Monday, December 12, 2005

Disinformation attack

Last week's Los Angeles Times broke a story about the Lincoln Group. According to the article, the U.S. Military has been contracting with the Lincoln Group to get the good word about the war in Iraq out to the people in Iraq.
Evidently, the Lincoln Group payed the newspapers in Iraq to run articles and opinion pages for the military. According to an article in 12 Dec Chicago Tribune, Senator Warner is concerned and the Pentagon and military officials are looking into the matter to see what really happened.
What happened? Just what it looks like: the military pays to get articles in the paper!
That is how business runs in Iraq. In the U.S., if you want to show appreciation for good service, you leave a tip: in Iraq, you pay the tip up front. This is not just for food servers, this is for everyone who is in the service industry, and that includes, police, doctors, public servants and newspapers.
The newspapers also have an additional problem: They have been targets of insurgent strikes if the newpaper publishes something that is pro-coalition. Paying the newspapers up front helps them to be "convinced" that it is all right to run the articles.
Newspapers are also written and read differently. Here in the States, letters to the editors are signed with the name and usually the city in which the writer lives. To respond either in person, or by replied opinion, it is not hard to find the person in the white pages and contact them directly. There are no white pages in Baghdad, because there is no phone service or printing to speak of. Anyone can sign their opion with any name they want and there is no accountability or way to track the author.
When a writer pays the newspaper to print his opinion piece, the editor knows where the article comes from and agrees to help protect the identity of the author. That is very important in a volitile environment like Baghdad.
So, is this really "freedom of the press?"
Maybe not, in the U.S. sense of looking over the past 200 years of development of that freedom.
Is it helping win democracy and establish stability?
More than some in Washington want to admit.
War has different rules. Someone needs to explain that in the free press.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


What a great opportunity...
I read the advertisement in our local installation newspaper, aptly named The Blizzard. The Institute of Living and the National Center for PTSD were looking for ME! They wanted a male, active duty person without PTSD who recently returned from the combat zone to be paid $400 for a two day visit to Hartford, CT.
I could visit my brother and his family on the edge of Hartford and get paid for it.
I called, gave my name, phone number, qualified and then the interviewed asked my age.
"53," I replied.
"Sir, I am sorry. Your age is outside of the age range we are looking for. If we extend the age, would you like us to call you?"

If you know someone who would like to participate, have them call Dr. Aidins at 203-932-5711 ext 5557. Make sure the participants are younger than I.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Long Distance Love

I had opportunities in Iraq to write for the MNFI weekly paper, The Scimitar.
When I returned to Ft. Drum, I noticed a copy on the First Sergeant's desk that had been printed off of the internet.
"Hey, First Sergeant, I have not seen one of those in a while."
"Yes, sir," the First Sergeant answered. "That one has your article in it. That is why I printed it off."
I was genuinely touched. Here was a great NCO that took the time to look up the article, print it off, keep it on his desk and mention it to me.

Here is a copy of one of the articles that I wrote. I have handed it out to some of the folks here who are deploying soon as well.

