"Hopefully this Buck won't stopone of the best damn MilBloggers to ever knock sand from his boots." -- The Mudville Gazette

28 August 2005


photo by Buck Sargent

The waiting is the hardest part.
-Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Exactly three years ago this week I left my Texas home for the Infantry Training Brigade in Fort Benning, Georgia. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

A retired Navy Seal whose physical conditioning class I had endured to prepare myself for basic training warned me that the hardest obstacle I would face in the military would be the “hurry up and wait” mentality. Naturally, I asked him what he meant by this.

“It’s just like it sounds,” he told me. ‘Hurry up and get your ass over here…there…anywhere! Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go! Okay, now that you've jumped through your ass, sit here and wait for three hours.’"

I grimaced as he laughed. “Yep, that’s hurry up ‘n wait in a nutshell.”
It wasn’t long before I realized his words would encapsulate not only my initial exposure to, but my entire experience with Army life.

Every soldier who arrives for basic at Ft. Benning must first process through the 30th Adjutant General (Reception) Battalion, commonly referred to simply as 30th AG. It is here that terms like “hurry up and wait” were undoubtedly invented.

The Army alludes to the reception battalion as “a two to three day process by which incoming soldiers receive their basic issue, receive their shots and immunizations, and update their records.” In reality, it is a virtual military purgatory--subjecting one to endless waiting, boredom, and completely random acts of spontaneous yelling. It is a soldier’s first direct taste of imposed military discipline; and after the months of civilian handholding by the sly and deceitfully congenial recruiters, it is an eye-opening experience to say the least.

The waiting is indeed the hardest part. It is unrelenting: waiting in formations; waiting in line for chow; waiting in line for shots, clothing, paperwork; waiting in line to wait in line. It never stops. Imagine hell as one long continuous line at the post office during the holidays and you‘re halfway there.

Once you do finally make it “downrange” to basic training, the initially three weeks are ominously referred to as “total control.” It is exactly as it sounds. Everything a basic trainee does is strictly monitored or regulated by the drill sergeant cadre. When you wake up. When you go to sleep. When you eat. What you eat. How fast you eat. Where you stand. How you stand. What you say. When you say it. How you say it.

We were expected to take everything we’d learned throughout our lives up to that point—all our knowledge, all our habits, our routines and rituals, likes and dislikes, all our accumulated wisdom—and flush it right down the toilet. The idea was that our friends and family spent roughly twenty years screwing us up, which the Army now had approximately 14 weeks to correct.

About midway through basic the drill sergeants seem to recognize your frustration with the rigid structure of the Army experience. They assure you that what you’re going through is the worst the Army will ever get, that daily life in a regular unit will be much better. Once upon a time this may have been true -- perhaps in the peacetime Army. The Army post-September 11 -- an Army at war --that was another thing entirely.

And nothing brings back the repressed memories of total control quicker than the initial weeks of a long overseas deployment.

The tiny oil emirate of Kuwait is an unbelievably wealthy nation of 2.5 million to Iraq’s southern border that the American military liberated from Saddam’s marauding armies in the first Gulf War. Today it has become to the Iraq War what Long Binh was to Vietnam: a way station and inprocessing center for all soldiers bound for the combat zone “up north.” It is chock full of military and civilian personnel with little to do and a myriad of rules and regulations that make even less sense. But as always, the waiting is still the worst aspect.

Camps like this are referred to as “Candylands” in the infantry vernacular. High ranking and barely working people with little overriding motivation to patrol IED routes or clear buildings during high-value-target raids--“pogues” to the rest of us--have no qualms here getting on your case about the most minor of infractions.

A sign prominently displayed before the entrance to the chow hall lists nearly two dozen uniform code violations, ranging from the obvious (no headgear worn indoors), to the irritating (no sunglasses hung around the neck), to the simply bizarre (no exposed abdomens?).

The facilities are decent for an outpost in the middle of the Kuwaiti desert, yet with thousands of soldiers shuffling through on a regular basis, the ability to utilize such facilities is severely hampered. Sure, you can call home or buy new socks at the civilian run P/X, but only if you don’t mind standing in line for an hour and a half and paying more per minute of phone usage here than per gallon of gas back home.

And there’s always the inescapable Kuwaiti sun; 140+ degree temperatures tend to put a damper on available extracurricular activities. With all the generators on the various Kuwaiti camps running around the clock, it’s likely we’ve accelerated the greenhouse effect here 200 fold in the fifteen years since the last Gulf War. The nights are considerably cooler (if one considers 85 degrees “cool“), although the tent a/c is left running 24/7 to combat your daily sun stroke with nightly hypothermia.

If the heat doesn’t get you, the pervasive sand and dust undoubtedly will. It’s not so much sand as it is silt -- getting into every crevice imaginable and even some not so imaginable. The gritty air quality, coupled with having been recently cramped inside an airplane full of recycled oxygen amongst 150 other soldiers for 35 consecutive hours leads to a miserable condition infamously known as the Kuwaiti Crud. If you haven’t suffered through it yet, your fellow citizens of Tent City will ensure that you will.

The training opportunities thus far have been sparse, but comical. An Irish sergeant from the Brit Army briefed our unit on IEDs--still the number one killer of coalition troops in theater--as well as various checkpoint protocols:

“The insurgents, they’re sayin’ they blow themselves up fer seventy virgins, aye? Well we in the British Army have a policy to deal with this problem: We send them straight to Allah and keep the virgins for ourselves!”

“The British use this hand signal [closed fist] ‘Stop!’ to control traffic at checkpoints. The Iraqis, they use a similar one, [open hand] ‘Oogaf!’ And then there’s you Americans: [points weapon] ‘Freeze motherfucker!’”

A southern fried corporal EOD technician (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) from Alabama then played a video he called the “Eye Opener,” consisting mainly of a highlight reel of military convoys getting blown all to hell by IEDs, perversely set to the Everclear tune “Wonderful.” Military humor--you’ve gotta love it.

When the time finally comes to pack up and head north across the border, going “downrange” will automatically assume more weight and significance than ever before, though it will produce no less anxiety coupled with the excitement of embarking on the journey we’ve mentally prepared ourselves for over the last few months. Our infantry drill sergeants did everything they could to train us for this moment; for the time when our country would summon us to war, ready or not.

It’s not impossible to believe that “hurry up and wait” is part of a grand strategy devised by the Army to convince soldiers from day one that where they’re headed couldn’t possibly be as horrible as where they currently are. They make your life miserable on purpose so you’ll be itching to head downrange ASAP, wherever that may happen to be and whoever may happen to be waiting there for you.

This reverse psychology may work on cherry trainees, but experienced soldiers know better. In recent days, another convoy of troops headed for Baghdad was savagely ambushed just inside the Iraqi border, producing two more American KIAs and half a dozen additional wounded.

