Medicine Soldier

A View from Iraq


1.03.2006

Dénouement

(Written 17:47 US Central time 12.12.2005)

After a couple of quiet weeks acclimating to "civilian life" and being the go-between with our deployed chain of command and our home chain of command, I was ready to get some work done. I am usually a person with a purpose or something to do. It stresses me out a little when there is nothing going on or something to accomplish. Still be careful what you ask for.

We heard reports from Iraq about the elections. Just like October the elections were tensely boring and there were no attacks in our area until after the elections. Our camp received a rocket attack on Christmas day, but the majority of our troops had already left.

Meanwhile at the demobilization station, we were ready to receive over 1,500 soldiers before the holidays and try to process them before the holiday shutdown. We made frequent trips to Gulfport to receive the units coming home. We tried hard to vigorously and enthusiastically greet every single soldier coming off the planes. Although it was great to see everyone home and look for people I had not seen since early in the deployment or worked more closely with, it was almost like the end of Return of the King with the continuing endings. Our fellowship was over four thousand and after greeting the first couple hundred, or when it was the fourth consecutive plane in 24 hours of no sleep, it was hard to smile and welcome these guys and girls home. Still, everyone did their part and deserved a warm welcome home.

Our company of Yankees wasn't quite home yet. Everyone else from the brigade was relatively close to home and were released to their families for the holidays. The first sergeant and I were to play surrogate families to the guys in our company, knowing they would be home for good in a week and we would still be here with the next groups.

We have a great group of guys and I am proud of them. We chose to give them options and treat them like the adults and veterans they are. We gave them warnings about alcohol use and decompression and then allowed them to make choices. Thus far they have done a great job and if I am to spend the holidays away from my family, I am glad it is this bunch.

After I caught up on my sleep from the marathon of arriving planes, we spent Christmas Eve playing cards, eating chips, and watching TV. There was some retelling of war stories and sharing plans for homecoming. I stayed up late watching a Sci-Fi marathon of the new Battlestar Galactica. Christmas day I sat in the laundromat washing my uniforms while I called my family at home. We took our group to the casinos in Biloxi after Christmas. I had a good time, I even snuck into watch King Kong. I enjoyed the movie and the special effects. I could not help thinking about my year in Iraq after the movie. Man's quest for fortune, fame, profit, or adventure leaves a long lasting impression on the world. I still do not care to comment whether the reasons for going to Iraq were sound reasons, but like in King Kong, our presence in a foreign environment has had permanent and lasting effects.

The week blew by; we ran around between the administrative buildings, medical buildings, and the gym where they were giving benefits briefings. I spent the majority of my time shuttling all the soldiers between the buildings and ensuring my soldiers has their state-specific requirements met. The first third of the company was done and ready for their last flight of the tour. I shook their hands, some for the last time as their enlistments are up; others I would see again, hopefully in a different capacity. Before bed I received an email from my state Brigade commander supporting my advancement. It is comforting to know my efforts have not gone unnoticed. We received two-thirds more of the company over the next two days. This group was a little bigger and their use of days off was a little more colorful than the last. We allowed them to stay off post and they did a great job checking in.

I had an excellent New Year! Although we went to the same club that we went to last year, I had a completely different experience. Last year we celebrated our last breaths of freedom before we headed off to the desert where we were no longer allowed certain comforts and faced the probability of not coming back. This year we celebrated several things: everyone safely out of Iraq (we still have several soldiers waiting in Kuwait) and beginning a new life with new eyes on the world. With new friends and old, it was a very happy and fulfilling night.

I am not sure I have ever articulated to my audience why I am writing. My evaluation reports have often and repeatedly indicated that I am a "quiet, thoughtful, and professional officer". I had feared that if I did not return from Iraq, my "quiet thoughtfulness" would result in anonymity. That is, no one would really know what I am thinking, how I am feeling or more importantly who I am. My way of dealing with my mortality started off as e-mails principally to my family and co-workers so at least they could see the products of their nurturing and encouragement. What was intended for a small group of people has cascaded beyond the limits of my expectations and intentions. I have received supportive e-mails from around the world and been thanked personally on New Year's by wives of my soldiers.

