Friday, September 28, 2007

The Real Deal

Blue Girl directed me to a very interesting story about Rush Limbaugh, who called veterans opposed to the war phony soldiers. Of course, this is the same Rush Limbaugh who threw a fit about the Petraeus ad, calling it "contemptible" and "indecent." Apparently anyone in the military is above criticism as long as they agree with Rush's brave belief that we should be in Iraq "as long as it takes." And I use the term 'we' loosely, as I believe the closest Rush has ever gotten to combat was watching We Were Soldiers with surround sound.

When I was a kid I watched Rush with my dad every morning when he was still on TV and always found him pretty funny and clever. Over the years I didn't have a very concrete opinion about him, I just knew him as the kooky conservative radio host who defended Bush at every turn (and hey, so did I). What did Rush and I have to lose when the war in Iraq started in 2003? I didn't have any family in the military, and all my friends were too young to even enlist. Why not go kick the shit out of a country, as long as someone else was doing it?

This was the last time Rush and I would agree on the war, so here's my opinion of you, Rush: you're as smart, selfless and courageous as I was as a 17 year old high school senior.

You make a good point that people who joined the military during the war knew they were going and shouldn't be against it. As I've seen since I joined in 2004, everyone in the military is gung ho to a certain extent, at least in the beginning of their career. I was part of a large group of new guys who got to a unit that just got back from a year long deployment. After our hazing sessions became less and less frequent in the following months, we listened to the stories all of them were telling, of vicious firefights and rescue missions. We all wanted to do our part, we all wanted to get some too. We were going to see what it was like to take a life. Too bad Rush missed his chance to do so, or maybe he'd be singing a different tune. In 1992, ABC newsman Jeff Greenfield posed a question to Rush, asking if he had ever served in the military during the Vietnam War. Here is what Rush had to say:

I had student deferments in college, and upon taking a physical, was discovered to have a physical- uh, by virtue of what the military says, I didn't even know it existed- a physical deferment and then the lottery system came along, where they chose your lost by birth date, and mine was high. And I did not want to go, just as Governor Clinton didn't.

As a phony civilian hoping to be a phony soldier, I tried to enlist in the military after I graduated high school in 2003. In 2002 I had a Nissen fundoplication operation to repair a hiatal hernia caused by severe acid reflux, preventing esophageal cancer later in life. I was immediately flagged on my attempt to enlist because of this surgery, as there was a chance that a physically stressful job such as Army infantry would complicate it. I had to be cleared by the surgeon general before entering the service. As the war kept on, so did I. I waited for a little over a year to get my results back: I would finally be able to join despite the surgery I had two years prior. As Rush found after dropping out of his first year of college at Southeast Missouri State University in 1969-1970, he found himself on draft status. Nothing that a claim of an old football injury or a boil on the ass can take care of, though! The medical deferment he was referring to was a pilonidal cyst, which apparently is a clump of severely ingrown hairs. That barred him from enlistment, and I'm sure he was ecstatic. After all, there was a war on. Here's a first hand account of the surgery that was done to correct it. She claims that in eight weeks, it was perfectly healed. Rush is willing to sacrifice the lives of Americans in Iraq but not his own ass (literally) in a simple surgery. I waited a year to get in, and he didn't try. Boy, do I really give an effort at being a phony soldier!

Speaking of phony soldiers, I wanted to show Rush a few that I know:


This was taken on a rooftop during a firefight on March 24 in Baqubah. One guy lost a leg up to his knee and another lost a foot in an IED blast that day. Talk about sacrifices! Out of seven Americans on that rooftop, one is going to reenlist! The rest decided to get out to avoid going to Iraq again, despite what Mike from Olympia, Washington said on your show about what real soldiers say, like "they want to be over in Iraq. They understand their sacrifice, and they're willing to sacrifice for their country." All I see is a bunch of phonies!