Does deployment equal domestic disaster?
Recent articles in Stars and Stripes and USA Today indicate divorce rates among military members continue to soar. Some analysts believe there is a direct correlation between the rise in deployments and the rise in divorce and domestic difficulties among military members. That should not be hard to figure out. Deployment is hard, and separation is tough on all relationships. “But what can I do from 7,000 miles away? How can I help my marriage when I am gone?” you may ask. “I cannot do anything to help my spouse or my marriage from here. Or can I?”
I think there are things that can be done to actually strengthen a relationship
during separation. The task is not easy and the steps can be difficult, but I would regret traveling halfway across the world to help save a country and lose my own life’s partner.
Here are some suggestions I have found helpful from my experience and the help that I offered to others during their deployments. The most important aspect on my list is communication.
Today’s communication has made quantum leaps from previous conflicts. The ability to communicate instantly with family and friends back home can be good or bad. The key is how best to use the instant communication we have available....e-mail, instant messaging, phone cards, satellite phones, webcams; all of these can keep you in direct contact far more quickly and easily than at any other time in history. But what do you say to your partner? More importantly, what do you NOT say? Our families are bombarded with images from the war zone that are almost always BAD NEWS. They do not need more bad news from us. I decided that I would share with my wife what we would talk about if I were TDY or simply out of town. My intent is not to be deceitful, but to be realistic. What may be an adrenaline rush here in country provokes anxiety or fear in families back home.
If I want to talk war stories about what happened today, there are plenty of people who I live and work with to swap stories. I am determined not to talk about anything that would compound my family’s anxiety. So what do we talk about? The heat, the food, the sleep, the noisy helicopters and vehicles … anything except issues dealing with danger, death and destruction. My family does not need to know about missions or casualties or threat levels at this point. There is no need for them to be concerned about what danger I may or may not be exposed to on any given day. I have found from talking to family members that their single biggest emotional drain is the unknown and unexplainable anxiety that comes from the uncertainty about their military member’s well being. Many have told me, “I am tired of living in fear about what is happening over there. I cannot take it any more.” When families don’t know what is going on, it is easy for them to be overcome by wild imaginations. I will not add to that.
I also vary the times of my phone calls. I am purposely not predictable about when I call. Delays and schedule changes can always keep me from the phone. I do not want people back home sitting by the phone and worrying that “something bad happened because he did not call me!” only to find out that I had a meeting or a conversation or the convoy got delayed, and I was just slow to the phone. If you promise to call “when I get back from the mission,” your family has no idea that you got delayed or had a follow-on mission or whatever. Don’t set them up for worry and concern. “I will be busy most of the day but will call you when I get a chance. Don’t worry about me. I just won’t be around a phone for a while.”
Finally, our family wants to believe that their sacrifice is important. I want them to realize that their sacrifice is making a difference as well. “I miss you. I love you. I cannot believe that I am part of making history here. As painful as our time part is for us both, I am so glad to be part of rebuilding a free country. You are part of it, too, because you are always with me.”
These are hard words to say at times. But defending and rebuilding a country is not the only hard work we do. Maintaining a marriage is very hard work as well.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The 42nd Comes Home

Members of the 42nd Infantry Division from New York have been coming home via Ft. Drum. I have seen them on the streets of post and at the different offices. The familiar 1/2 rainbow patch on their sleeve and their DCU's easily gives them away.
I saw a line of them standing waiting for a taxi in front of the PX the other evening. I had some shopping to do, and was headed the other way. When I came out of the PX, the line was even longer. I don't mind taxis, but these guys had waited long enough.
"Who wants a ride to their barracks? You'll save the taxi fare."
A group of five guys together raised their hands. We trundled to my Laredo, popped the back hatch and completely filled up the back of my truck with PX supplies.
I drove them the couple of miles to the barracks. They had been back in the country about 12 hours. The lied when I asked if they had jet lag. They said "No" but the sat staring out into the black night and had trouble answering questions.
Then I started asking about what was different. All admitted that eating off of pottery and using metal flatware and having glasses to drink from was different.
"I drank water that was not from a bottle," one said and they all laughed.
One admitted that he had freaked out earlier that day in formation.
"We were standing there in formation and I realized I did not have my helmet or my rifle with me. I freaked. Then I remembered that I was back in the States and we had turned them in. For a minute there, I forgot where I was."
I did not have the heart to tell him that "for a minute there" will last for a long time for him.

"Daddy's home"