Looking forward to a new year, and a new beginning, I will continue to write (both prose and poetry) and see who will follow and share my path, my journey.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

posted by Scott | 03:47 Baghdad time | © 1.03.2006
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Welcome home.

Thank you for everything you have done for us and our Country

Posted by Blogger dyzgoneby | 9/1/06 08:55  


I am moved by what you've written.

I am a chinese girl.

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous | 23/1/06 15:35  


Thank you for your documents
Christine from Belgium

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous | 13/4/06 13:56  


My name is Carri. I'm a screenwriter in Los Angeles, California doing research for a TV program on the sleeping habits of children all over the world, ages 6 to 12. I'd like to include children from Iraq. I'm wondering if you could help me. I'm specifically looking for information on where children sleep (In the same bedroom with other siblings? On the street? What do their rooms look like? What are their bedtime rituals, specifically as they relate to the war in Iraq? Are children forced to move around a lot? Do they fall asleep to the sound of battle? I’d like to send Iraqi parents (or anyone who works with these children) a questionnaire that better explains what I’m doing. My story is meant to be sweet piece on children, for children, but one that also enlightens them to the lives of other children.
Please email me at ckaruhn@msn.com.
thank you.

Posted by Anonymous carri | 20/10/06 01:41  


Scott,

My old friend, long time no see. I just happened upon your blog and am surprised to learn you were deployed, but glad to know you returned home safely - hope you are doing well since this last post, now two years ago. Our group's other Scott is doing well too - married for a few years and pursuing his dream of south american archaeology. As for me, I'm just being creative: writing, reading, making things.

I hope you are well. I know you will be happy. Stay safe.

namaste.
Katherine

Posted by Blogger Kat Forgacs | 28/1/08 03:49  


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12.13.2005

On the Road Home, or The Lost Journal Entries

(Written 20:04 US Central time 12.12.2005)

It's the blogmistress here, posting at 21:04 US Eastern time on 12.12.2005. Those of you who stop by here often have probably been wondering what has happened with Scott, since he hasn't posted since October 30. The short answer is that he's been fine, just busy getting ready to come home. While he hasn't had time to post, he has done a little writing here and there. Those thoughts are posted below, under the dates on which they were written.

posted by Kelly | 05:04 Baghdad time | © 12.13.2005
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I'll Live, I Guess

(Written 18:06 US Central time 12.12.2005)

I survived a year in Iraq without even losing a sock. I still think I owe it to the overwhelming support back home and everyone praying for me. It is a war of chance over there. Some people went out everyday and never had to fire a shot, while others were just going from one camp to another for something minor and had their lives changed forever. I had my share of events from midnight raids to visiting the schools and handing out supplies.

I learned a lot this year about Iraq, the Army, and even myself. It has been physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. Though I have not changed too much physically, I am looking forward to the next chapter in my life where I can move on mentally and emotionally from this year. For now, I will wait here for the rest of my soldiers to join me here and help them in their transition home.

posted by Scott | 03:06 Baghdad time | ©
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I am so happy you are safe now. Have a Merry Christmas with all our love and gratitude. Thank you.

Posted by Blogger Zelda | 13/12/05 20:15  


Glad you made it home safe. I hope as you get time that you keep blogging. I enjoyed reading your view on things and even in the states, I am sure your stories would ... teach us (took me a second to figure out what I wanted to say there).

I wish much joy and peace now.

Posted by Anonymous Tami aka Marine mom | 21/12/05 21:36  


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12.11.2005

Nothing Eire So Green

(Written 12.11.2005, posted 12.12.2005)

Three seasons in one day.

