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The media is their weapon of choice

Guardsmen: Iraq a minute-by-minute battle

By KIMBERLY HEFLING, Associated Press Writer

They are returning home with a sense of accomplishment, but also with feelings of anger and frustration, even despair.

They speak proudly about building up the Iraqi security force, restoring electricity and watching Iraqis walk miles to vote.

But they wonder whether it will be enough to secure Iraq’s future, and at times, express bitterness toward the people they wanted to help.

“They’re using our good will, our good-nature policy against us,” says Sgt. Bobby Walls, a 38-year-old Pennsylvania National Guard member. “The fact that we fight as the good guys sometimes turns around and kicks us in the can, you know?”

Such are the swirling emotions for troops returning home from Iraq. Among the most recent of those returnees are members of the largest contingent of Pennsylvania National Guard troops deployed to a combat zone since World War II.

Fifteen from their ranks of about 2,000 were killed during the nearly yearlong deployment in Iraq’s Anbar province, a huge swath of land that’s a stronghold of insurgency. Two others are being investigated in connection with the shooting death of an Iraqi civilian earlier this year.

For the rest of these part-time soldiers, it can be a struggle as they return home this summer to regain the sort of normalcy they knew before spending a year with their lives in danger wherever they went. During stopovers at Camp Shelby in Mississippi on their way home, some talked about their experiences.


Walls felt helpless and furious as he stood at ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001, one of several Philadelphia police officers who on their own drove New York City to help. He vowed to become an infantryman and get even, so the father of three went off inactive status in the Navy Reserves and joined the Army National Guard.

At boot camp, the other recruits — many just 18 — called him grandpa. He lost 45 pounds in basic training and scout school that followed. Then his unit was sent to Ramadi, which he nicknamed the “meat grinder.” He worked as a sniper, usually with just one partner.

At night, they’d sneak into rural villages and urban areas, tracking suspected terrorists for hours at a time. Sometimes, they’d kill them.

Back at the base camp, Walls became hyper-vigilant. He’d fear if he went to sleep, he would die.

“You start realizing how vulnerable you really are all the time,” Walls says. “You’re not safe anywhere in that damn place, and that’s a bad feeling. Too many guys got hurt or killed just walking to chow … or running to the bathroom, and they don’t come back.”

Walls is proud of the work he did as a sniper. He said he killed “upper-tier insurgents” who would have likely killed or injured other American soldiers if they had tried to capture them.

He wonders, though, about the future of the Anbar region. The people “will not be pacified, they will not work with us. I don’t ever see it happening,” he says.

Walls says insurgents wear civilian clothes and use women and children as shields.

“If you’re going to fight the enemy, there are two ways to look at it. You either become just like them, fight them on their own terms or you take the heavy burden like we’re doing it right now and it’s going to cost American lives. It’s a hell of a price to pay but if you fight them on their terms, you’re no better than them.

“That’s the true dilemma of the soldier right now, to get his sanity and keep his morals, keep his integrity. And it’s hard. It’s a … minute-by-minute struggle … over in Iraq.”


Children looking for handouts of candy would often approach 1st Lt. Anselm T.W. Richards and the men in his platoon. The soldiers would oblige them, then ask for information.

Sometimes, the children would tell them who made bombs and dealt in weapons. Everybody in town seemed to know the answer.

One day, Richards says, the parents of a 12-year-old boy told him their son had been beheaded by insurgents because he accepted a soccer ball as a gift from soldiers.

“We said to the parents, ‘You tell us who did it and we will get them.’ They said if we talk to you, they’ll kill us as well,’” says Richards, a hedge fund broker from Philadelphia.

“That’s the fear in which these people live. That’s probably the biggest hindrance to them moving forward.”

Like Walls, Richards believes no one should be too quick to judge the small group of Marines being investigated in the Nov. 19 deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians, including unarmed women and children, following a roadside bomb that killed a fellow Marine.