This is Matt tugging on a buried wire connected to a massive IED underneath the road. In Baqubah they were so prevalent that the explosive ordnance disposal dudes couldn't take care of them all in the city, so we started finding them and blowing them up ourselves. Matt just finished his second tour, in which he was deployed a total of 27 months. This coward that followed wires to huge bombs in the road is getting out in a few months. And that's a good thing, as this military could use a lot less phony soldiers.


Here's Bill, digging up a grave containing a woman with her two daughters in a field in Baqubah. They were executed by gunshot and buried in the same hole. We took turns digging as the brave men of the Iraqi Army watched and joked. Bill also served 27 months in combat and like Matt, will be getting out of the Army in a couple months. Good riddance, phony!


I'm not above self-criticism. This is me on the last patrol we did in Old Baqubah on August 20. Like a coward I stayed in Iraq only fifteen months. We heard rumors that the 1920s might ambush us on our last patrol. Too bad they didn't, or they would've sent a lot of phonies home in body bags!

Get your ass back to Iraq phonies!

This picture makes me sick to my stomach. I photographed a bunch of cut-and-runners boarding a plane during a pit stop in Ireland on our way back to the states on September 12. Hello, don't they know there's a war going on? These phonies left Iraq before the job was done! Seriously, we need soldiers who want to be in Iraq for as long as it takes.

And finally:

This is Chevy in Baghdad. Brian Chevalier was going to reenlist but decided against it before he was killed on March 14 during our first mission in Baqubah. His phony life was celebrated in a phony memorial where everyone who knew him cried phony tears. A phony American flag draped over his phony coffin when his body came home. It was presented to his phony mother and phony daughter.

I would be in awe if I ever met a real life soldier, and not a phony one like Bill, Matt or Brian Chevalier. Thank you, Rush Limbaugh, for telling me the difference. I hope your ass is ok.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Do Not Adjust Your Television Set

It has been a week since our triumphant return to the states, to America, the first world. And as it wasn't quite like I imagined in June, it was every bit as wonderful and surreal as I thought it would be. Every moment leading up to the march to the gym was met with cheers and hysterical laughter. Getting off the plane, turning in our guns, getting on a every step we got closer to seeing loved ones. You could feel it in your face and hear it in the voice of anyone you talked to.

We took a bus to the base gym, where our friends and family waited for us. We stopped short to get lined up nice and neat so we could march in with our backpacks and laptop cases around our necks. Near the entrance there were people already holding signs and clapping. Someone yelled, "hey, Horton!" but luckily I wasn't met with a barrage of cabbage and apple cores. A few more steps and we entered the gym. By the crowd's reaction, it's as if we won the Superbowl. We stopped in the center and it was still so loud no one heard the shortest speech of all time given by a general. "Good job etc, proud of you all yadda yadda, be safe and so forth." On that note, it became a mad house as people rushed from the bleachers and into the scattered formation. Foregoing all military discipline, I looked around the room while at attention to locate my family. As the gym started to clear out I found Bryan, also family-less, and we agreed to look together. Suddenly I caught a glimpse of my dad running up, with my mom not far behind and with her, Lauren.

One of the first things I said to my dad after a big hug was, man, that was a long twelve months.

Seeing my mom get teary-eyed almost made me let loose, but I held my composure by making a point to. Lauren told me she wasn't going to be there, as to make it a family event. But she decided to come and we're both glad she did. A beautiful moment with a beautiful woman. Yes, this is what I've been missing.

Now that things have settled down a little (ha!), I keep getting the same question: what does it feel like to be back? Well, imagine a kid tweaking on Ritalin and Mountain Dew IVs and trying to sit still in church.

In Iraq it feels like the rest of the world is another isolated planet. News came in bits and pieces and often by word of mouth. Our only connection to our own culture was from magazines a few months old and bootleg movies taped with a camcorder in some dank Indonesian movie theater. As much as we didn't want it to, the world kept on turning without us. Anniversaries, births, deaths, all kept happening despite our situation.