We left sandy Kuwait at 81 degrees and descended into Ireland. As we broke through the clouds, everything was green again. We landed in the rolling green countryside of Ireland. It was a quick stop but great to see shades of green again.

Our second stop was in Maine covered in powdery white snow. Our comrades from our sister companies teased us because we were closer to home than we would be when we finally left the plane. If I had known about our stop, I could have had a welcoming committee and showed them some northern hospitality.

Onward to the south, we landed in Mississippi. Many of the other soldiers did not have a chance to see their homes since the hurricane, and there was anxiety amongst them. We were all relieved to see businesses running despite the damage still to roofs and billboards. There are still teams from FEMA here, and our mobilization site is still churning out soldiers to leave for the Middle East. We thought we had left the land of explosions, but the deploying soldiers are training with simulations and blank rounds. The second time we heard explosions and gun fire, we just shook our heads.

posted by Scott | 22:00 Baghdad time | © 12.11.2005
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12.08.2005

Caught in the Big Machine

(Written 12.08.2005, posted 12.12.2005)

The last few days at camp, we made some extra time to spend with the guys in the unit. We realized once again that things are changing, yet things could get bad before the end. We spent time enjoying a few "good" meals, and we had one last trilogy for movie nights. We spent three nights watching Gladiator, Braveheart, and The Patriot. Perhaps we were trying to relate to the heroic ideals, warrior ethos, or just share in some kind of brotherhood brought about by war.

I left the camp to play the hurry-up-and-wait game, carrying everything I still owned in theater on my back. There are things you just get used to and expect when being in the army. Even on the civilian side, when traveling they tell you to show up two to four hours early when checking in to the airport. We found ourselves sitting on our bags for twelve hours on the flight line, as our flight time ping-ponged between 9am and 9pm all day. Then it was the same in Kuwait. "Go sit in your tent and don't go far because your plane and customs could be ready in 15 minutes or three days." I actually enjoyed the time in Kuwait. I was reading some books and catching up on my journal. It was somewhat peaceful, and we had time to reflect on things again. Then before we expected, it was time to go and wait again on the airplane.

posted by Scott | 22:00 Baghdad time | © 12.08.2005
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12.01.2005

The Last...

(Written 12.01.2005, posted 12.12.2005)

In trying to mentally prepare myself for coming home, I often thought about the usual duties and activities. I thought about my last hair cut in Iraq, my last trip to the laundry, my last inventory, and even my last patrol. It was an easy logistics run to another camp in order to pick up supplies. It was my last look at the streets of Iraq with the open air markets, children playing, and livestock in the roads. It was uneventful for the most part. I turned in all my patrol gear a few days later and felt almost naked. Still, I had only a few days to make sure my counterpart was well prepared, pack my living area, and go through the usual hurry-up-and-wait military movement routine. Now onward to Baghdad.

posted by Scott | 22:00 Baghdad time | © 12.01.2005
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11.25.2005

Black Friday

(Written 11.25.2005, posted 12.12.2005)

After Thanksgiving, we were hoping for a quiet Friday, and it is usually a slow afternoon since it is a big prayer day and most of the meetings we have are in the morning. Unfortunately, we had an indirect fire attack. It was unclear whether the attack was directed at us or the local schools and police stations. Once again, all the radios were filled with traffic attempting to locate the source, ascertain damage, get accountability, and put together a counter mortar response. Later on that night, all our platoons were out encountering roadside bombs. Thankfully, some were not well put together and did not achieve the desired effect. I stayed up all night on radio watch until everyone came back in safely.

Saturday was busy with administrative issues and I have been mentally and physically exhausted. I have not even been keeping up with my emails, except for duty-related responses to our missions and movement.

posted by Scott | 22:00 Baghdad time | © 11.25.2005
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11.24.2005

I Am Thankful for...