I went to get a new Ft. Drum vehicle sticker for my truck this afternoon. While I was waiting there, women with children came into the MP station to get a temporary pass. It was not difficult to tell that they were not familiar with post. I had an idea why they were there.
"Is your husband with the 42nd?"
"Yes, he gets home today," was the rushed response. She had a toddler in arms and three others crowding her legs. She had to go back to the vehicle to get registration papers and proof of insurance for the desk clerk. [I hate our bureaucracy that punishes innocent family members under the pretext of “security” concerns. Nobody can convince me (I don’t care their rank or position) that a wife of a deployed soldier with four children who has never been on post is a security risk and needs to prove liability insurance and registration validation before they can see their husband!!!)]
She was in a hurry….the tension was palpable.
“How long did you travel?”
“Four and a half hours,” was the reply.
“You have plenty of time. I know that the plane was delayed about 45 minutes and there are still lots of things to be done before he can be released. You won’t be late. He has been on the plane for 45 hours getting here.”
I played with the little boy who would not stop squirming.
“He only recognizes Daddy as the man on the ‘puter.’He has been gone so long that our son doesn't remember him in person, only on the web cam.”
At the mention of “Daddy” the boy started piping up “I-RAK.” “I-RAK”
“No, Daddy is not in Iraq. Daddy's home.”
“Will your husband be driving the vehicle while on post?” the clerk asked.
“I don’t know. Will they let him out? Can we go somewhere?”
“Say, ‘Yes,’” I offered. “You never know. He may get to visit some.”
The Mom brightened at the prospect.
The clerk smiled and shrugged realizing she asked a moot question. She should have automatically included the husband. How would it hurt to write one more name on a line? It is too easy to be nice to these families, yet we love our policies and procedures.
By then four more wives and enough children to fill a school bus were in the small room each wondering what to do.
“Are you here to meet the 42nd?” I asked.
“Yes!” they all chorused, glad that someone understood who they were and why they were here.
“Welcome to Fort Drum.” I smiled and continued. “We’re glad you are here. Get a temporary pass at this desk and don’t forget to get a map with the yellow directions on it to the gymnasium where your husband is. You have plenty of time.” The relief was immediate. Their plans and waiting and anxiety were about to end with hugs and kisses.

I needed to leave the building. My eyes were tearing up. Reunions almost always make me cry.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Anticipatory Grief

It has been three years since one of my personal heroes and I presented a seminar on “anticipatory grief.” Chaplain Jeff Watters and I developed a seminar for the wives of the leaders of the 82nd Infantry Division (Airborne) when the Division was deployed to the Gulf in response to 9-11. In the seminar, we developed and explained the concept that during marital separation caused by a military conflict, the spouse that stayed home developed specific habits and behavior patterns that directly reflected the anxiety and fear they had while their partner was separated in a combat zone. Simply put, the wives of the leaders of the Division acted out while their husbands were in combat that caused additional stressors on the family. The wives began acting on an assumption that they would, at some point, be given bad news and they had already started the grieving process. They anticipated grief and began experiencing it whether it was true or not.
In the intervening years, I have been a student of this phenomenon in my own counseling cases, couples I have interviewed, stories that I have heard and now in my own life.
Leaving my wife always causes grief for me. I may not cry each time (though at some point I usually do), but I grieve at different levels. But the interesting phenomenon is when to grieve. I realize that I begin anticipating the grief and separation days before the actual separation takes place.
“I leave in four more days,” I think to myself. “There is more to do. I better appreciate this time together.” But thinking about the upcoming separation increases the tension and I find that I cannot enjoy the time I have because I am anticipating the grief that is yet to come.
As I talked with soldiers who went on mid-tour leave, they admitted that the time was too painful for them and they would not do it again, if given the option. As nice as seeing the family may be, the anticipation of returning to the war and leaving the family again was not worth the small joy they had. That recognition of not wanting to see the family increased their guilt and knowing that if the family knew what the soldier was thinking, then they would not understand. “Why don’t you want to visit us?” To be honest, the answer would be, “because I love you so much, it hurts to be with you.”
Anticipatory grief plays on all the minds of the family members facing deployment. I would try and stay focused on the present. “Live in the moment. Stay focused on the present. Don’t worry about what may happen in the days ahead.” All good self-talk to a normal person, but these mantras did not help me very much. By choosing to focus on the present, I kept realizing that the mental energy was detracting from the present because the storm clouds seemed to be so close and ominous.
It is no wonder that the planes headed back to the war are full of depressed and angry soldiers. And what does that say about the ones that are left behind?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Here is Cash--buy some guns!