“My question is why are people so curious and so eager to find fault with the Marines or soldiers whose lives are on the line,” he says. “Why is it their behavior that’s being questioned, not the behavior of the guy placing the IED, or the bomb.”

He adds: “If it’s because children were killed or women, it’s understandable, but you know what, those Marines who are killed are children of someone as well.”

Among the difficulties: Richards says Iraqi insurgents know the U.S. troops wouldn’t fire at a school — “so they will set up on a school or put a sniper on the roof of a school.”

Richards says the region is safer than it was a year ago, though five of his men were injured by a roadside bomb just a few weeks before the end of their deployment. Among other accomplishments, he says his brigade helped expand the hours of available electricity each day and trained Iraqi police and security officers.

“I’m optimistic in that I feel like I’ve done everything that I can do and we as a group could possibly do,” he says.

“Is it enough? I don’t know because that area, again this is Ramadi … it’s just such a grip, the insurgency. For them to think or to see anything else is so foreign to them.”


As much as he hates to admit it, 1st Lt. Michael Green, a Pennsylvania state employee from Hershey, says he found it hard at times to like the Iraqis.

He was furious to learn some Iraqis blamed the Americans for a suicide bomb attack that claimed the life of Lt. Col. Michael McLaughlin, the first Pennsylvania Army National Guard officer to die in combat since World War II.

After a year in Iraq, “It’s not that I feel so different about the war,” he says. “I feel different about the Iraqi people because I saw the bad sides along with the good sides, and before all I saw was potential.”

He was so angry that he wanted to shoot some construction workers who had pretended, he says, not to have seen a vehicle driven by the kidnappers of a small boy.

He says he wanted to help catch people responsible for bombings and other violence but that townspeople often didn’t want to get involved.

To be successful in Iraq, he says, Americans “need to learn the culture well enough to get inside it” and convince the people that terrorism is dishonorable and brings shame on their family.

“They have all the materials they need to be a strong country. What they probably lack the most is the democratized individuals making decisions collectively … It’s more of a ‘Why should I get involved?’”


Sgt. Thomas Farley turned 58 in Iraq during what he calls his “last military adventure.” His first was in Vietnam, where he was an Army combat photographer and reporter.

Farley, a father of four, spent 14 years in the active Army before joining the National Guard in Philadelphia as an enlisted infantryman.

In Iraq, he spent part of his time taking photos for a newsletter.

One shows a smiling Sgt. Michael Egan, 36, with his arm around another soldier, at Camp Shelby before the unit’s deployment. Egan was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb.

“Some guys can’t even look at the picture,” Farley says.

Farley says soldiers live with the fear that if they don’t stay alert at all times, they could get hurt or killed. The Iraqi insurgents, he says, cannot be underestimated.

“They’re very patient. They watch us constantly,” Farley says. “They are not the knuckleheads that some people think they must be.”

Farley says the sectarian violence must be resolved in the Sunni Triangle or Iraq will never been a working country.

“I’m sure it can be done,” he says, “but I’m not sure anybody really knows how to do it yet.”

Do I Make You Proud

It’s funny, not long along I was asked this very same question by Grey Eagle one night on the phone. “Are you and the boys proud of me” she asked. As the year in Iraq, day by day, chipped away at the woman she was, she sought comfort in the answer, for it somehow made it all worth it.

In reading the article of the returning Guardsmen and in the contact I have with other soldiers, this one simple message seeks to provide strength and peace of mind for our soldiers to endure. Not politics, not really even the Iraqi’s themselves, for there is mixed feelings, but just whether those back home are proud of them. With the supporters of the war shrinking in numbers, that young man or woman needs to know that as a soldier are we proud of them.

As one more soldier returns home, his body drapped in an American flag, on the final flight home, those left behind to carry on his or her will need for it to mean something, they need to know….Do I Make You Proud?

Do I Make You Proud -Taylor Hicks

‘Madly in love’ couple planned to have kids

They were love letters above all.