(Written 11.24.2005, posted 12.12.2005)

Most people would not believe the dinning accommodations we have here. Most of the camps host contract dining facilities with third country (non-Iraqi) nationals cooking and serving the food, very much like a large college dining hall with short order, main line, buffet, salad bar, and desert bar. Our camp is still using cooks in a trailer. During the summer months the drains to the air conditioners, when they were working, just poured the condensate on the dusty concrete floor. The KPs (kitchen police) would do a good job washing off the vinyl tables and then pick the chairs off the dirty floor and put them on the tables.

However, on Thanksgiving, we had nice table cloths, a full meal with desserts, and even egg nog. Apple pie never tasted soo good. Although I was sad not to be with my extended family for the first time since I can remember, it felt good to sit down with my new extended family and express the bonds we share from our experiences this year. Growing up in New England, Thanksgiving has been a holiday stereotypically depicted by posters of Pilgrims and Indians coming together for a pre-winter feast. I was curious to see how the Mississippi Brigade would display their decorations even in Iraq.

We are supposed to be sensitive towards our Muslim counterparts, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to exchange traditions or stories with the interpreters, considering they had recently finished Ramadan. Our spread looked more like the typical cornucopia with no indications of a religious nature except a few paper dolls in puritan dress. The locals did not seem to be bothered by our secular representation of the American Indian tradition.

I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in the American Indian community for over 14 years. My friend and mentor from South Dakota, a few friends, and I usually get together at the hospital he works at to explain what a traditional Thanksgiving or "wopila" is about. It is more than an annual tradition to gather and eat. In fact, it is done after weddings, funerals, births, sweat lodges, namings, significant events, and on the harvest moon.

In any event, I took some time to give thanks in my own way and I am thankful for:

  • the new friends I have made
  • the lessons I have learned
  • being able to hear children laugh and play despite the poverty and being surrounded by physical and human waste
  • the support of the Iraqi Police, Army, and even most of the Iraqi people the support of friends and family at home
  • coming home in one piece
  • living in a country where we can vote without having to pass through checkpoints manned with machine guns

posted by Scott | 22:00 Baghdad time | © 11.24.2005
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11.10.2005

Things Are Getting Muddy

(Written 11.10.2005, posted 12.12.2005)

The change in weather has brought damp days and rain. We re-tarped our tents just in time for some rain, yet there were still puddles in our tents. The mornings are damp and the fine sandy "moon dust" just cakes to our boots in the morning and gets tracked inside our tents.

The weather is not the only thing getting muddy. With such little time left, the soldiers seem to not care about some things. In some ways it is good; they don't mind some of the mundane or arduous details around the camp because in a few weeks, it won't matter when we are all headed home. Other things, like paying attention and having the right gear on patrol, must continue to be enforced. Supplies are running low and we are not getting any mail. This has also been a bittersweet reminder of our pending rotation.

Then there are those people who realize this is the last chance to accomplish or try certain things, either physically or morally dangerous. Most people are content with just going home with their appendages intact, and others want medals, badges, or other ways to prove their combat experiences. Everyone is also burnt out about something: the food, the mundane cycle of meetings, patrols, even movie nights. Still, we go through periods of inactivity and more hostile activity, so you can never assume it is going to be a quiet night.

One evening, reports of flashes and bangs came from the main building complex on the camp. Everyone who had been on the camp when artillery, rockets, and mortars were incoming assumed it was the worst: insurgents anticipating troop rotations. I was busy trying to ascertain what was unfolding on the camp while listening to four radios. There were patrols reporting in from outside the camp, the higher unit trying to assess the situation, our unit's two-way radio, and the camp two-way radio. After about 20 minutes of chatter and units reporting in their accountability, it was discovered that two transformers on the camp blew up and there was no cause for alarm. It turned out to be a good "fire drill" for things to come.

Our anticipated rotation has prompted some improvements and changes on camp. From additional gravel to new shower units, we have made some necessary changes to leave the place in better condition than we found it. Still, were we not good enough to have these improvements sooner? The pumps on the shower units were not installed correctly for the first week or so with the new units. Perhaps it was a ploy to keep us on our toes. When we heard the pumps kick on, we had to do the "duck and dive" because the water would get either really hot or really cold until the pump cycled off.