It’s been said that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and the second as farce.
Given the choice, we’ll gladly stick with farce.


21 August 2005


Mohammed Atta arrives at the gates of the Eternal Paradise of the Martyrs of Islam, shocked to finally learn of the events of the past four years that he helped to unleash.

Allah: Welcome Mohammed! I am very pleased to welcome you to the gates of immortality. As-salaam alaykum, my son.

Atta: Wa alaykum as-salaam. Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar! Glad to finally be here, Exalted One. Thank you again for the plentiful virgins. Wow, seventy-two!

Allah: They were to your liking, I presume?

Atta: Indeed they were. It took me many weeks to get through them all.

Allah: Wonderful, wonderful indeed. Mohammed, I hope you can forgive the considerable delay in getting you up here. The waiting list really has really mushroomed in the last three or four years. Martyr Madness, that’s what Abdullah has been calling it. What a sense of humor, that Abdullah.

Atta: …ah yes, a comical reference to American university athletics. Yes, we quite enjoyed watching the infidels play “hoops” when we partied -- I mean …when we plotted -- that last weekend in their sinful and disgusting city of Las Vegas. Great and Merciful Allah, if I may ask, where are the others who died so gloriously in Your name?

Allah: Others?

Atta: Yes oh Powerful One, there were eighteen other martyrs who struck with fiery precision at the heart of the Great Satan that day. I handpicked most of them myself.

Allah: [?]

Atta: September the eleventh, two thousand one? Nine-one-one? 9/11? I am sure it made all the papers…

Allah: Yes, yes… this date I know well. You must believe Me, I have been trying very hard to forget.

Atta: Forget? Why, oh Great Allah, why would You want to forget? We did it for You.

Allah: You must not do Me any more favors. Have you not seen the congestion up here with your own eyes? And do not even get Me started on the parking situation…

Atta: Please, Merciful One, I must know. Where are the others?

Allah: Very well. They are not here. You are the only one.

Atta: Not here? But how? Why? They gave their lives for the Glory of Allah! Why only me?

Allah: What can I tell you? You have the star power, my son. Even I do not have the clout to turn away a bona fide Muslim celebrity. How would that look? Your name has been all over the Muslim press outlets--al Jazeera, CNN, the New York Times, you name it--for years on end. Those other guys…well. I am sorry, but it really is all about who you know.

Atta: I see. Then it is true. America has been crushed, inshalla?

Allah: Ah yes, well umm… not exactly.

Atta: The Twin Towers of Capitalist Imperialism were felled in a hailstorm of fire and smoke, inshalla?

Allah: Indeed they were. Felled completely to the earth.

Atta: And their five-sided headquarters of military aggression, was it not devoured in flame and destruction, inshalla?

Allah: Yes, well… one side of it, anyway.

Atta: And the coup de grace, the focus of evil in the modern world--the White House of their weak and sniveling President Bush--smashed like so much kindling! Allahu akbar!

Allah: Umm… not so much.

Atta: Not so much? What does it mean, this "not so much?"

Allah: Yes… well, that flight didn’t go exactly as planned. The passengers rebelled and forced the airliner down over a Pennsylvania field.

Atta: Pennsylvania?!

Allah: It is large state just to the east of… never mind, it is of no matter. The point is that ultimately you have failed in your aims, Mohammed.

Atta: Failed, Magnificent One? Did we not strike a blow to the heart of America? Are they not reeling still from the unfathomable loss of life? Is their Evil Empire shriveling in response to our well-executed death and destruction and chaos? Are not all of the Holy Lands free of their foul presence? Are not the Jews in a panic following the Americans’ cowardly retreat from the entirety of the Middle East?

Allah: Umm… I do not know exactly how to break this to you, Mohammed…

Twenty minutes later…

Atta: But Osama promised us that America was a paper tiger! All fangs but no bite. He said they would withdraw to lick their wounds if we hit them on their own soil. He said American infidels are cowards at heart, that they are even afraid to die!

Allah: Mohammed, you must understand that…

Atta: This is not possible! Osama showed time and time again under President Clinton that all we had to do is attack them again and again and again…

Allah: Mohammed...

Atta: …and each time would bring us closer to our true goal of re-conquest of all the original Muslim Holy Lands…

Allah: Mohammed!!

Atta: …uniting all Muslims of the world in common cause, total destruction of all non-believers…

Allah: MOHAMMED!!!

Atta: ...yes, Great One?

Allah: President Clinton is one thing. President Bush the Younger is something else entirely.

Atta: I see.
But has he really led America’s military to conquer all of Afghanistan and Iraq and introduce their despicable American democracy there in only four years time?

Allah: Technically, it was less than three, but hey, who is counting?
It is of no matter; for the Jihad continues to this day in Iraq!

Atta: Really? Because You do not have to blow smoke up my ass, as they say in Vegas...

Allah: No, it is true. Many men are brought before Me each and every day. Every single one of them died gloriously fighting the Americans! You should see the pride on My face.

Atta: I see it, Magnificent One, I see it.
So, Saddam is indeed a fighter in the tradition of Saladin. He defies the Americans with much courage, no?

Allah: No.

Atta: No?

Allah: No.
Actually, they found him cowering in a spider hole…

Atta: [Sighs]
Great One?

Allah: Yes, My son?

Atta: Will our side prevail over the infidel non-believers?

Allah: I no longer wish to speak of this matter. Ask me again in a few years.
I must go now; you have no idea how busy I am. So little time, so many new martyrs to greet…


15 August 2005


American Citizen Soldier *Extra*
This is the third in a three-part series of selected excerpts from my Afghanistan war journal recorded from October 2003 to August 2004. They are along the lines of a conventional blog in that they captured the daily events and my thoughts about them in real time. I am posting them on the eve of my current deployment to Iraq as a study in comparison to the OIF columns to follow.

As I will be necessarily incommunicado for an indefinite period while in military transit to the Middle East, regular postings will continue as soon as my situation on the ground permits.

Saturday 06December2003
Southeastern Afghanistan
Another day in the ‘Stan, another gigantic mountain to climb for 3rd Squad - 2nd Platoon - Charlie Company - Task Force 1/501st - Band of Sherpas. Pull security for four hours, rack out for four more. Rinse. Repeat.
Sitting high atop Afghanistan doing nothing more strenuous than looking through binos and working on your farmer’s tan is not bad work if you can get it.

Our platoon leader hiked up to our current observation site for a few hours to sham out a little bit and get away from all the looniness below that usually surrounds the CP (command post). The PL and Sergeant Boyle and I just sat on our duffs and took pictures and “shot the shit” for a little while, talking smack about our fellow Geronimos while simultaneously swearing each other to secrecy.

