Saturday, December 30, 2006

My Lancet

The following was written a few days ago but posting has been delayed due to technical difficulties and ongoing operations.

So, I did something pretty stupid the today; I watched I Walk the Line, by myself, on the day after Christmas. I can sing pretty well and have a pretty good voice for singing and I really enjoy singing for an audience but I cannot write the songs. Sometimes, especially when I’m feeling pretty melancholy, like right now, I want to put something on paper that can express the deep emotions I feel. I try and I always get stuck, usually on the second line, but I still dream of one day finally telling the story of my pain and my pleasure.

There are so many songs about broken hearts, about missing the ones you love, about the pain of separation, but nobody has yet penned the song I feel, of being torn between the love for my family and the love for my country; I have a duty to both and I cannot seem to fulfill them both.

Brian Holbrook wrote some pretty good songs; you may know him as Gold Falcon from The Jump Blog. My Pretty Ones comes close to expressing my divided duty but he assured me that is not what the song is about. Hands to Work also speaks to me about duty regardless of the trails that we face and I can relate. But, one day, I hope to drive a lancet of music straight to my heart and soul so you can all feel my devotion. Until then, you’ll have to settle for black and white text.


Thursday, December 28, 2006


To quote my wife, “I’m glad it’s over.”

In all my years and all my deployments I have only been away from home for two Christmas’ now. The first was just after my son was born twelve years ago. I guess I forgot how terrible it is. Loneliness is redefined when you’re married and again when you have kids and the Holiday Season is only a constant reminder of it.

On Christmas Eve we were fortunate enough to have some turkey, potatoes, pumpkin pie, and some brownish green stuff we assumed was sweet potatoes delivered to us nicely prepared. We added some vegetables, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and other items that family members had sent then invited some of our Philippine counterparts and made quite a feast of it. Later, we helped host a Christmas party for the Phil soldiers and their families. We had received several boxes of toys from family and friends which we dispersed to the children there then we were introduced to a number of silly party games. I didn’t stay long; I wasn’t in a partying mood.

Christmas day was a free day with nothing planned. I had hoped to spend the morning chatting online with my family but internet and computer problems turned it into the equivalent of a couple short episodes of, “can you hear me now?” With everyone off they were all online which choked out internet bandwidth so I couldn’t even kill the day playing World of Warcraft; I ended up starting a flight home courtesy of Barb and FlightSimX.

On the next morning, which was Christmas day back home since we’re about 16 hours ahead, I had received a note from my wife; apparently she had a similar day. I waited until I knew things would have settled down back home, grabbed the satellite phone, found a place under the baking sun where the phone had a good view of the sky and finally had a chance to talk. When I asked her how her day had been she replied, “I’m glad it’s over.” Our talk helped. We finally had the chance to put a happy ending onto a difficult day.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My Job

As a soldier it is my job to hunt down and kill or capture known Islamic terrorists. I know that these terrorists do not represent the majority of Muslims. I see them every day and when I talk with them they almost all just want to live and raise their families in peace.

Islam is proclaimed as a religion of peace but you don’t see Jews flying planes into skyscrapers and you don’t see Buddhists blowing up cars in busy markets. I know we have Catholics and Protestants killing each other in Ireland and we have racists blowing up government buildings in Oklahoma but the vast majority of terrorists are Muslim. This brings us to the oft quoted, “most Muslims are not terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslim.”

I remember seeing scenes of Palestinians celebrating in the streets on 9/11. I do not remember seeing any similar condemnation of this and other terrorist attacks. Too often, silence means consent and I wonder how many Muslims who proclaim peace secretly hope the terrorists win some concessions. As I see it, Muslims need to stand up and say, “stop.”

In my position here in the Philippines, I have the best opportunity to help the people here recognize the destruction these terrorists cause to their homes and their religion. I will do everything I can to help them heal themselves but I must stand ready to cut the cancer out if necessary.


Monday, December 11, 2006

News from the front: 2

The Smithsonian Magazine this month contains an article on our efforts here. It’s a couple of month old but still relevant. Then Dateline aired an old 45 minute interview with Gracia Burnham who, along with her husband, were held hostage by Abu Sayyaf for over a year. CNN was here this past week to but I haven’t been watching their station since their coverage of the Iraq Study Group turned me off again. Lots of news lately from the unknown front.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Really Unconventional Operations

I flew to Manila for some emergency dental work this past week. What a relief it was just to get a hot shower, but more on that when I get time.

Once back on our island I had to wait a few hours for a helicopter ride back to my teams base camp because my team was too busy to pick me up. While waiting, I received a fair amount of teasing from some of the guys. Not because they were too busy to get me but because of what they were doing.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were sponsoring the Philippine Girl Scouts for a two day event at our location and my team assisted by teaching a few classes. Green Berets have a reputation for womanizing and having a team in close contact with a few hundred teenage girls can put a lot of commanders into a nervous sweat.