Back in the states, everything moves fast. Really fast. Traffic never exceeded about 45 miles an hour in combat, but on the highway it feels like your blood is going to boil at seventy. Every minute, tiny thing seems huge and at once, hilarious. Driving down the interstate I saw a piece of trash caught in the grass by the shoulder. Look at that! I said with a giggle. It's stuck!

Though I've related some pretty gruesome stories in earlier editions of this blog, I never provided much insight to how I felt about my own safety and mortality. I didn't want my family and friends to know that aspect while I was still in danger so their fears and anxiety weren't compounded any further. There is said to be three stages of clarity about one's life in a war. I didn't come up with the theory, but I sure have felt it. At the beginning, you feel like you're invincible and if anything bad happens, it's going to happen to some other guy. Then when people start to get hurt and killed, you think to yourself, I better look out or I'll be next. The final stage comes after the second one wears on you after awhile. Your thought is, I'm going to die next unless I make it out of here as soon as possible.

I entered the final stage on March 14, and there it remained until August 25.

There were times when many of us weren't killed due to good ol' fashioned luck, a soldier's best friend. Bullets missing heads by quite literally an inch or less (and even a couple dudes got grazed on the dome). The IED that killed Chevy was blown at the very front of the Stryker. If the guy set it off just a half second later, it would have blown under the troop carrying compartment. I don't believe in miracles, but I saw a lot of them.

From boots to Pumas, to sweat soaked and shit smelling trousers to Guess jeans, we're trying to rejoin society the best we can. But not everyone who left in June of 2006 was able to make that transition. These are the names of the fallen of Task Force 5/20:

Cpl. Casey Mellen - Headquarters
Huachua City, AZ
KIA Mosul, September 25, 2006

Cpl. Billy Farris - Headquarters
Bapchule, AZ
KIA Anbar, December 3, 2006

Cpl. Brian Chevalier - Bravo
Athens, GA
KIA Baqubah, March 14, 2007

SSG. Jesse Williams - Bravo
Santa Rosa, CA
KIA Baqubah, April 8, 2007

SSG. Vincenzo Romeo - Alpha
Lodi, NJ
KIA Baqubah, May 6, 2007

Sgt. Jason Harkins - Alpha
Clarkesville, GA
KIA Baqubah, May 6, 2007

Sgt. Joel Lewis - Alpha
Sandia Park, NM
KIA Baqubah, May 6, 2007

Cpl. Matthew Alexander - Alpha
Gretna, NE
KIA Baqubah, May 6, 2007

Cpl. Anthony Bradshaw - Alpha
San Antonio, TX
KIA Baqubah, May 6, 2007

Cpl. Michael Pursel - Alpha
Clinton, UT
KIA Baqubah, May 6, 2007

Sgt. Daniel Nguyen - B 1/12 (Cav)
Sugarland, TX
KIA Baqubah, May 8, 2007

Sgt. Jason Vaughn - Alpha
Iuica, MS
KIA Baqubah, May 9, 2007

Sgt. Anselmo Martinez - B 1/12 (Cav)
Robstown, TX
KIA Baqubah, May 18, 2007

Spc. Joshua Romero - B 1/12 (Cav)
Crowley, TX
KIA Baqubah, May 18, 2007

Spc. Casey Nash - B 1/12 (Cav)
Baltimore, MD
KIA Baqubah, May 18, 2007

Sgt. Iosiwo Uruo - B 1/14
Agana Heights, Guam
KIA Baqubah, May 24, 2007

Spc. Francis Trussel - B 1/12 (Cav)
Lincoln, IL
KIA Baqubah, May 26, 2007

Sgt. Andrew Higgins - Alpha
Hayward, CA
KIA Baqubah, June 5, 2007

PV2 Scott Miller - Headquarters
Casper, WY
KIA Baqubah, June 9, 2007

Cpl. Darryll Linder - A 1/12 (Cav)
Hickory, NC
KIA Baqubah, June 19, 2007

Cpt. Drew Jensen - Headquarters
Clackamas, OR
Died in Seattle on September 7, 2007 from wounds suffered May 7, 2007

So. What does it feel like to be back? It feels great, but it hurts, too.