There was the usual clutter of Army deployment — assignments, frustrations and war — that filled the pages of lined paper that Staff Sgt. Joseph P. Bellavia, 28, of Clarksville, Tenn., wrote in longhand to his wife, Christine. She was the “Princess” in every salutation.

But almost out of nowhere in the narrative, Bellavia would suddenly write “I love you,” as if everything else was just a distraction.

March 30, 2003: “I can’t wait to see your beautiful face again. I miss you a lot.”

May 4: “I showed the interpreters your pictures and they think you’re beautiful. I told them of course she’s beautiful. She’s my wife.”

June 30: “I can’t be without you for another year. I can’t go through that again.”

On Oct. 2: “I’m the luckiest man alive to have such a wonderful and beautiful woman as my wife, friend and supporter.”

Sometimes she would find an envelope in the mail with a piece of paper containing the phrase, “I love you” and nothing else. “Every breath that he took was for me, and every breath I took was for him,” Christine says. “We may have only been married for three and a half years, but people who are married for 30 years don’t have what we had.”

“He was madly in love,” says his father, Joseph F. Bellavia
His son was in a military police unit from the 101st Airborne Division, working to provide security in the months after the successful invasion of Iraq when there was relative calm. That was before the emergence of a violent insurgency.

“I’m disgustingly skinny and ugly,” Bellavia wrote to his wife five months into his deployment. “Hell, I’d walk a mile out of my way to avoid a mirror. I don’t know how you could be attracted to me. I love you.”

On Oct. 16, during a tense standoff with Shiite militia in Karbala, firing broke out. A battalion commander, Lt. Col. Kim Orlando, 43, of Tennessee, was fatally shot. As Bellavia tried to provide covering fire for soldiers pulling Orlando to safety, he was struck by grenade shrapnel and bullet rounds.

His death came a few months before he was scheduled to go home.

He and Christine were childless. She had miscarried a baby two weeks after Joe deployed to Iraq and sent him an image from the ultrasound, which he conceded in his letters was difficult to see. “It really depressed me,” he wrote. But Bellavia remained eternally optimistic.

“Now I know what I have to look forward to when I get home. We will be pregnant again. I really want to father your children. When I get home, I want us to go on a vacation, for us to spend time together and keep the sparks flying. I just wanna make you happy any way possible. I love you so much. Well, I must get back to the soldiers …

Love Always,




Rebels attacked slain US troops in Iraq: witness

Two slain U.S. soldiers who went missing south of Baghdad were ambushed by as many as 30 insurgents who closed in on them in vehicles and opened fire, according to people who said on Wednesday they were witnesses.

It was not possible to independently verify their accounts. The U.S. military has yet to explain how the soldiers may have been isolated in what Iraqis call “The Triangle of Death” for its frequent insurgent attacks.

But two Iraqis who said they were witnesses gave similar accounts of the moments when Privates First Class Thomas Lowell Tucker, 25, and Kristian Menchaca, 23, went missing in the al Qaeda stronghold of Yusufiya, south of Baghdad, on Friday.

They said the two soldiers and a driver fell back a few hundred meters behind two other military vehicles when they came under attack at dusk.

“There was one vehicle in the back of the convoy. It was very dusty. Suddenly these gunmen in Land Cruisers and Toyotas and other cars started firing at the soldiers,” recalled farmer Omar Abdullah, 49, who said he was some 200 meters (yards) away.

“A lot of dust was kicked up by the cars so the soldiers in the other cars probably could not see. The gunmen killed the driver. Eventually the other two soldiers were totally outnumbered and they were taken away.”

He said about 30 gunmen, some wearing ski masks and baggy black pants and others in white and red checkered headdresses, mounted the ambush.

Chief U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said there was reason to believe two bodies found in the Yusufiya area on Monday night were those of Tucker and Menchaca.

Muhammad Abu Hillal, a soft drinks vendor who also said he was in the area, said a woman was killed in an exchange of fire between the insurgents and the soldiers.

