Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Last Quarter

If you ever played football there is a point when you are on the field that everything else around you fades away; where you don’t hear the crowd, where you aren’t thinking about what you’re doing after the game or if you have gas in the car. It becomes so intense and your brain is so connected to your experience that for that brief moment, it is your reality and you sense everything. Capture that feeling and you understand being at war.

War is sensory overload. It is brutally long hours of hard work, though not always physical. War is loud and creates noise of all kinds; generators, trucks, rockets, artillery, helicopters and tanks. War is boredom and the blandness of chow hall food; it’s close quarters, semi-clean laundry, lack of privacy, uneven ground, dust and mud. It is meetings, deadlines, fluorescent lights and friendships. It is the juxtaposition of normalcy interspersed with heart-racing violence and moments of unexpected tenderness. It’s finding humor and absurdity in everything. Mostly though, it is about getting your mission done and serving honorably.

As I enter my last six weeks in Iraq I’ve noticed that what was once new is common place and my life back home is somewhere far away. To me, it’s perfectly normal to put on my flak jacket and helmet and then head out in an up-armored vehicle. To me, loading my weapon is as natural as you putting cream in your coffee.

Life in Iraq seems so normal at times. Heck, we have a duck pond in front of our building. You see Marines and civilians alike coming to feed the nineteen geese and ducks in an act I assume makes them feel closer to home. Yet, it’s just yards away from where someone was killed by a mortar a few months ago.

Like the football game, with the final whistle it will be over for me. I will look back one last time at the field I spent so many days on and try to burn the memory into my brain.

I’m worried about when I come home and the rush is gone. I wonder how I’m going to replace the high that is flying in a helicopter at 150 mph 300 feet off the deck, staring at an IED, or visiting with Marines at a remote combat outpost and seeing the best that America has to offer. I wonder how I will feel when I see self-centered and soft Americans instead of the hardened swaggering Marines who ask for nothing more than a chance to kill some bad guys and make a difference.

I wonder how I’m going to fill that void that is a sense of belonging to something greater than one’s self. It is an irreplaceable feeling and one of complete satisfaction. Today I feel that way because I am so far away. But I know the moment I see Nancy and the kids for the first time, Iraq will quickly begin to fade away. It will fade and take its place in the far recesses of my mind until one day I will wake up and think of war no more.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Christmastime Thoughts From Kids

Anyone who knows me I have a soft spot for children. I’m big, loud and intimidating, but get me around kids and I become one. So, when I get letters and cards from little kids I read them all and look at the carefully crafted artwork. Mostly though, it never ceases to amaze me the honesty in how they express themselves. Below is a collection of things kids ages 7-10 have written me this year:

“Dear Hero Merry Christmas. I hope you do not die in a war” – Autumn

“You will be on my mind when your cold and lonely while I’m opening my Christmas Presents from under the tree” – Brooke

“Thank you so much for fighting for us. It’s so great that you will sacrifice your life for America” – anonymous

“Be wise in everything you do. Be safe at your job. Be careful in the war” –Drew

“Your every little girl and boys hero, and the entire U.S” – Casey

“…I hope you don’t get hurt out there. If you do then you can wish that this world or a team mate can help you” – Dominique

“I hope you are okay. To me you soldiers are like a god. When I grow up I am going to be a soldier.” – Brian

“I hope you all have a good Christmas and other good holidays. Good luck in the wars” – Jordan

“...I salute you soldier” – Taylor

“I hope you get lots of presents because you fight two keep us free. I hope your team wins and you can have a very happy Christmas.” Ilona

“Dear Soldier, Some people think presents is a great thing but not to me the great gift is having freedom” –Kyra

“I hope you have a happy Christmas. Your family miss you. Stay safe and keep us free don’t frgit” –Lexi

“Please be very very safe ok. I’m very very sorry you guys don’t get your Christmas. Ok guys win the war.” –anonymous

“I hope you come home safely. I now how hard it must be. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry” –Erica

“I’m sorry you can’t celbrat Christmas weth your family. But this card is going to make you light up” – Angel

“You have fought well for us. I really wish you could spend Christmas with your family this year but you are fighting for us. Please don’t lose and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. If you get to celebrate I hope you can win on Christmas but it would have to be a miracle” -Cory