“Not a word of this leaves the mountaintop. Got that, Specialist?” 1LT Harbor eyed me suspiciously as I pretended to scribble furiously in my journal and record him verbatim for posterity. Ever since he learned of my bachelors degree he has been accusing me of being an Army CID plant (Criminal Investigations Division). My one little running joke with the Platoon Leader. Ha-ha.

Before he left our mountain perch,the El-Tee let it drop that our platoon will be going to Kabul when we return to Salerno after this mission is over with. Kabul should be interesting, if nothing else. Apparently, the women there (who knew there were even any women left in Oldassman-istan?) will actually walk the streets sans full-body black ninja robes. The nerve!
If the Afghans have lightened up as a culture at all it’ll probably be on display in the capital city.

What do we want? Deodorant! When do we want it? Now!
Hell no, we won’t grow (our beards)!

It may not exactly be Haight-Ashbury or Greenwich Village, but come on, these people don’t even have a single Starbucks! (Oh, the humanity...)
They can’t burn their bras until they first learn of the invention of the bra.

Sunday 07December2003
Pearl Harbor Day
Last night I finally gave in and ended my streak of eight consecutive MREs consumed without "moving my bowels," easily breaking the previous personal record set back in basic training. Nothing is more distasteful than crapping while in the field, other than perhaps having to crap off the side of a mountain in the dead of night. Let’s just say it’s a tad difficult to concentrate on one’s “business” when you’re worried about falling to your death with your pants around your ankles.

The fighting positions built up with rocks that our squad has been sleeping in for the past two days look like they’ve been here awhile. It makes you wonder who else has stayed in and fought from this exact spot high above the crossroads leading to the Pakistan border only a few hundred meters away. The Taliban? Other American military units? The CIA-backed mujahadeen ambushing the hapless Soviet army twenty some odd years ago? Alexander the Great and his legions of conquerors? It’s a bit awe-inspiring to think about.

The strangest thing of all is that you could travel back in time about a millennium or so and this place would look exactly the same as it does now. As it will probably look in another thousand years.

Monday 08December2003
We’re supposed to descend our little rocky mountain retreat today to go help check and clear caves with the rest of the platoon, but so far we’ve been stuck up here all morning while 1st and 2nd Squads hog all the glory. There is supposed to be a huge complex of caverns hidden in a nearby mountain range that the CIA helped the Afghan freedom fighters build back in the 80s, and that al-Qaeda has surely inherited and utilized at some point since.
Hopefully, 3rd Squad will get in on the action too before the day is out. Still, it’s doubtful we’ll find anyone home.

Word has it our element is choppering back to the rear tomorrow for refit and a regrouping of sorts. Apparently, this mission has gone to hell in a hand basket in a heck of a hurry.

One: Alpha Company bugged out days ago after stupidly trying to hump all over creation and burning through their water and chow rations in a single day. They’ve been chilling out at the FOB for who knows how long while we’ve been out here all by our lonesome -- a single platoon in the heart of Taliban country -- tempting Custer’s fate.

Two: We haven’t detained, PUCked or even caught a faint whiff of a single baddie since we first air assaulted out here last Wednesday. Either the enemy is too smart to tangle with us or our S-2 intel sucks the big one. I don’t think I have to tell you which one I think it is.

Camels and mules, sure. But four hundred and fifty kamikaze al-Qaeda? Not even close, pal. Try zero. We can’t seem to find a firefight even when we advertise for one. What is it going to take to finally see some action?

If I don’t get to fire my weapon at a bad guy soon, I’m going to go bonkers.
You’ve got to hand it to the 501st. They’ve even managed to make combat boring.

Well, it turned out 3rd Squad got the chance to go al-Qaeda spelunking after all, albeit about a day late and an afghani short. The cave complexes we patrolled looked like they’d been cleared by about a half dozen units already, though I suppose they always could be reinhabited afterward, rendering our presence at least somewhat important.

The other squads in the platoon had found all sorts of discarded IEDs in their caves, but ours were by and large barren. If you’re not seeing very clearly in your mind’s eye what these caves look like due to the lack of exposition on my part, fear not, for I will assist you. Just picture a small but quaint condominium circa the Bronze Age, and then throw in some anti-personnel mines and tripwires.

A few of the cave mouths still bore signs of giant craters where the Air Force dropped JDAM bombs on them during the main effort of the war, probably around the time of Operation Anaconda.Most of them are surprisingly resilient, though. Our sappers tried to collapse one with nearly 150 lbs. of C4 explosive (a monumental sum), yet it barely left a scratch. These hajjis must have really paid attention when the CIA taught them Cave Construction 101. Talk about your all-time boneheaded moves. Why not teach them how to fly commercial airliners while we’re at it.

Tonight we’ll be sleeping near the CP at the base of the mountain in preparation for tomorrow morning’s helo extraction back to the rear. You know you’re sucking when you’re already fantasizing about getting to sleep on a cot again for a night or two. Ahh… the simple pleasures.
Too bad it looks like rain tonight.

Tuesday 09December2003
3rd Squad’s one night of uninterrupted, continuous sleep was spoiled by a miserable bout of uninterrupted, continuous drizzle. Even with my poncho, fartsack and camo bivy cover, it felt as if I was sleeping -- or attempting to sleep, that is -- in the middle of a rain gutter.

To top off our off-Broadway performance (waaay off Broadway) of Sleepless in Afghanistan, we were rocketed awake -- literally -- by a sharp explosion a few hundred meters from our position.

Several joes witnessed the flash of the launch, and a few claimed to have spied the smoke trail in the moonlight as the RPG came streaking in toward the CP. Others didn’t even bother to poke their heads out of their sleeping bags. I suppose the drone of nightly outgoing mortar fire at the FOB has already inured some of us to the sound of huge bangs in the dead of night. For the first few weeks in country, nearly everyone would practically jump out of their skin when the One oh Fives would hang-fire their huge rounds out into the surrounding hills. It took awhile for us to tell the difference between an outgoing crump and an incoming ka-boom. Judging by last night, a few heavy sleepers still can’t.

The bad guys must have been disappointed; not only did they not hit us, they didn’t even get a reaction from us for at least a good thirty minutes as the hajji crow flies. No CAS, no return fire, nothing. The mortars finally launched a pair of illumination rounds toward the estimated azimuth and range of Abu Musab al-Sneaky Shooter’s location, but by that time it was nothing more than a feel-good exercise. Without any mobilized air assets or hilltop overwatch to scan the mountain range, the only likely effect of the illum rounds was to help the bad guys find their way home in the dark.

Tip of the spear, that’s us. Too bad the spear's only three inches long.

Curiously, I seem to recall the Afghan “terps” and AMF personnel who had bivouacked with us throughout the mission deciding just before dusk last night to bed down next to a cliff face a ways from the CP in order to “stay out of the rain.” Later that same evening we nearly get blown up. Coincidence? You make the call.