Big events transpiring in the area of the Inspector General and in Congress in general. It seems that someone is missing a few millions in US dollars in the Iraq reconstruction issue. Congress is doing the handwringing and we, who have been there, are not surprised.
Understanding that there is a principle difference in how we do business and how the Iraqis (and many mid-Easterners as well) do business is important.
Here is how it works:
1) cash
2) trust
3) time

1) Cash talks. Lots of cash talks louder.
Hand a man a suitcase of cash if you want something.
Drive up in a truck load of cash if you want something big.
--a few months back a semi-truck was hijacked on one of the major highways in Iraq. A group of men in fake uniforms set up a roadblock and stopped a car and the truck that was following it. The car was hosed with automatic rifle fire, wounding or killing the family members in the car. The two men in the truck were dragged out of their truck and shot. The truck was driven away. It was loaded with cash. No suspects. No leads. The answer? Request another truckload of cash to finish the run.

Let's say I want to buy a case lot of rifles. The street price of an AK-47 is $115-$150 each for a reasonably worn, used rifle. It will cost me $200,000 US dollars for a thousand rifles with slings, magazine, bayonet in boxes. When the suitcase of cash is handed over for the goods, the second part comes into play:
2) trust
I trust (?) the guy to come through for me. He just walks out of the office with all that cash and I hope he delivers the goods. He is under some compulsion, because I know where he lives and I will come for him if he doesn't deliver. People taking the cash and running is infrequent because that would be dishonorable.
3) Whenever the goods are ready, I am told to go to such a place or someone will meet me with the case lot of rifles.
Now is when the rub comes....
What happens if I open the cases and find rusted, unusable rifles? How do I get my money back?
Every person who has handeld that suicase of cash to make the deal happen has already taken their cut. The finders cut is between 20 and 40 percent of the gross.
30% to the first guy = $60K, who hands the suitcase to his friend or cousin or contact who knows someone who can get the rifles.
That leaves $130K for the next guy to find the rifles. He takes his 30% ($40K or so) and hands on the suitcase. Now the buyer has less than $100K to buy the thousand rifles. A guy can only buy 1,000 rusted rifles for that little amount of money so that is what he gets. He pays someone to deliver the goods and I open a box of junk instead of my merchandise.
NO ONE GETS A REFUND, because the money is gone and there were no guarantees.
Try to equip an army, rebuild a country, restart the infrastructure, dig the wells, run the electric wires, pump the oil and do the millions of things that cost billions of dollars, knowing that the goods must usually be imported or trucked from elsewhere with no paper trail and no guarantees.
We bought tons of things that turned out to be junk and we could not take it back for a refund.
No one did anything wrong....just nothing went right...the way that we expected it would in the good ol USA. But Congress insists that we do it by our book and we did not realize that the Iraqis did not read our book first.
Some great people will lose their careers and some will go to prison because we did not understand the way to do business.

Friday, October 21, 2005

What was it really like?

Surprising number of people are asking "What was it really like being in Iraq? Are we getting the right story in the news that we watch?"
Good question, because I asked myself the same thing while I was in Iraq. I would sit in the briefings in the mornings at the Strategic Operations Center and then listen to the Headline News later in the day. Not always the same story. What the coalition forces accomplish on a daily basis is not being reported. What the insurgents and criminals perpetuate seems to always be highlighted.
National News is competitive. The best stories are the ones that grab the listeners at an emotional level (hence the "yelling" shows of Sunday news and the No spin zone variety)...emotions sell advertising. "If it bleeds, it leads."
The hard work in Iraq is not emotional or leading-news-type stories. The hard work stories are the day in and day out slogging it out among the citizens helping to keep them safe and secure. Not a lot of glory and guys get blown up on a regular basis just doing their jobs. That is the high price of securing a dangerous country, but it is necessary and difficult; but not glorious.

Do the Iraqis want us there?
Overwhelmingly, YES. Scarcely a visit with an Iraqi that I had did not involve some part of the conversation centering around how grateful the citizens are that we are there and that Saddam is gone.
The insurgents and Former Regime elements that want Saddam back in power are basically thugs and criminals that preyed off of the citizenry. If lawlessless can be established and maintained, then their hope is that the coalition will leave and the vacuum of stability and power will allow them back into their positions of oppression. The plan is to provide enough continued stability in the country that their own forces can keep the peace...then we are out of there.

