing the "peace" in Iraq no doubt!!... J.J thought it was pretty funny when I mentioned this "fact!" for the 3 days they get on the FOB!!! go figure.. I'll take the 3 days of relief until they go out again...

I am praying for you and I hope you enjoy your R & R with great amounts of grilled steaks, lots of love and kissing from your family!!!

Be safe, keep your head down and your eyes open....
Suz

Blue man said...

Keep up the good work, we'll do our best to spread your words!

Anonymous said...

You serve with my precious son. Both of you be safe and I look forward to your safe arrival in the states.

A Proud Army Mom in Texas

Anonymous said...

Love your blog dude...You speak the truth, and in a witty way that the "superiors" can't stand. Maybe if they had the same candor, we wouldn't be in this cluster#&ck right now.

bromhead said...

If I were surprised I would be amazed, "lessons learned coming from the military" is like "no similarities to vietnam" until this week of course. Those of us on the outside this time certainly have known you never repeat anything like a route ,time or place, having survived that stupidity . Besides the leadership forgetting history,whats that, we are now told as opposed to the 90s, the cic doesnt really need to have worn the uniform,,,,for more than six months that is.

Richard said...

I live in Austin, and I linked to your blog from Truthout.com.

Best wishes on getting home in one living, breathing, uninjured piece. I know you're going to come home to a society that mainly has no idea what you've been through, and no idea why you think and feel the way you do. That society owes it to you to listen intently to all you have to say, and needs you to say it. You'll bring home the truth that our people need to see that the leadership has to change in some dramatic and perhaps upending way, so humanity can move forward from the absolute nonsense you've had to endure. Your voice is really important, and if there's something I can do for you, please let me know.

UT Austin Alumni said...

Dude, you are one courageous man. Thank you for the truth and clarity that you write here. Since I found your blog, also from Truthout.org, I have sent the link to all I know and promise to read and follow every day. You have a great future as a writer. We want you and your fellow soldiers to come home safe and sound!

Anonymous said...

Another brilliant post. THANK YOU!

Anonymous said...

Alex,

You must have this blog published in book form. Even if you have to do it on LuLu.com (self-publishing). You are the greatest war writer in the history of the USA at war. I hope you somehow get a Pulitzer Prize. You are a damn brave man and, again, a great writer.

Anonymous said...

Alex,

I don't know you, but I can't stop reading your posts. Thanks for the wonderful insight.

Stay safe.

ricklee42 said...

Alex,

Your ability to maintain your wit in an outhouse is incredible. I am sure you are an inspiration to others.

Seems the Army thinks they learned what I read in western novels years ago. Vary your pattern, yata - yata - yata. Real think tank there.

Bless you all, nobody deserves this crap.

Anonymous said...

i dont know alex...its being reported here now that the surge is working..go figure!

CW said...

Marine Corporal Matthew Sanchez is in Iraq right now and disagrees with. He has his own blog and besides being a Marine has been writing for WorldNetDaily. He says that those who belittle the mission and try to say that it's not going well are aligning themselves with the traitors. He along with others pounced on Scott Beauchamp and made him regret his lies. What do you tell our valiant warriors and American heroes like Cpl Matt Sanchez who insist that Iraqis want us to stay and our missino is succeeding at an astonishing pace?

Anonymous said...

I can agree with you don't hear hopelessness of Iraq. Having been there from Feb 2004 to July 2007 working as a contractor, running the roads unarmed in convoys, getting my ass hit on base in Tikrit, I have come to the conclusion that there are no "good Iraqis".

Americans just don't realize that ALL Iraqis are scum, untrustworthy, liars and thieves.

The world should just wall them off and let them kill each other off.

Most people have no clue as to the total evil there. No idea that when you have a car accident people come running not to help but to rob you.

The same people who will steal the guardrails and street signs not cause they need money but cause they are too lazy to do an honest days work.

The same people who will follow a woman into the bathroom so they can spy on her using the toilet, or steal from your luggage because they can.

The same people who looted Kuwait were expected not to do the same thing at home? HAHA give me a break, thats their nature, total evil.

Anonymous said...