We proceeded with the plan to airlift back to FOB Salerno later that morning, which was a welcome respite -- not from the rocket attack (it was the only cool thing that happened all week) -- but from the nasty funk of seven straight days in the field wearing the same duds. You know you stink when you can smell your own drawers through your pants. Any woman who deems it sexist for females to be barred from the infantry need only to spend a week humping the Afghan Alps with us in order to set her straight. Trust me, our “sexism” is doing them a huge favor.

It’s not certain whether 2nd Platoon’s part in Operation Avalanche is over just yet -- we may still go back out. But this much is certain: the only thing we seemed to accomplish is demonstrate that if you creep up and attack us from afar, not only will we not come after you or shoot back -- we will actually pack up and be gone by morning! The Roman Legionnaires would not be impressed.

Veni Vidi Vamanos (We came We saw We split)

We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.
-George Orwell

Well, that’s the theory anyway.

14 August 2005


American Citizen Soldier *Extra*
This is the second in a three-part series of selected excerpts from my Afghanistan war journal recorded from October 2003 to August 2004. They are along the lines of a conventional blog in that they captured the daily events and my thoughts about them in real time. I am posting them on the eve of my current deployment to Iraq as a study in comparison to the OIF columns to follow.

As I will be necessarily incommunicado for an indefinite period while in military transit to the Middle East, regular postings will continue as soon as my situation on the ground permits.

Tuesday 02December2003
FOB Salerno, Afghanistan
Rehearsal Day for Operation Avalanche; A-Day minus one. Our rucks seem to have reached critical mass in terms of how much weight the average-sized human can carry on his back short of slipping a disk. We hump more weight per person than American Airlines allows you to check at the counter.

Mortar rounds are truly the bane of an infantryman’s existence. We don’t get to fire them, yet we still have to carry them. Otherwise the Eleven Charlies (mortarmen) wouldn’t have room for all their coffee grounds and trail mix.

Of course, it’s easy to bag on the Chairborne Charlies until us 11Bs (Eleven Bulletstoppers) are knee deep in The Shit and are cryin’ for that indirect fire to fall from the sky and save our asses. But until that time comes (which may be sooner than later) I’m still gonna bitch about it.

Good news. 3rd Squad may not need to climb all the way up to the high ground tomorrow after all. The helos are supposed to drop us off directly on the ridgeline we’ve been tasked to secure. This is a mighty relief, considering I would have a hard time scaling a speed bump with the load I was teetering around with this afternoon. Now I know how a sherpa feels.
Quasimodo’s got nothing on me.

Now for the bad news. Captain Condrey graciously informed us that the latest "Magic 8-Ball" intel predicts up to 450 enemy fighters massing to assault a border checkpoint in the next few days… and we’re the bait.

"Magic 8-Ball, within the next few days could we encounter up to 450 enemy fighters massing to assault a border checkpoint?"

My sources say yes.

We're choppering over in broad daylight and setting up a roadblock right in the heart of Indian country. We want them to know we’re there. We want them to attack. And then we want to call in the overflying B-52s to unleash the Holy Wrath of God on them.
Sorry Hajji, but Allah doesn’t have close air support (CAS).

We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.
-Toby Keith, Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)

The following just happened to come in the mail today. I’m taking it as a not-so-good omen:

Dear fellow American,

The thoughts and prayers of the members of the Paralyzed Veterans of America [!] are with our troops in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, South Korea, Bosnia, and all the other places around the globe where you are putting your lives on the line.

It is our sincere hope that no one else becomes eligible for membership in PVA -- that no one emerges from the current conflict with a spinal cord injury. But if it should happen [knock on wood, rub the rabbits foot, cross my fingers], rest assured that PVA will be here [sure, with a big fat wheelchair with your name already on it].

My heartfelt thanks to you. God Bless America and return home safely!
[But not too safely! We’ve still got bills to pay, you know].

Joseph L. Fox, Sr.
Paralyzed Veterans of America,
National President
Hey thanks, Joe. You’ve really brightened my day, let me tell ya. I’ll be sure to think of you when I’m dodging machine gun fire, ducking RPG rounds and trying to avoid SPINAL CORD INJURY. What’s next, Seasons Greetings from the Association of Opportunistic Funeral Directors? Happy Holidays from the I Hope You Don’t Step On a Landmine Society? A little tact, please. Is that so much to ask?

Wednesday 03December2003
A-Day. Preparing for an air assault mission is similar to prepping for an airborne jump, minus the parachutes. You ready all your equipment, top off your water, oil up your weapon, and then waddle on over to the tarmac (in our present case, a rocky helicopter landing zone) with your insanely heavy sherpa loads and plop down behind the “birds” to wait out the hours until mission launch.
Sitting here on my rucksack waiting for the helos to spin up, the only thing I can’t stop thinking about is whether or not someone will break into our tent while we’re gone and steal my hajji guitar.

As soon as the Chinook that was delivering us to our objective lifted off, it was only an eight minute flight to the rocky hilltop that would be 3rd Squad’s home away from home away from home for the next three days -- five thousand feet straight up. Sergeants Sarten and Russell both swore out (or rather, yelled) the Oath of Reenlistment in a little impromptu ceremony-in-flight while myself and Specialist Putuga outstretched an American flag in the background and tried our best not to fall off the open rear ramp of the chopper.

Why airborne troops insist on re-upping in bizarre, completely unnecessary scenarios, I will never understand. As far as Sergeant Sarten goes, this is a guy with a proclivity for unusual behavior (e.g., running from tent to tent stark raving naked except for desert tan combat boots and a football tucked under one arm, screaming, “BLUE--FORTY TWO! BLUE--FORTY TWO! HUT-HUT-HUT!”) So perhaps that explains a little of it.

The Chinook ride felt just like it does when we’re waiting to jump out of a C-130. Everyone was facing each other on opposing fold-down bench seats bearing that same look of constipated fear that all jumpers have waiting to “stand up, hook up, shuffle to the door,” as the time honored cadence goes. Everyone is nervous or scared, but no one dares show it, thus, all that comes out is this blank, thousand-yard stare that says, “What the hell am I doing here?! This is f---ing insane!”

No one was sure if our LZ was likely to be “hot” or “cold,” so many of us were displaying that look as we waited to touch down. Luckily for us, the LZ turned out to be colder than a witch’s tit and we disembarked without a hitch. That is, until we had to ruck up and move out.

In true "Geronimania" fashion, the spot where the bird dropped us off was not precisely where our fearless leaders wanted us to be. Thus, we spent half the day humping our impossible loads up and over several ridgelines until we reached the closest one overlooking the road that 2nd Squad would be blockading and searching vehicles on.