“There were many gunmen. One vehicle was isolated and there was lots of shooting. There was dust everywhere,” he said.

The Mujahideen Shura Council has said it abducted the two soldiers but it has offered no proof and Caldwell dismissed the claim.

Residents say the group was highly active in the rural area, terrorizing families and forcing them to flee.

The Story Of: Pfc. Kristian Menchaca

“Air Assault!” May You Rest In Peace Young Warriors
Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker
1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division

When his younger brother enlisted in the U.S. Army late last year, Cesar Vasquez advised him to try for a posting other than infantry, which would certainly land him in Iraq.

But Kristian Menchaca, 23, didn’t share those reservations. He soon was a member of the 101st Airborne Division.

“I guess it didn’t seem real to him that anything would happen to him,” Vasquez said Monday.

Vasquez learned this weekend that his brother and another private first class, Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore., are the soldiers believed to have been taken hostage Friday in Baghdad after coming under small-arms fire at a checkpoint. Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., was killed in the attack.

“It doesn’t look good,” said Vasquez, standing in the dining room of his aunt’s home in Houston’s near northside, where he and his brother were raised. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s not looking good right now. I would be surprised if he were released. I don’t expect that to happen.”

A group with ties to al-Qaida, the Mujaheddin al-Shura Council, claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, but the U.S. military had not confirmed that claim Monday. A Defense Department release describes the missing soldiers’ status as “whereabouts unknown.”

All were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Vasquez, 25, said the apparent captors probably want “payback” for the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaida leader in Iraq, who was killed in a U.S. bomb attack this month.

“Sometimes they like to use soldiers as an example,” he said. “The one soldier I saw on the news that got kidnapped back in ‘04, they never found him.”

(Sgt. Keith “Matt” Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, went unaccounted for after his fuel-truck convoy was ambushed April 9, 2004, in a western suburb of Baghdad. The Army has vowed to keep searching for him.)

Menchaca, who completed his general equivalency diploma at the Alternative Learning & Transition Academy in Houston, was deployed to Iraq in January. Menchaca married his wife, Christina, of Big Spring, before shipping out.

“He just liked the military, the military lifestyle,” his brother said. “He just wanted to go through the special training that they go through.”

Vasquez said his mother has had trouble sleeping since she received word about her son. But Guadalupe Vasquez said by telephone from her home in Brownsville on Monday that she has faith that her son will return safely to his family. Until then, she said, she will continue to pray and patiently wait.

Mariaelena Garcia, an aunt who raised him as an infant until he was about 14, recalled telling him during a brief visit to Houston in May to take care of himself back in Iraq.

“Ya tía. Ya tía. No me pasaba nada,” he told her. Nothing would happen to him.

“It’s hard for me,” she said Monday. “It’s very hard.”

Menchaca told his family during the same visit that he was having trouble sleeping because he had become accustomed to lack of sleep during his tour in Iraq, she said. He spent long evenings with friends and family. His uncle Mario Vasquez recalled that one night his nephew pestered him for hot wings for dinner — he’d had enough Mexican food.

After his military duty, Menchaca told his brother, he planned to pursue a career in law enforcement, maybe with the U.S. Border Patrol.

‘It doesn’t look good,’ says brother of missing soldier
Sibling thinks apparent captors want ‘payback’ for al-Zarqawi’s death
June 20, 2006

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

Bodies of missing U.S. soldiers recovered

By KIM GAMEL, Associated Press Writer

The bodies of two U.S. soldiers reported captured last week have been recovered, and an Iraqi defense ministry official said Tuesday the men were “killed in a barbaric way.” The U.S. military said the remains were believed to be those of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said U.S. forces — part of a search involving some 8,000 American and Iraqi troops — found the bodies late Monday near Youssifiyah, where they disappeared Friday. The bodies were recovered early Tuesday.

Caldwell said the cause of death was “undeterminable at this point,” and that the bodies would be taken back to the United States for DNA tests to confirm the identities.

Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for killing the soldiers, and said the successor to slain terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had “slaughtered” them, according to a Web statement that could not be authenticated. The language in the statement suggested the men had been beheaded.

The two soldiers disappeared after a deadly insurgent attack Friday at a checkpoint by a Euphrates River canal south of Baghdad. Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., was killed. The three men were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky.

The director of the Iraqi defense ministry’s operation room, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Mohammed, said the bodies showed signs of having been tortured. “With great regret, they were killed in a barbaric way,” he said.

The claim of responsibility was made in the name of the Mujahedeen Shura Council, an umbrella organization of five insurgent groups led by al-Qaida in Iraq. The group had posted an Internet statement Monday claiming it was holding the two American soldiers captive.

“We give the good news … to the Islamic nation that we have carried God’s verdict by slaughtering the two captured crusaders,” said the claim, which appeared on an Islamic militant Web site where insurgent groups regularly post statements and videos.

“With God Almighty’s blessing, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer carried out the verdict of the Islamic court” calling for the soldiers’ slaying, the statement said.

The statement said the soldiers were “slaughtered,” suggesting that al-Muhajer beheaded them. The Arabic word used in the statement, “nahr,” is used for the slaughtering of sheep by cutting the throat and has been used in past statements to refer to beheadings.

The U.S. military has identified al-Muhajer as an Egyptian associate of al-Zarqawi who is also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

The killings would be the first acts of violence attributed to al-Muhajer since he was named al-Qaida in Iraq’s new leader in a June 12 Web message by the group. He succeeded al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike on June 7.

Al-Zarqawi made al-Qaida in Iraq notorious for hostage beheadings and was believed to have killed two American captives himself — Nicholas Berg in April 2004 and Eugene Armstrong in September 2004.

The checkpoint attacked Friday was in the Sunni Arab region known as the “Triangle of Death” because of frequent ambushes there of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi troops.

Iraqi and American troops involved in the search for the missing soldiers killed three suspected insurgents and detained 34 in fighting that also left seven U.S. servicemen wounded, Caldwell said.

A farmer claiming to have witnessed the attack told The Associated Press on Sunday that insurgents swarmed the checkpoint, killing the driver of a Humvee before taking two of his comrades captive.

Ahmed Khalaf Falah said three Humvees were manning a checkpoint when they came under fire from many directions. Two Humvees went after the assailants but the third was ambushed before it could move.

He said seven masked gunmen, one carrying a heavy machine gun, killed the driver of the third vehicle and took the two other U.S. soldiers captive. His account could not be verified independently.

Kidnappings of U.S. service members have been rare since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, despite the presence of about 130,000 forces.

The last U.S. soldier to be captured was Sgt. Keith M. Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, who was taken on April 9, 2004 after insurgents ambushed his fuel convoy. Two months later, a tape on Al-Jazeera purported to show a captive U.S. soldier shot, but the Army ruled it was inconclusive and remains listed as missing.

Caldwell said that in addition to the two soldiers, a dozen Americans — including Maupin and 11 private citizens — are missing in Iraq. In addition, Capt. Michael Speicher, a Navy pilot, remains listed as missing in Iraq since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he said.


Associated Press writers Ryan Lenz in Balad, Iraq, and Nadia Abou el-Magd in Cairo, Egypt, contributed to this report.

My Opinion: When Our Soldiers Are Murdered (updated)