That is not always reported, but that is the way that it is.

What to wear? part II

I decided not to wear my Desert Uniform on the plane ride home. I packed the four sets of uniforms and realized that I would not wear them again....
When I got to the airport, there was another officer on the same flight as I; El Paso to Atlanta. He was wearing his DCU's for the flight.
As we boarded the plane and headed to coach, he took his assigned seat across the aisle from me, he in DCU's, I in my sweater and khakis, in preparation to go out to dinner that evening from the airport.
After we took our seats, a gentleman from First Class came back and told the other officer that he had a seat available in First Class for him. He was giving up his seat for the flight to the returning vet. Very thoughtful of the guy. They shook hands and mutually thanked the other for the service.
When in uniform, I had been stopped often in the airports and thanked for my service. That small gesture means a lot.

Once here at Ft. Drum, I decided to wear my DCU's one more time. The day that I returned to work I wore them again. The company commander drove to my office specifically to see me and welcome me back. "Sir," he said, "as the first commander in your line of command, let me be the first to officially welcome you back and thank you for your service and sacrifice while serving our country. Welcome home." Although I know that the "official" greeting is required and expected, I still appreciated it.

He also commented on my uniform. I am expected to wear it for the next week as part of the reintegration process. This signifies me as one returning and is supposed to help expedite the paperwork drill of getting me back into the unit and back to work. It goes without saying that the uniform does set me apart. When I first saw green uniforms among the desert patterns, they were out of place. Now the colors are reversed. I am the minority among all the green uniforms on post.

Next week I will be normal....

Monday, October 10, 2005

Fully home?

Before heading to Iraq, I was resonsible for providing briefings to returning soldiers at Ft. Drum, NY. As these soldiers returned from their deployment, I helped greet them at the airport, offer prayers, encouragement and presence. I have provided reunion briefings for returning soldiers for so many times, I have the briefing memorized.
Part of the getting home process always invovles lots of "welcome home" comments and speeches. I always begin mine by saying, "Everyone seems to say 'welcome home' to you, but I reaize that you are not home yet. You are on the way home, but only you know when you are really home. So let me welcome you thus far on the journey and I hope to make this briefing short and to the point, so that you can get home where you want to be."

For me, I have announced in the past that there are certain events that must take place before I am fully home.
I must hear the laughter of my children around the table at dinner.
I must stand with the congregation and sing praises in church.
I must fall asleep with my wife's head resting on my chest.

Then I know that I am home.

I am home now.

What I find different

Janet and I take a walk together every day.
As we walked through the woods the other day, we stopped and just listened.
It has been a long time since I heard nothing. We talked about that on the rest of the walk.
"What do I find that is different or unexpected since I got back?"

Here is a short list:
*The quiet is amazing. There are no generators running 24/7. I am surprised at how normally I acclimated to the noise of the generators. They are everywhere and we don't even realize it.
*There are no helicopters flying overhead. I love watching helos fly, but there are none here at my house. No medivac or supply choppers flying in regularly every 45 minutes or so. Outside ceremonies are interrupted two or three times by helicopters flying overhead that are so loud that the speaker cannot be heard. We can tell the medical choppers that are on "milk runs" of normal delivery and cirucit rides from the ones that have patients. We comment to each other while at poolside in the evenings whether or not the ER at the hospital would be busy that evening.
*Seeing children! The International Zone produced a T-shirt that I did not get around to buying. It had a logo on the front pocket and on the back said, "The International Zone-Baghdad, Iraq. The world's most exclusive adult gated community. Security by Abrams and Bradley." There are so few children in the IZ, that I was not accustomed to hearing or seeing them around when I got home.
*Being able to hold a glass under a faucet and drink the water. None of the water in the sinks was potable. Brushing one's teeth with water from the faucet invited diahrrea.
*Using stainless steel flatware and real glassware and coffee cups and pottery....
We ate off of plastic plates with plastic ware and drank from juice cartons and bottled water.
*Sitting down at a restaurant and being served. I have stood in line for every meal and gotten up for any refill or forgotten item. It is nice to sit and visit without having to get up until the meal is over.
*A good shower. The water pressure was so poor in the trailer that the water just dribbled down the wall and splashed off the handle. Every shower was more of a standing wash cloth sprinkling that it was pathetic and generally the water did not get very warm. I shifted to considering my swim in the pool as enough hygiene to last for a day. Now I can stand in a shower with water pressure, hot water and not worry about the water running out or getting cold.