Afghanistan is notorious for its rugged terrain and steep gradients, but what they fail to mention is that many of these huge mountains are nothing more than giant rock piles that shift and slide under your boots with every step. I turned my ankle five times in the first fifteen minutes alone.

Trying to sleep on these mountains is no picnic either. Between the bi-polar weather, the jagged rocks and the backbreaking climbs, the only word necessary to describe this rotten country is uncomfortable. It is the one-word all-purpose modifier du jour.

Thursday 04December2003
The Moutains of Afghanistan
Another full day and night spent in the overwatch position above our checkpoint; our squad rotating in shifts while pulling security (3 hours on/3 hours off). The only activity noted were the crazy hajji goatherders who walk their flocks back and forth across the mountains all day long wearing sandals, no less.

The enemy activity that was supposed to be generated by our overly demonstrative presence on the border never seemed to materialize (despite virtually every type of helicopter in the U.S. inventory constantly buzzing overhead). I’m guessing the Huey and Cobra gunships that the Marines canvassed the skies with all day and night may have instead had a deterrent effect. The Taliban may be crazy, but they’re not that crazy.

Friday 05December2003
We rucked down from our hidesight this morning to rejoin the rest of the platoon in order to move on to the next border checkpoint. Initially, we were supposed to be air assaulted in, but that plan somehow went to shit and we ended up riding the whole way in five-ton trucks.

In the infantry it’s often stated that even the worst ride is still preferable to the best walk. Today this theorem was proven false.
You have entered: The Convoy from Hell.

(Say in the voice of Rod Sterling)
Picture yourself riding in the back of an open dump truck over “roads” that are about the width of bicycle tires. Add numerous switchbacks that drop off to treacherous chasms and cliff faces on either side; mix in a few boulders in the roadway that end up severing fuel and brake pressure lines (repaired onsite with confidence-inspiring Shoe Goo); top it off with a canyon-heavy route that turned a ten klick movement into a 3 ½ hour death knell.

It was an Afghaniland Theme Park ride gone terribly wrong. Imagine Pirates of the Caribbean, except for real pirates and real cliffs to drive off of.

This was the first and only time since arriving in country that I have been truly frightened for my life. Actually, it wasn’t really fear but more like acceptance of the undeniable fact that we were all going TO DIE. This is not literary hyperbole; only the plain truth. I sincerely believed there was no way our truck was making that trek without ending up overturned at the bottom of a hundred foot ravine. The fact that I’m still here to tell the tale obviously proved me wrong.

I suppose God really does love the infantry.

If you’re going through hell … keep going.
-Winston Churchill


13 August 2005


photo by Buck Sargent

American Citizen Soldier *Extra*
This is the first in a three-part series of selected excerpts from my Afghanistan war journal recorded from October 2003 to August 2004. They are along the lines of a conventional blog in that they captured the daily events and my thoughts about them in real time. I am posting them on the eve of my current deployment to Iraq as a study in comparison to the OIF columns to follow.

As I will be necessarily incommunicado for an indefinite period while in military transit to the Middle East, regular postings will continue as soon as my situation on the ground permits.

Friday 28November2003
FOB Salerno, Southeastern Afghanistan
It is difficult to believe a full month has already passed since the
501st first set foot in country. If our unit were still slotted for a mere six month deployment, we would already be 1/6th done. Alas, seeing as how we now have no real idea just how long the Geronimos will remain here in Asscrackistan, a month feels rather like a pebble dropped in the ocean.

No mail call today, although every time a C-130 roars in with a delivery the entire FOB (Forward Operating Base) begins to salivate in anticipation. If we had a choice between a needed chow resupply or a mail drop, the majority of us would likely take our chances with mail. Then again, there isn’t a whole lot we wouldn’t trade the food here for. (Dysentery, Lyme disease and malaria come to mind, but that’s about it).

Nothing really took place at all today, sans an hour-and-a-half long Sergeant Sarten PT session followed up by some medevac classes for the remainder of the day. After dinner chow is typically when the squad leaders return from their nightly meeting with the platoon leader and platoon sergeant and parcel out “the poop”-- an inexplicable Army euphemism for “the latest info.”

The poop tonight was a doozy: On December 2nd, Alpha and Charlie companies begin a fourteen-day expedition along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The mission: Draw anti-coalition Taliban forces out into the open -- and kick their asses. C company’s role is to set up prominent roadblocks and to conduct cordon & searches of known enemy-supported areas; essentially as bait to lure them into A co.’s crosshairs in pre-planned ambushes. We’ll be air assaulted in by CH-47 Chinook helicopters and likely walk far and sleep little during “Operation Avalanche.”

One thing is for certain--if we weren’t exactly feeling like high-speed combat veterans before, we sure as hell will after this. We are dropping smack dab in the middle of Taliban country, with the likelihood of enemy contact estimated at an upwards of ninety percent.
Two words: Game On.

Now on a slightly less interesting but no less serious note: Apparently, there is roughly 18,000 lbs. of Task Force 1-501 mail currently sitting up north at Bagram Air Field just waiting for distribution. What exactly it is waiting for, I do not know, but what I do know is that it had better find its way down to FOB Salerno before 800+ airborne paratroopers go postal.

Saturday 29November2003
Operation Enduring Boredom is officially in full swing today. Aside from a brief block of instruction from Sergeant Arguello (one of our veterans from a previous OEF tour) on how to conduct ourselves at the roadside checkpoints we will likely be setting up in the next few weeks, little else has transpired today. Undoubtedly, the leadership is busy planning the logistics of our upcoming mission, the launch of which has now been pushed forward a day to the 3rd.

I have been trying in vain to occupy myself with back issues of National Review and a dog-eared and yellowed paperback copy of Bob Woodward’s The Brethren, a journalistic account of the inner workings of the Supreme Court circa 1969-76 that I happened to run across in the “morale” tent. It is certainly an odd selection, considering the surroundings, yet it is strangely compelling nonetheless, ostensibly due to the fact that it is precisely the subject matter I would be immersed in at this exact moment in time had I not decided instead to join the Army and march off to war.

My desert camouflaged comrades, content to fritter away their down time with endless rounds of Spades (the card game de rigueur of the 501st), or openly-traded DVD movies, or battered copies of the Army “Holy Trinity” -- Maxim, Stuff, and FHM -- view me with curious bewilderment at my peculiar intellectual bent. There are some avid readers in the military, though many in the enlisted ranks seem to possess below-average writing and spelling ability. At the the risk of sounding elitist, let me assure you they are far from stupid, but merely the unfortunate victims of both the sad state of the American public education system and the invention of the Sony Playstation. If it were not for portable DVD players and Nintendo Gameboys, I cannot fathom how the majority of these guys would cope with the hours on end of inactivity, especially after dinner chow when there is very little to occupy your time until lights out.