I am outraged. I confess it. Politically correct or not, I have grown weary of throwing our soldiers to the political wolves in order to appease the Iraqi’s and world community. These are the same Iraqi’s who have barbarically slaughtered their own, as well as our soldiers. No, not everyone is an insurgent. But in 24 hours we had 8,000 soldiers, helicopters, aircraft, and unmanned drones searching for the soldiers, and not one Iraqi citizen seemed to know anything that could have possibly preventing their fate. In reading of the torture and brutal way our soldiers, who were taken captive, were treated, tortured and murdered, I am no longer deeply concerned about the incidents that make the headlines and making our soldiers scapegoats for very incident that occurs in Iraq. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not justifying or condoning any action in which our soldiers murdered unarmed innocent Iraqi’s. But please, the Italians want to try a Marine for firing on a speeding car approaching a checkpoint. I don’t see any of these same “in the name of justice” countries calling for the justice of our two soldiers. At what point did it become acceptable for inhumane actions, as long as it was against American forces? Right now is the moment to measure the media’s worth. If there is not a call to arms, not coverage for the outrage and disgust for these two soldiers on at least the same measure as they have applied to those soldiers accused (not found guilty of) of killing Iraqi’s in the fog or war, then the media has exposed itself not only in bias for its total lack of credibility with the American public. If it fails in this test, if it fails to unite the American people in their resolve, then it fails to represent America and demonstrates, without argument that it seeks only its personal agenda as a divider of the American people, and not a unifier of their will. This is the same media that I watched this morning tell us of the discovery of the bodies and their condition, and then state “the pentagon will not confirm that the soldiers have been located pending notification of their next of kin”, (in other words we have not yet notified the families, please respect that and we will inform you of the information after notifying the families first) so why is the national media broadcasting not only the discovery of the bodies, but their condition based on information they received from Iraq officials before the families had been notified.

I live on Ft. Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne Division, one of the most elite military units in the world. So, today as I was in the Shoppette, or the PX courtyard, everyone was talking about what the insurgents has done to our soldiers. There was intense and utter rage. The feeling and sentiment was not that we should pull out, but rather tired of the political games, and the restraint that no one within the world community seems to recognize, and let the military do its job so we can wrap this up and come home. See one must understand that the patrols that come under attack are a political solution to assist the Iraqi’s in the ability to stand on their own. We downplay our presence, to be the “nice guys” that in deadly attempts goes without recognition. In fact, the military is quite capable of going from city to city making Fallujah look like a training exercise, until the insurgency becomes no more dangerous than a troop of boy scouts on a weekend campout. Yes it would upset the Iraqi’s, and yes we would become the great Satan again to another country, and yes the Italians would be vocal at the United Nations and threaten to pull out their couple of hundred soldiers from one of Saddam’s vacation palaces in the south. But, this nightmare would be over. Please, come on, let’s be realistic. Let’s say that the Iraqi government takes hold, and let’s say that the Iraqi army is finally able to stand on their own and provide some degree of security, do you honestly think the attitude and opinion of the United States regarding Iraq will be any different, then if we took the fight to the insurgents and terrorists unleashing our military’s wrath and just clean up this mess and went home.

To me, the bottom line is simple. These people have demonstrated their values, their humanity, and their danger to society. There needs to be no more calls for protecting their rights and dignity, to pamper them and treat them as anything more than murderous criminals. There have been despicable individuals tried by the world court for war crimes, who performed less hideous acts than those performed by the terrorists, and insurgency. So why did it take a U.S. air strike to bring Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to justice. Should he not have been sought after by the world court for the horrific deaths, murder and torture he brought on the world community? When one thinks of the terrible acts he committed against the Iraq’s, in Jordan, and in the world, not to mention the U.S. soldiers, should not the United Nations have been using its resources to hunt down and try him for criminal acts against humanity? In Serbia, during Bosina, these acts were considered war crimes. I guess it just depends on who you are killing, and if it involves American soldiers, then it is justified.

I know I am just ranting and raving here, without a clear platform. But look at the photos below. These soldiers were taken captive and unarmed. In other words, they are no longer combatives. We label insurgents who fired on U.S. troops moments earlier, but are now unarmed “detainees”. We have soldiers under investigation for supposely firing on “detainees” and world outcry for justice.