We all had hoped for more improvements on our camp, like the dorm room-sized trailer homes (or cans as they are known on other camps) or even the Chow Hall.

posted by Scott | 22:00 Baghdad time | © 11.10.2005
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10.30.2005

Ramadan

The five weeks back from leave have been full of people and equipment moves as well as getting ready for and executing the elections. I have been very busy and working straight out. Most of my time has been consumed by administrative business, packing, customs training, and running the command post during the elections. Surprisingly, the elections were tensely quiet. There has been more activity the week following the elections with suicide bombers, roadside bombs, and artillery missions. Still, I became settled in a routine after the elections dealing with small but important stuff. I finally had enough and was able to go on a peacekeeping patrol instead of a combat mission or a convoy run.

It was good to get out on patrol again and be around the people and not after a specific target. We did a "presence patrol" where we talk to people and gather information about how they feel and what their needs are. These "atmospherics" get rolled up and reported to the highest level. When it crosses the big desk, they make decisions on how long we should stay here and how many assets to use.

On my microscopic level, we are able to get out on the ground and talk to the people and learn. We spoke with some men who served in Saddam's army and now are unemployed. They were concerned why they have to be unemployed when there is litter in the streets and poor sanitation and electricity. They are willing to work and there is work to be done in the towns. The interpreter explained to us about the mistrust and low-level corruption. "It's like mafia," he said. In talking to some others citizens, we were told that we (US/Coalition Forces) are not needed here in this town; they trust their local security forces (the Iraqi police and National Guard), but they are happy to see us and see that we care.

We had the opportunity to learn about Ramadan firsthand as we stood in a street at a bakery. Some men were praying on their small blankets while we talked to a baker who was making some Ramadan treats to be served at sundown. He asked, "Why are you not fasting?" I told him it was not my turn and I suggested he show me. He laughed and handed me sweet but greasy fried dough-like bread.

It was my first time on a dismounted patrol where we walked for blocks away from the safety of our machine guns and seven-ton HMMWVs. It was not a big deal. I have complete confidence in the soldiers I work with. I was just thinking how far we are from the stereotypical Hollywood image of some kind of chiseled, rugged soldier. We are citizen soldiers, just average people doing the best we can. It is true that the insurgent cartography is a checkerboard mosaic spread out through and among the towns. We are trying to use the friendlier pockets as spheres of influence to sway public opinion on the less friendly areas. We know which areas are okay to walk in without the vehicle support and which areas not to stray too far along the back roads.

The end of Ramadan is referred to as the "nights of glory" when the Koran was revealed to Mohammad. As the end of October has been approaching, the gatherings of people at dusk have been growing. This time of religious renewal for Muslims is also a time when the suicide bombers are expected to attack, as if access to heaven is guaranteed after a suicide attack. We have been fortunate in our immediate area as the only thing these guys have been able to blow up are themselves. Some of our neighbors have not been so lucky.

After a successful day on patrol, we returned back to our camp for a company formation. It was rare to have all of us in one spot, considering our patrol schedules and having units detached to other camps. Some awards were given out, and I received some accolades; my boss is recommending me for promotion when we return. After several frustrating days, it was nice to have some rewards and see that my frustrations are not for nothing.