As for myself, the maintenance of this daily journal has been my one saving grace. I do believe I have accomplished more writing in the past month than in the entirety of the fifteen months I have thus far served in the Army. By the time this deployment ends, the sheer length alone of this journal may rival Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Of course, in a nod to Afghanistan’s history it would have to be renamed War, War, and Still More War.

Sunday 30November2003
I finally bought myself an acoustic guitar from the
Hajji-Mart today. I use the word “guitar” loosely; it is closer to a cigar box held together with fishing wire. Still, it has a decidedly “made in Afghanistan” vibe to it, which is all I was really after anyway -- it’s ability to actually produce sound is secondary. And considering the strings on it are likely older than I am, it had better be. My one souvenir -- I can already see the T-shirt:

I spent a year of my life in Afghanistan and all I got was this crappy guitar.

The Army no longer permits the acquisition of war trophies of any kind, so it will have to suffice. Allah forbid we appear like conquerors and offend the oh-so-delicate sensibilities of the Muslim world. Hell, anything worth stealing in this country was stolen a long, long time ago, believe me. If you lack a mental image of Afghanistan, simply picture Land of the Lost: Beyond Thunderdome, and you’re about halfway there.

Today was predominantly spent prepping and packing for our quickly-approaching mission. The operations order has been changed slightly. 2nd Platoon is now the only element from our company going, joined by the mortars crew, a squad of engineers, an Air Force combat controller and -- rather ominously -- a field surgeon.

We’re expecting to interdict anywhere from 80 to 150 anti-coalition militia (ACMs) attempting to cross the porous Afghan border and deny their ability to transport men and materiel intended for their annual post-Ramadan spring offensives.

Our objectives will entail checkpoint searches of vehicles, cave clearing and general recon and engagement of known enemy locations oftentimes hidden within the local population. The probability of encountering al-Qaeda leadership has been estimated as extremely high, and resultant contact with hostile forces is nearly certain.

A single platoon versus a possible company-size enemy force, equipped with only what we can carry on our backs, and at the mercy of resupply helos for water, food, and ammo. Fourteen days in frigid temperatures, at frosty altitudes and with a FUBARed mission from the get go. 2nd Platoon is about to earn our combat pay, no doubt about it.

Monday 01December2003
I’ve been there with the soldiers who’ve gone away to war
And you can bet that they remember just what they’re fightin’ for
-Darryl Worley, Have You Forgotten?

Cheesy or not, listening to that song never fails to instantly place me into a patriotic mood, akin to the one that spurred me to join the Army in the first place just over two years ago today. Few of my compatriots speak openly about September 11th in such terms, yet all acknowledge it is the fundamental reason behind why we are here and why it is so vital that we (i.e., the United States military) stay the course and remain until the job is done.

This nonspoken undercurrent of love of country is what enables many of us (myself included) to keep our spirits up even in the face of the daunting tasks that loom before us. (Read: Operation Avalanche, aka Operation Mountain Goat, aka Operation Mountain Goatf**k, aka Operation Man This is Gonna Suck).

Every passing day seems to add twenty extra pounds to our rucks. Today (A-Day minus two) finds me with an additional 200 rounds of linked 5.56mm S.A.W. ammo, bringing me to a total of 1000. It may sound like a lot -- and believe me, it feels like a lot -- though, considering the M249 squad Automatic Weapon is capable of firing upwards of 850 rounds/minute … well, let’s just say that if the "fit" hit’s the "shan" and the Mongolian hordes are storming the castle walls, I calculate I’ll be able to hold them off for approximately, oh … (allow me to quickly double-check my math) … about eight-point-five seconds.
Bring it on, Genghis Khan.

Tomorrow promises to add a few frags (grenades) and “tootsie rolls” -- oblong 60mm mortar rounds -- to our already overstretched spinal-compressing hernia packs. If our squad ends up humping all the way to the high ground as is currently planned, someone better be standing by with a stretcher and an EKG monitor, Roger?

The infantry is a lot like prison -- no one ever tells you how long they’ve been in; they'd rather talk about how much time they have left.
-Me, yesterday


12 August 2005


If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically help out that of the other... In practice, he that is not with me is against me.
-George Orwell

Chickenhawk: a political epithet routinely used to criticize those who vote for, support, command, or develop policy for a war, but have not personally served in the armed forces.

President Bush and those in his administration are chronically lambasted by the Angry Left for waging war against Islamic extremists, despite their lack of firsthand experience. John Kerry essentially made it the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, having himself spent a grand total of three months (!) in a combat zone. “When I came back from fighting in a war, I fought against the war here in America..."

Perhaps the surest sign of a phony war hero is one who talks up at every opportunity what a great war hero he is. Even at the height of his Gulf War presidency, it is doubtful many Americans were aware of the WWII exploits of the senior George Bush. It's a little trait called humility.

The Left’s mawkish derision apes Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman’s classic battle-weary observation:

It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.

However, if only veterans can advocate war, then it stands to reason that only veterans have the experience and moral standing to oppose war. And considering that the majority of the voting public is ineligible to even serve in combat -- as it sensibly excludes women, the elderly and the disabled -- using service as a litmus test for voicing a viewpoint would invalidate the political opinions of most of the nation.

Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan alike proved capable leaders of our military in time of war, despite having little or no personal wartime experience. Should they be labeled “chickenhawks” as well?

I suggest an alternate definition:

1. Those who portend to support the troops in harm’s way while actively working to undermine their effort; 2. Those who advocate “bringing the troops home” despite a shocking lack of understanding of the enemy they face or the seriousness of the mission at hand.

These neo-chicks claim to support the soldier, though not the war. In reality, they support neither. Orwell notoriously described the process of “doublethink” as holding two contradictory opinions in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. These are also known as, Liberal Talking Points:

Bush is not only an evil, Machiavellian genius -- he's a total idiot!

This war is only about stealing Middle Eastern oil! -- Gas prices are way too high; we need more oil!

We support our troops as they fight their illegal, immoral war of brutal aggression against a peace-loving and innocent citizenry; Bring them home! (before they kill again).

The sheer inanity of the antiwar Left’s positions betrays their ignorance of modern warfare. The War on Terror has at no point resulted in a massive deployment of divisions upon divisions of soldiers, sailors or marines. Our war is unlike Normandy or Iwo Jima or Inchon. Logistically, it simply isn’t possible to “bring them all home” even if we so desired.

Daily troop levels in the Iraqi theater have exceeded 100,000 soldiers since the initial invasion in March of 2003 -- but the same people have not been there the entire time. Modern-day soldiers are deployed in a series of rotations. You can’t bring a soldier home who’s already served his tour and is currently stateside again. Are we being asked to evacuate troops who arrived there only weeks ago? They just spent up to six months preparing for their mission and now you want them to turn the ship around and call it quits?