Today these soldiers bodies are being shipped back to the U.S. for DNA identification because they were so brutally murdered that dental records were not even an option. Yet I have not read, heard, or viewed the world community, or even those within our own country who say they are seeking justice by pursuing our troops as scapegoats for political gain, calling for “investigations”, justice, criminal actions. Can anyone show me something where Kerry or Murtha are calling for justice and retribution for this action against our soldiers with the same politcal hunger they are pursuing our soldiers for in possible “fog of war” incidents? I have to wonder if Kerry, Murtha, Clinton, or the others would feel the same need to use our soldiers for a political platform if they had a son or daughter serving their country and deployed to Iraq.

Where’s the outcry for justice? I guess justice just depends on whether you are an American soldier or not. A soldier returning from Iraq points out - “They’re using our good will, our good-nature policy against us,” says Sgt. Bobby Walls, a 38-year-old Pennsylvania National Guard member. “The fact that we fight as the good guys sometimes turns around and kicks us in the can, you know?”

I have had enough of being the “nice guy” military.

kristian menchaca
Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, Texas

thomas tucker
Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore.

1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division

These opinions are my own and do not reflect Grey Eagle’s opinion or that of the military

The day I had to shoot the humvee…..

I think everyone will understand when I say the words, “Command Maintenance” or “Turn in” out here. Yes, I was tasked to do both….and let me tell you it was funny. First I had to go around and bribe, barter and steal to get doors put on for my two vehicles. That was fun. Luckily, I found some great guys in a shop that had no problems with helping me. As I am getting one set put on, I went back to get the second vehicle only to find out that it was dead. Yeah… dead. I just wanted to cry at that moment. I was so excited to have made all the right connections. I mean, You have to see the whole picture to know how much trouble I went to get this set up.

First, finding someone that would squeeze my two vehicles into their schedule. Something they certainly did not have to do, and trust me there is not a lot of people here willing to help sometimes because we are all under the gun for time. Then I found out that I was missing special brackets to put the doors on that no one had any extra for me, so it was up to me to turn over every rock and pull a lot of favors to find them. Then it was by fate that I found them, while making another deal for something else…..the gods were good to me that day. So, then I get the brackets, doors and vehicles all lined up to be taking care of…..I was very proud of myself for having the right connections and for being able to pull of something that was virtually impossible to do. So, for my second one to not crank for me ….. well, you can imagine how sick at my stomach I was.

But, I wasn’t going to lay down on this one. I decided to go out and talk to the humvee’s. I told them of the importance of this mission and that I had to accomplish it. I promised them a massage and washing if they would all just behave and crank for me in order to complete this mission. At that point I tried again to crank number two and he still did not want to start up……I then pulled out my weapon and shot him in front of the other humvee’s letting them know that this is what happens when you don’t want to co-operate.

With fear in number two’s headlights I turned to the others and said “let this be a lesson to all of you humvee’s sitting here! I am not playing.” Of course, I did not really shoot him but I played it out real well in my mind. But not to be taken lightly, I did seriously kick the tire however, demonstrating my lethal martial art skills with my size 7 boot………

Needless to say, all of the other humvee’s must have taken me seriously, because they all cranked without a hitch. Now, number two….well, he went to the shop to be fixed and n I still managed to get his doors put on the next day. Even though this mission took me almost three days to accomplish, I still managed to get it done and have them ready for turn in.

Yippee for me…..It all goes to show that making friends and connections out here is the only way to survive this environment.

A Surviving Humvee

When The Line Between Reality & Surreal Becomes Blurred


The other day I was giving some thought to life beyond Iraq. It seems like I have been living here so long that life beyond the sandbox has become surreal. I don’t even know when that happened, it was so long ago. We all say we are excited about coming home, and that is true, but in the same breath that we declare our excitement, we are also nervous. We express our joy at returning to those things that we left behind but anxious if it will still be the same. I have lost contact with myself. I am not even sure who that is anymore.