There are more things, but this is a good start.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The "Patton Slap"

General George Patton almost lost his career over an incident where he slapped a solder. If you are not familiar with the incident, the General was visiting a hospital where he encountered a soldier sitting on a hospital bed with no visible wounds. When asked about the situation, the General was told that the soldier just "couldn't take it anymore" and was in the hospital for evaluation, recuperation, etc.
The General blew up, slapped the soldier across the head with the riding gloves he always carried and screamed at the soldier....thus erupting the famous "Patton slap" stories and increased concern for shell shock, PTSD, post-battle symptoms, etc. The incident almost cost Patton his career, and he had to stand and publically apoligize to the hospital staff, the soldier, his command and anybody else that Ike thought needed to hear the apology.

I was tempted to go off on a soldier the other day. I was standing in line in Kuwait. I was the last in line ready to plead my case that I did not want to be in theater any longer and would get my own flight home on the Air Force rotator (which I did...thank you AF!).
After standing in line for a while, an NCO brought two soldiers to stand behind me in the line. One soldier was a Private First Class and the other had not rank, which means he was a Private (E-1) or as we say, "E-nothin.'"
"Stand here and give the lady this paper when you get to the front of the line" was their instructions.
The line moved slowly and the E-0 talked quickly. The two were from the same Division, by the patch on their shoulders, and I assumed were from the same unit, since they came together and had the same NCO escort.
E-nuthin was talking from the time the two of them got into line. "I am ready to go home. All I want to do is get home. I need to be home." But something was weird about the guy.
As it turned out, the E-3 was going home on R&R, well deserved rest from his time in combat. Judging by his worn uniform and the look in his eyes, he needed the rest. The other soldier was just "going home." To be an E-nothin' here means you probably lost rank. By the time a soldier gets through all the training required and gets to a unit, they should have enough time in the military to have achieved at least one advancement in rank. (The Army does not call the first two advancements "promotions" because there is nothing required of the soldier other than breathing and showing up for work. After PFC, then the promotions are deserved).
E-nothin' would not shut up.
I did not want to hear it.
"I just want to go home...," he whined. "I saw the Psychiatrist. I am not homicidal. I am not suicidal. I just want to go see my baby. My boy is 18 months old and I want to be with him. I know that he needs me..." The babble continued....incessant...whining...begging...trying to convince the other soldier (or himself) that he was justified in his decision to get out of theater and go home.
After a while, the soldier left the line to go to the bathroom. He wasn't supposed to leave the line without an escort, but who cared?
Then it dawned on me that this punk was being busted out of the unit and sent home for failure to perform. He had become a problem child, lost his rank, would not do his job and was being sent home for discharge.
I turned to the PFC and asked if he was the escort. "No, sir. I am just in line." The soldier was tired and worn thin. "You can tell Private nothin' that he can be quiet. You don't have to listen to him whine adn I don't need to hear his noise."
The soldier shrugged. I don't think that he thought it worth the effort and it probably would not help quiet the whine. He was respectful, because I was a Lieutenant Colonel, but I could tell that he had lost his incentive to change anything about the other guy.
As I stood in line, I began to think about the E-nothin.' He showed the typical symptoms of obsessive, self-absorbed, intrusive thought patterns. He convinced himself that it was for his baby's best interest for him to get home to see him. He obsessed on that thought until it became the primary focus of his life and all that he could think or focus on. Nothing else in his life would fit until he got home to his baby. He stopped working. He stopped functioning. All he could do was whine until he got his way.
Then I got mad.
"Who will carry his ruck...fill his his job when he went home to his baby?" Every person here came for a reason and a job and when one is gone, then someone else has to do extra work.
"Does he think that he came here for nothing and that he can just go home, like cutting class?"
"How much grief has he brought his unit?" He has been busted in rank, which means he is a problem child. He requires escort which means that some NCO who came to fight a war and make a difference is being paid to be a babysitter.
"What kind of drain is this on the command to take care of this baby?"
"Does he think we don't miss our family? our babies? our lives back home?"
"How self-centered/obsessive/idiotic is this punk to bring this kind of grief on the command who is trying to run a war and keep soldiers alive?"