The citizen soldiers of World War II had but two options to seeing home again. Win the war unconditionally or suffer a debilitating or mortal wound. Despite a vastly smaller and modernized all-volunteer military, we are fortunately no longer faced with such stark outcomes.

Today’s modular force structure allows for units to deploy overseas on a reasonably predictable timetable, with clearly definable parameters for both mission focus and the delineation of what constitutes success. The reckless, know-nothing cry of “Bring them home!” does little to advance the logical endgame or even to address the nature of the conflict.

America’s great defenders are taught to live and train by a short and sweet professional code known succinctly as the Warrior Ethos:

I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.

Not all Americans seem to grasp the time-honored principles that lay beneath such words. For the past week, Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed outside Baghdad last year has been holding a vigil outside the grounds of the Western White House in Crawford, Texas. Her demands to meet with President Bush personally and obtain answers about why her son Casey “had to die.” The first thing this tragically misguided woman needs to obtain is a Bible and a military history text. President Bush may believe strongly in God, but that does not in fact make him God.

“You can't control who gets hit or who doesn't or who falls out of a chopper or why. It ain't up to you. It's just war."

Ignore for the moment that the President already took the time to meet with her and hundreds of other grieving parents, and disregard the point that Mrs. Sheehan had nothing but praise for the encounter at the time. It is her recent lack of good judgment in this matter that requires answers.

Far from honoring her son, Cindy Sheehan betrays his memory with her partisan sniping and political grandstanding. His example stood for selfless service, yet she exhibits little else but shameless self-promotion. (Is there any doubt that she will have a major publishing house book deal in the works before the President even leaves Crawford?)

Her son's ultimate sacrifice was borne of personal courage, duty, loyalty, honor, integrity, respect. All the rest of the Army Values. Tellingly, none of which Mrs. Sheehan chooses to exemplify.

In their place stands the tired and all-too-familiar Liberal Ethos:

I will always blame America first.
I will never accept victory.
I will never quit (complaining).
I will leave no agenda behind.

Sheehan and all the Gold Star Surrender Moms like her decry the carnage and loss of life that stands as an inescapable fact of war, and in the next breath taunt others into “sending their children" into harm's way. Ignore for a moment the absurdity of their stance (What don’t they understand about military volunteers being fully grown adults responsible for their own choices?) and consider the utter self-importance of such a statement. In the eyes of megaphone magpies like Sheehan, the sacrifice doesn’t belong to the fallen soldier, it’s all about her. Her loss, her grief, her fifteen minutes.

Undoubtedly Cindy Sheehan grieves for her son, as have all mothers in all wars. But her son was not some hapless draftee; he was a double volunteer. He reenlisted in August 2003, in the midst of a global war, fully aware that his unit was up next on the deployment roster. What exactly did he think he was volunteering for, if not the risk of possible death in battle?

Cindy Sheehan maintains that President Bush killed her son. Not Iraqi terrorists, not Shiite insurgents…but George W. Bush. All seven of her new publicists agree.

A mother who would politicize the death of her own child for no other reason than to take pot shots at an overly sympathetic administration is truly beyond the pale. She cheapens and dishonors her son's valor with her co-opted leftwing rhetoric and disturbingly unhinged behavior. Her son swore an oath to defend the country and the Constitution; she pledges her allegiance to the F.A.G.

Casey Sheehan is no longer around to defend his own dignity as anti-Bush groups such as MoveOn.org swarm around his memory like fundraising vultures. Out of respect for all those like him, shouldn't his mother refrain from politicking on his grave?

"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died," wrote General George S. Patton. "Rather we should thank God that such men lived."


07 August 2005


These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.

To sustain the morale of Washington's army and their patriotic cause, revolutionary agitator Thomas Paine penned these words in the winter of 1776, when our newly born nation was facing its darkest days in the long and arduous struggle for independence.

They are just as relevant today.

The Turncoats are coming! We are steadily bombarded with defeatist messages by a hostile media, an antagonistic opposition party and a vocal minority of antiwarriors who have never met a noble cause they would not attempt to undermine.

While the nay saying pundits and partisans carp about the duration of the post-war insurgency, bear in mind that our own war for independence dragged on for more than eight years of costly attrition. This present conflict constitutes Iraq’s bitter struggle for self-determination against a backdrop of half a century of brutal oppression. We are to the Iraqi revolution what the French were to our own: facilitators of a shared objective -- the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

American history speaks of having “thrown off the shackles” of punitive taxes and a neglectful colonization. By contrast, the history of Iraq is strewn with nonmetaphorical manacles, medieval torture and mass graves for those who would dare to speak out against Saddam and his Ba'athist regime.

Terrorism is a long-practiced tactic to intimidate and enforce the meek compliance of a populace at the barrel of a gun or the threat of an explosion. It’s only demand; it’s prime concession: to encourage a society to retreat within a protective blanket of security in order to regain a measure of normalcy.

We are repeatedly reminded that Islam is Arabic for “peace.” This is wishful thinking on the part of the multiculturalist wing of the Association of Radical Muslim Appeasers. The Islamists have their own translation: submission. Submission to their rigid dogma; submission to their blind hatred of infidels; submission to their murderous worldview.

The terrorist brutality of the Islamofascists suggests a totalitarian impulse to aggression whose logical endgame necessitates the termination of our way of life.
It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop … ever … until [we] are dead.
Theirs is not the cause of freedom fighters shirking off a heavy-handed foreign occupation. They fight for less freedom. Less freedom for their fellow Arabs. Less freedom for their Kurdish neighbors. Less freedom is their single biggest campaign promise--and they want your vote!

Neither is it merely the cause of disgruntled former recipients of a corrupt, Saddamized largesse, willing to engage in privatized urban combat with coalition troops because they took a ba'ath on their 401/AK’s after Baghdad fell.

It is the call to arms of contemporary Muslim crusaders, hell bent on reclaiming ideological ground lost to modernity since the founding era of constitutional democracy.

University scholars and ACLU lawyers delight in reminding us that those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither. These words are often misconstrued by those who rail against the Patriot Act or the stepped-up profiling of terror suspects, when in fact it speaks of those very people who would prefer the status quo of inaction to the hard choices necessary to safeguard our freedoms.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice recently spoke in Egypt of an America that was "founded by individuals who knew that all human beings -- and the governments they create -- are inherently imperfect.
For 60 years [we] pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East -- and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.

These are the times that try our collective patience. Today's sunshine patriots appeal daily for us to throw in the turban when it comes to Iraq. It is hurting our image, they lament. Our military excursions are diminishing our reputation and prestige throughout the world. The Europeans, the United Nations, the Muslim press -- they all scorn us.