Events were over before I returned and had a chance to settle in so I did not participate but, from what I have seen and heard, this was one of the most effective combat operations we could have performed. In typical teenage girl fashion, the girls identified a few favored U.S. soldiers. They would wave and giggle as they walked by or swoon when their favorite soldier was announced. It was cute and these guys continue to get teased but the effects have gone far beyond our base camp. These guys have achieved celebrity status here.

Now, when we drive the streets, the girls run out and shout out the names, or nicknames, of the soldiers they recognize. This may have some effect on our egos but, more importantly, it is a tactical victory. Having a few hundred adoring fans will make the terrorists think twice before targeting us and also adds several hundred extra sets of eyes that can warn us of possible danger.

I feel safer.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Time out

I've been traveling, spent some time in Manila, got a hot shower or three for the first time in 2 months and a reminder that the world is still out there. Give me some time to recover and I'll have more up here for you.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

News from the front: 1

JOLO, SULU ISLAND, Republic of the Philippines -- Just days after a charitable organization teamed up with the U.S. military to deliver ambulances here, the emergency vehicles are making a difference in the lives of local residents.


Infil into my AO

The following events toop place just over two month ago and are not related to the recent typhoon which struck the Philippines this week.

Infiltration into my Area of Operation (AO) required a night on a plane, a day lost crossing the international date line, a night on a wooden slate bed in a Phil Army compound then another night on a large WWII landing craft in a typhoon. I went from Sunday to Thursday without a shower and so I didn’t mind it when the water was cold. It would be another 2 months before I would get the chance to take a warm shower, but I digress; back to a night I would never forget.

It was just starting to rain when we loaded the landing craft. This wasn’t the little one you remember seeing in all the WWII movies charging the beaches of Normandy; this was a big one used for landing large vehicles. It still had the bow ramp but the cargo area was almost big enough for a football field. The boat had no overhead cover so we improvised and threw up a couple of giant tarps. For tent poles the boat crew brought out several 6” x 12” beams about 10’ long; they tied cord to the tops and nailed them to 4’ beams at the bottom to try to hold them in place on the rusted steel deck. Sure, a lot of technical specs but you’ll see why in a minute.

When we pulled away from the shore we could see the rows of clouds that were the outer bands of the typhoon. The seas were rough and we were joking about how sea-sick we were going to be during our 12 hour tour, and yes, there were some Gilligan’s Island jokes too. I learned in the Jumpmaster course that the best way to avoid motion sickness was to keep busy so I stayed near the bow watching the horizon/ships/islands until it was too dark to see. I came back a while later when some of the guys were standing just behind the bow ramp looking toward the stern. I joined them. Where we stood, the horizon gave us a stable point of reference and we could remain relatively motionless while the boat rocked beneath us. The novelty was watching the superstructure get tossed around by the sea. After the novelty wore off I watched the luminescence of the sea for a while then I determined that it was late enough and I was tired enough to get some sleep without fear of motion sickness. I laid down and immediately fell asleep.

Occasionally I would be jarred awake with the boat crashing down on a wave. As an old percussionist, I know the difference between a slap that just makes sound and one that does damage. Nothing sounded wrong and the steady motion of the ship continued so I would quickly drift back to sleep, until…

I awoke to another crash, this one was louder than most but worse yet, it was accompanied by a very unnatural jerking motion. When my eyes opened like saucers, I was surrounded in an eerie blackness; the light that was filtering under our tarp earlier in the night was gone. Others had also been awakened and I could hear the shock and bewilderment coming from them too.

When my faculties began to clear I first noticed that the tarp that used to be 10’ overhead was now within 2’. I got up and began assessing the damage. Since the ship’s crew did not appear to be panicking, I quickly determined that our worst fears were not happening. The ship had not broken up and we were not sinking.

What had happened was one of the posts used as a tent pole had been thrown forward. Since it was anchored by cords at the top it could not fall over naturally but instead the bottom with the 4’ beam attached shot forward. My cot just happened to be in the way and the unnatural jar which awoke me was the motion of my cot getting tossed a couple of feet. We quickly reconfigured our tarp tent and went back to sleep.

Our 12 hour tour, due to the rough seas, lasted 18 hours. When we were finally on solid ground again it took another day for the ground to stop moving. I guess I now know what sea legs are. At the end of it all, when I first enlisted in the army almost 22 years ago, my wildest dreams could not have imagined myself infiltrating into a combat zone on a WWII landing craft. Now, it’s a night I will never forget.

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