I was feeling very un-Chaplian-like at the moment and I began to empathize with Patton. I was wishing that I had a pair of riding gloves.

The line was shorter. I was next to be called. I stepped forward and handed over my paperwork. I was told to head to another building and take care of my flight myself. I turned to leave. There was a Staff Sergeant standing next to E-nuthin' as his escort. I shook my head and pushed through the door, mumbling under my breath, "let it go and go home."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

What to wear, what to wear?

I had planned to wear my DCU's, the desert uniform home on the plane. I got an upgrade to first class with them on my way from Dallas to El Paso the other day. A major and I had been together since Kuwait and were ending our trip together. We were the last ones on the plane in Dallas, just because we were not in a rush. As we approached the counter, the attendant pulled us aside and asked for our tickets. Later, the major admitted that he thought there was a problem and we may not have seats. I knew that she was upgrading us, because the plane was about 1/3 full.
She handed us our tickets with a "Welcome home" as we went to the gate.
The major was ecstatic!
When we got on the plane the first attendant asked, "Did you get good seats?"
"Yes," I replied. "Thank you."
"Welcome home."
That was very special. We were seated on the front row and were the first served. We did not ask for anything special, but it was nice to be served without having to wait and having her hover around asking if we needed anything.
I planned to wear my DCU's on the home flight, maybe scoring another first class seat. Then I decided not to. I am going from the airport out to dinner with my wife and thought I would dress more appropriately.
I did laundry this evening and I packed my DCU's in the duffle bag for the flight home. I realized that there will not be another time or reason to wear them again. That thought caught me by surprise. I have worn them every day for the last 7 months and then, it's over. If I deploy again, I will be issued the new style of uniform. When I return to Ft. Drum in two weeks, I will switch back to the basic BDU's that I have worn for the last 18 years. The DCU wear was a one-time uniform for a one-time mission...never replicated, never undone.
It has been a good ride, one of the highlights of my life, but when I packed the uniforms away, something ended.
I am going home....

Avoiding the Chaplain

When I first came to Ft. Bliss, there was a chaplain assigned here as part of the unit that was in charge of our preparation and deployment. I did not like her at all. I don't know if it was that she was loud, irrelevant, grossly overweight, or pretentous, but there was something....she complained about how the unit did not respect her position and tried to take her vehicle away, and how she maneuvered around the command to get an expensive 4 wheel drive rental at government expense...she whined about how she was not being fully utilized. She complained about how hard it was being a Reservist. Plus, she wanted me to help provide ministry to the soldiers while I was here...
I wondered if the rest of the folks going through the process with me were "requested to assist?" Did the cadre ask the mechanics who were deploying to go the motor pool and work on vehicles? Did they ask the medics to help with sick call or the clerks to handle the paperwork? Then why ask me to help do her job?
I wondered how the reunion briefing by the chaplain would go. I thought that her outgoing briefing was the next thing to horrible. How would the welcome back be?
As it turned out, the Chaplain Assistant did the briefing. Many of the assistants are quality soldiers and fully capable of doing the briefing. I am moderately impressed with him, and the briefing was, shall I say, "brief?" It was the shortest that I have ever seen; five Powerpoint slides, less than 4 minutes long. Obviously a "check the block" briefing and, to tell the truth, that was about all that we could stand or want at this point in the getting home game.
I just saw the Chaplain this evening as she was standing outside on my way into the offices.
She has actually gained weight, or else her dress uniform has shrunk. I was embarrassed for her, the Corps and myself. I turned another direction and walked behind her so that she and I would not meet.
I don't need this.