Editorial elitists deem this a foreign policy disaster. Thomas Paine would have thought it a hat trick. He writes:

I once felt all that kind of anger, which a man ought to feel, against the mean principles that are held by the tories: A noted one, who kept a tavern at Amboy, was standing at his door, with as pretty a child in his hand, about eight or nine years old, as most I ever saw, and after speaking his mind as freely as he thought was prudent, finished with this unfatherly expression, "Well! Give me peace in my day."

Not a man lives on the continent but fully believes that a separation must some time or other finally take place, and a generous parent should have said, "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day [so] that my child may have peace;" and this single reflection, well applied, is sufficient to awaken every man to duty ... for though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to shine, the coal never can expire.

The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.

Uncommon sense for a new age; a new enemy; a new crisis.


01 August 2005


Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own times.
-Gustave Flaubert

Over where?
Hollywood, never known for its accurate portrayal of soldiers past or present, has sunk to a new low. Producer
Steven Bochco (NYPD Blue, L.A. Law) has created a fictional series around the War in Iraq that is billed as a tribute to those in uniform yet is comically misguided in its result.

If gritty realism was the aim, Bochco's
Over There (Wednesdays, FX) misses the mark entirely. Like many of his generation who nimbly side-stepped military service in the late 60's and 70's, Bochco and his fellow traveling Tinseltownies view every U.S. conflict since through the warped prism of Vietnam.

Over There mirrors M*A*S*H* -- the hit television series based on a cult film about the Korean War that was really about Vietnam -- as it clubs you over the head with every hackneyed military cliche in the Hollywood repertoire:

-- Gravelly voiced sergeants who resent being called Sir ("I work for a living, Mister!)

-- The squad of cherry privates seemingly dropped into a firefight directly from Fort Benning, Georgia

-- The flagrant drug use

-- The adulterous spouses

-- The distrusted and incompetent officers

-- The racial animus among the rank and file ("Just another black man trying to make it in a white man's world")

-- The grotesque, senseless violence

-- The solemn introspection of the soldiers forced to take an enemy life

-- The tragic plight of the underprivileged, uneducated, and ignorant enlisted class forced to join up for lack of economic alternatives

-- The natural born killers finally provided an outlet for their warmongering bloodlust

All depict a fictitious military that no longer is, and by and large, never was. An entire generation of Americans came to know only of the Vietnam era what iconic films like Platoon, Casualties of War, and Full Metal Jacket depicted it to be. Apocalypse Now director Francis Ford Coppola even came to believe his own flawed mythos. "My film is not...about Vietnam. It is Vietnam."

Mistaking the current conflict in Southwest Asia for the one fought long ago in Southeast Asia does a disservice not only to the soldier in harm's way but to the citizen caught in the ideological crossfire at home. The late General William Westmoreland always maintained that the Army never lost a tactical battle in Vietnam. The North Vietnamese reply: that may have been so, but it was also irrelevant.

For it is an inherent but necessary weakness of democracies that they are only as strong as the collective will of the people. A media savvy enemy need only break the will of its public audience to defeat its military adversary. The NVA and the Vietcong understood these lessons well, as does terror master al-Zarqawi and al-Qaeda today.

For a people to support their military they must truly understand their military. They must recognize what kind of people volunteer for such a life of hardship, hazard and separation for such relatively little compensation. They must know what they believe in, what they stand for, and what they'd die for. One cannot logically be for the soldier yet against the war he daily risks his life to win. The two causes are in reality one and the same, as such they share the same fate.

A soldier understands that the connection between 9/11 and Iraq is real. It is not a "smoking gun," but a recognition that our two smoldering towers constituted an act of war by every Middle Eastern state sponsor of terror that shared in Osama bin Laden's fanatical glee.

A soldier understands the era of Islamist appeasement ended September 12th with our own declared jihad. They have slaughtered innocents throughout the globe, sparing no ethnicity, nationality, or religion. It is less a war on terror -- a mere tactic -- than a World War on civilization itself. "We did not seek it," said President Bush, "but we will fight it, and we will prevail."

A soldier understands that in order for the Middle East to cease exporting terror, it must cease importing tyranny. Only when the Arab people freely choose they own governments will they be able to participate fully in the global economy and a progressive standard of living that they have for centuries been excluded from. Like it or not, our security depends on their freedom.

And most importantly, a soldier understands that an American military force can never lose a war as long as the President, the Congress and their employers -- the American people -- stand solidly behind them.

Many in Hollywood have made it painfully clear where they stand. Not content to merely slander those in uniform, one such filmmaker attempted a propaganda-fueled coup d'etat aimed at their commander in chief. Pseudo-documentarian Michael Moore's antiwar conspiracy theory
Fahrenheit 9/11 depicted soldiers in apparently the only way his ilk can see them: as unwitting pawns of an imperial superpower on an oilthirsty rampage, bloodied veterans of a class war that drafts the opportunity have-nots through the back door.

The effect of this unrelenting defamation of the American soldier is twofold. It saps troop morale at a pivotal "
Battle of the Bulge" moment in the war, as well as contributes to the predictable armchair battle fatigue many Americans feel nearly four years after September 11 -- already longer than the entirety of our participation in WWII, from Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima.

But not you. You SUPPORT THE TROOPS!

You have a yellow ribbon bumper magnet slapped on your SUV. Heck, two or three. You fly the Flag on the Fourth of July. You thank every veteran you encounter for their service. And later you plop down in front of your HDTV with a hoagie and a Heineken and passively endorse the celluloid lynching of their character that passes for modern infotainment.

"Immoral behavior breeds immoral behavior," Moore intones at one point in his film. Stylistically speaking, he may be on to something.

In the final minutes of FX's Over There, an idealistic young private is gravely wounded in a roadside explosion; a screenwriter's penance for having dared express his love for the Army. Fittingly, he is medevac-ed aboard a Vietnam era
Huey as the scene fades to black and the credits roll. The episode's insidious message: Everything about this war is wrong. Ill-advised in its execution. Inexplicably vague in it's outcome. Pointless.
In their world, it is our side that is pernicious and morally corrupt. If so, what does that say about those who fight for it? You need not read between the frames.
America's Vietnam veterans were made to watch as their honor was stolen from them by an iconoclastic counterculture and a cynically opportunistic political class that shamefully peddled a false aphorism to the general public. The print, television and film industries engaged in a malicious smear campaign against these men, the toxic effects of which will likely endure for decades. Their only crime: answering the trumpet's call and serving their country in time of war.

Hollywood still doesn't get it.

They promote the wearing of fraudulent
Purple Hearts as a clever ruse to pick up women, they neglect the history of real Medal of Honor recipients (no, Forrest Gump does not count) and they think nothing of routinely slandering yet another generation of war heroes.

Will we allow them to do it again?


"Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed." -- Abraham Lincoln