We have started our rainy season, and I hear it has been snowing at home. We have prepared for the wet season by re-tarping the tents, and extra gravel has been deposited around the living areas. Although the colder weather feels strange here, it comes with a sense of completion as if things are coming full circle. I am torn between keeping everyone in the game, and thinking of home and moving on to other adventures.

posted by Scott | 16:37 Baghdad time | © 10.30.2005
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10.18.2005

Surviving the Election

The elections went of very well. After long days of patrolling during the curfew to ensure that no pre-placed bombs or weapons were brought close to the election sites, we were all tired, weary, and did not know what to expect with the elections. I sat in the command center most of the day trying to visualize what was going on out in the towns and track the progress on maps and on paper. It was a tense day hour-by-hour. It seemed too quiet. I was prepared for the worst and ready to respond to any attack. As the hours passed by, we were relieved that the day passed without incident. We even started joking on the radio at the end of the day when one of the platoons brought dinner out to one of our other platoons and they did a relief in place on the over watch position. I teased them over the radio about not rehearsing the tactical maneuvers necessary for the link up.

While the platoons were eating dinner together, gunfire erupted throughout the city. It was celebratory gunfire, indicating a successful election as the polling sites closed. Everyone was relieved. We all feel like the people here are making progress, and we are very proud of the Iraqi Security Forces and the people for supporting the elections. Overall there were about five attacks throughout the whole country and almost everyone voted.

The day after the elections, I went on patrol to talk to a few of the local police chiefs and assess the aftermath of the elections. Everyone in the area feels good about the elections and the way the Iraqi and American forces worked together. There is a mutual trust among the people, the police, and both nations' armies that was not present last year. The people were very happy and understanding about the curfews and the level of security we maintained. They knew it was for their safety and not to oppress them. We discussed with the Iraqis how the American media keeps portraying "American martial law" here. In fact, we have a good relationship with the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police. Our goal is to train them to secure and run their own country. Over the year we have decreased our role and turned over more responsibility to them.

I am reminded of my anthropology classes at UConn where we discussed how America was settled. I was thinking about how it was many years between the Declaration of Independence and our own Constitution was accepted. There was even a time when the U.S. was governed under the Articles of Confederation previous to the Constitution. Here we have Iraq that has gone through many changes in four years. I have a sense that we are shepherding the people here to stand on their own. This shepherding business was tried with the Native Americans to help them manage their own welfare and natural resources; I only hope we are more thoughtful and sensitive this time.

There has been a chill in the air today. It is probably not that cold; it just feels unusual after the hot summer here. Of course, the change in temperature brought back the dust storms and we did not have air support from the helicopters today, so our missions and operational tempo decreased, as did our internet access. Unfortunately, all the bomb planters were out and the two days of quiet is starting to change as the patrols are beginning to hit the bombs again. We are not finished yet.

posted by Scott | 09:26 Baghdad time | © 10.18.2005
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Dear Scott,
Thank you for an inside look. I don't bother with the USA papers. They editorialize news. I would be less credible (not read) if I did that! lol.

Your words are inspiring. I will pray for your troops and you. You are truly appreciated, and that is by 99% of Americans and a large number all around the world. That's the dirty little secret that I will not allow to be portrayed! WE LOVE YOU and SUPPORT YOU and the mission!

Excuse me. We've just met. I want you to never feel alone. Back at home, we are doing what we can to make sure you are taken care of properly, and that you never feel alone, because we care and thank you for your service. I'm rumbling, eh?! lol. Have a great day.

Posted by Blogger Rosemary | 19/10/05 19:49  


Hi Scott,

Thank you for all you have done for our country.
We are honored to have a friend such as you.
Warmest regards,
Wendell & Nancy

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous | 1/3/06 10:49  


Scott,
Finally the whole world can actually read what a real warrior poet you are. May the sounds of your prose take you as far as your mind and sould wish to be..free as a bird letting the wind blow through your delicate wings...Fly high as an eagle and keep your spirit open and flowing like the vast cool mountain waters down the mountain side..For all you ahve done has not been in vain but slowly will follow the path were you so hopelessly have been looking for..may you always touch others with your poetry.

Congratulations you have finally found yourself..

Love, Dulcecita

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous | 15/3/06 02:01  


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This is who we are;
This is what we stand for;
This is what we are all about.

Corporate and legal services

Posted by Blogger mark anthony | 15/5/12 13:45  


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