WorldNetDaily is a right wing site for those who drink the Bush Administration kool aid. Leave them to their version of reality, a reality they have to reinvent nearly daily to keep up with how poorly everything is going for the Bush Administration.

Continue to speak the truth that you see, Alex.

Anonymous said...

i dunno man you use "superfluous aggression" and yet you say you didnt do well in high school? I think you write very well - it royally sucks that you have to have horrific experiences to act as a writing catalyst. All in all I'd rather you write about your European travels than dying children and buddies... thats one shitty crucible - stay safe and keep writing (look up Tobias Wolff if you havent already)

Annie the Curmudgeon said...

It appears that your destiny has selected you to be the voice of the Iraq War, like it or not. Write on, manchild of aging hippies. You have been genetically blessed and naturally nurtured to look for the patterns in the chaos, to recognize the layers of the onion, and to articulate the truth that must be told. You are in my heart.

Ulysses said...

You warn us that we "might want to sit down." Well, sir, I beg to differ... I want to stand up and cheer! You have done a lot to show America the fine character of our young people. Back when my generation faced a conflict in Vietnam, many of us hoped and prayed that Kissinger and Nixon would be the last to foolishly squander our lives and treasure in a misguided foreign conflict.

Reading your words allows me to hope again that the people will take back our government from the chickenhawk warmongers in Washington D.C.!

rie said...

You have one fine point wrong. I would still have cared what you thought. Because you are insightful and well-written, and humorous when I least expect it. However, had Karl not deployed with you, it is unlikely I ever would have stumbled across you.

My only concern is what happens next.... When you get home, do you stop writing? When you leave the army, do you stop writing? It's possible I suppose but I would like to hope not.

frogcycle said...

I just found your blog via a link in DemocraticUnderground.

It is a treasure.

First, let me thank you for your service - for signing up with the intention of helping support our great nation. Then let me apologize on behalf of that nation for what it did - put people in power who have only their own interests at heart, and give you a nebulous "mission" with atrocious circumstances under which to attempt to carry it out.

And then let me thank you profusely for your writing. People like you are why this country came to be. They had names like Thomas Paine, and wrote things like "Common Sense." By communicating so eloquently what our country is actually doing, you can, and I am confident, will, help to change it.

Be safe, come home, and keep writing!

unhappycamper said...

Wow. Just plain wow.

I stumbled onto your blog this morning via a slate.com link.

When you get home, I hope you'll think about joining the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW.org). We need your voice.

Peace and welcome home, Brother.

Anonymous said...

Alex:
A beautifully written piece.Americans need to hear more about the true sacrifice our troops are making.There are a lot of kindred spirits here.I am a member of Veterans for Peace and Veterans for America,and we'd be proud to have you,brother.Keep the faith until you get back.

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themorethingschange... said...

..."superfluous aggression"...

Wow. I can't wait to get to the end of this blog to see where you went and what you're up to now.

Your calling is clear.

Your core has solidified .. like tempered steel .. the boy who left Ft Lewis knowing he'd return a changed man had no way of knowing the reality of that prediction.

Maybe you didn't even know about your core because you hadn't really needed it before. But the first time you stood in the hatch and returned fire instead of hiding inside your Stryker was the day your core lit up. It got stronger with every surge of adrenalin and with every tear you shed.

You KNOW your worth now. You've found your talent. I really, really hope we see more of it as you make your way into civilian life.

You know the old saying that those who ignore the lessons of history are bound to repeat them ... well, it appears we're going to repeat the disaster that was VietNam. We're going to walk away leaving that country with grieving mothers; widows and traumatized children; cities, homes and schools turned to rubble .. with the litter of war.

Shoot. I read ONE book, DESERT QUEEN, and learned that the Iraqis go where the money or the apparent winner is, and will switch their allegiance at the drop of a hat. And, I learned that in WWI, when the British upped the ante (read: $$$) the Iraqis took the dosh and left the Turks in their dust.

Sorry. I'm wandering here. It's just that I've been reading your blog all afternoon and you've got my mind going in a million different directions - thinking of books I've read, things I "learned in college", things I learned when my father and husband served in VietNam - and man, its a rush!

~P~