I have been living in another life time another dimension so separate from the world I left behind that I fear I may never really find my way back. Will those I love be able to accept me if I was not the exact person they knew. Would they be angry with me for the loss of my innocence. Will they understand the person I have become, the new needs I require. If I turn left, when they are used to me going right will they make the new turn with me, or stay on the old path, and we become separated, even for a moment. Detached now from who I was, I do not really even know who I am right now. When I first arrived here I was able to separate the two worlds. Things were distinct and traveling back and forth was easy. I was able to rationalize my behavior as two separate and distinct personalities. Now that line almost doesn’t exist. Living, working, breathing and being overwhelmed by the environment and those in it, I have found their personalities meshing with mine. A composite of characters that would rival Sybil. Cast adrift, living in the moment, my vision never wanders far from little box here. One moment I thinking of home, my husband and kids, I miss them, my heart heavy; then in a flash the drama of life here disrupts my moment of longing and I am quickly teleported to another dimension, one in which all the players are living in that same moment of time existence. This may seem distorted to those who have never experience this, I know that my wildest of imagination never produced me living like this, but within the box, things are real. The people, the sights, sounds, the soap opera drama, it is all real to me. I can touch it, feel it, be surrounded by it. Home… it is a dream, an imaginary world. It is like that tropical vacation you have always wanted to take. You close your eyes and escape to the vacation place in your mind, and though it brings you happiness you know it is just beyond your reach. Then you open your eyes to reality and go back to the mundane work at your desk.

I hate talking about my feelings. One, it is viewed as weakness, something I cannot tolerate within myself. The second is, what is perceived as sharing feeling by one, can be misinterpret as “whining” by another. That is one thing I will not have others see me as… whining about anything. Some people here say that my posts are too dramatic, and become lost in the symbolism. Some have stated a resentment at the attention the website sometimes gets, because I confess I am not always the poster child of the U.S. Army. I am just a soldier, experiencing and finding my way through my first deployment. When I was arrived I sought to please everyone, and that a good sense of humor and respect would carry me through this. I thought if I just worked as hard as I could then everyone would see that and somehow I would be above the “infighting” that exist in any unit that lives, works, plays, and breathes together 24/7. I thought people would say ‘go get “Wilks” she’ll get it done. Not that everyone else couldn’t have done just as good, just that people would see me as sort of that “worker bee” and accept me. See, I struggle a little with the fact that I am older than 80% (+) of those around me. With no real common bond, and set in my ways, I didn’t know how I was going to fit in.…hell I don’t even know who Snoop Ditty Dog.. or whoever is. The soldiers around me are looking to go places in life I have already been and left behind. I felt and feel very old. Crap, I have people giving me orders who are barely older than my son. After a while, I felt lonely and isolated and tried to fit in, and as many of those who are deployed with me here know, I have made my share of mistakes along the way. Most soldiers my age are senior NCO’s or officers, and have learned along the way and have much to offer, but because of my rank, I don’t fit in. I only share life’s experiences with them, not military structure. I work hard. That is the most important thing to me, that is the only way I know. I feed off recognition. I have always been that way. I will charge a dozen insurgents in an ambush with nothing more than my utility tool, smiling and thanking the NCO who ordered me to do it, not even arguing back (which will be a surprise to some here) all for the simple knowledge that in the aftermath they will acknowledge that I did it. I know, not the best personality type to have in the Army. But that is me. Tell me “good job Wilks, thanks” and the next time you ask me to do something I will try even harder because I know I have to work harder than last time to get the same recognition. Hand me a roll of toilet paper with the words “Thanks” on it and it gets its own little place on my shelf and makes my month. That’s just how I operate, and I guess I am too old to change. So I will probably be doing a lot of corrective training.

I figure I would bring this post to a close with a photo of me during a happier time. In my mind and in my actions I sometimes forget she exists, buried in order to survive a year here. But in my heart I know she is alive and waits the freedom bird that will take us home so she can be set free from her exile.


Freedom Is Never
More Than One Generation
From Extinction,
It Must Be Fought For,
Protected And Handed On
- Ronald Reagan



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Fallen Soldiers: Female Soldiers

Fallen Soldiers: 101st Airborne