The Big Picture

Some of the features, such as the PHOTOS are up and working now so I hope you take a second to browse around the site

I have gotten countless email about the new website and how wonderful they think the new design is, and I am so glad that people like it.  But then it hit me, people think “this” is the website, it is done.  Well actually you are currently seeing about a third or more of the final project.  Right now it is getting the bugs worked out and cosmetic facelift.  But there is a grand design and mission for this website.  It will have more information than ever before, as well as photos, videos, better tributes with more information, and colorful posts from yours truly.  But it will also have contributions and reports from other soldiers, besides me.  So that in addition to my thoughts you will be able to read about an account from a soldier on a convoy, or a mission into a village.  But it doesn’t stop there.  One of the Cavalry battalions  providing stories soon of their deployment.  They will also take over reporting from Iraq, and providing photos and videos from the perspective of a combat unit.  So when we enter the final phase of this website, you should be able to get not only my thoughts and perspectives, but also that of other soldiers performing other missions, and what it is like to be a Cavalry troop riding into deployment into Iraq and also while deployed in Iraq.  I am excited about all of this, and so much more. 

See this started out as a blog.  A simple blog written primarly for my family. - By the way, you would be amazed at the number of emails I get asking if I am a Texan, a Sooner, a Steeler fan, I had no idea how many peope paid attention to the clothes I wear.  I was actually born and raised in Texas.  My husband is from Oklahoma and a huge Sooner fan who has converted me and the boys.  We lived about 90 miles from Pittsburgh for awhile and became Steeler fans, all but the oldest son who remain a faithful Dallas Cowboy broken-hearted fan -   Now the blog grew to a small website, and then had to expand as we maxed the traffic and bandwith of that small host provider.  Then we went to the website that most of you know, but as many of you know was often hacked (later to learn that some of the attacks came from Turkey and the Middle East).  So, now we are on the current project, but I want it to be more than just Sgt Grey Eagle.  I am attempting a project never before done in the short history of Milblogging.  Where the reader will be able to see multiple percepetions and views from soldiers, who will represent different units and backgrounds.  Can you imagine reading about the 101st and Cavalry on the same site, viewpoints from combat soldiers and medics?  First hand accounts of what being in a convoy or mission means today.  This is my goal.  So I hope you stay with the website for the ride.

As you can see this whole project will be a huge task, but when complete I hope to present a website that goes beyond Grey Eagle, and represents the soldier, the real hero’s who do their duty for a divided nation.  I do not want this site to become a political battlefield, but rather a painting in the works of a bigger picture that will be complete when all the soldiers are home.

P.S.

If you haven’t seen the video in the last post (Soldier’s Tribute Commercial) you are really missing something.  I don’t think I could post any better that this is the “greatest” gift our nation could ever give us, the soldiers.  I don’t think anyone here has been able to see it with a dry eye.  Thank you for all your support America. 

 Grey Eagle

“Air Assault”


Warriors and Fools

I would like to order a dozen window stickers of Calvin urinating on Joel Stein please. Seriously, anytime you read something like this and come away with more respect for the insurgents then Mr. Stein then you know you have punished your brain by forcing it to endure reading this. But give Mr. Stein credit, anyone that manages to be hated by the troops more than Jane Fonda during Vietnam in one article demonstrating his naive immaturity deserves recognition. I mean this article is so offensive there is now a push on to design Joel Stein rubber targets for the guys to put in the urinals. Heck I would take a stab at learning how to pee in one of those things if it meant I got to pee on him to express my sincerity. You know you have left your legacy with the soldiers when the name Joel Stein is a call to arms, and all you hear is countless weapons being locked and loaded. But what do you expect from a man who sees us as immoral villains to the conflict and where 150,000 soldiers a year book a vacation flights to Iraq like it was a hunting trip, don’t you know my travel agency was excited.

Based on Mr. Stein’s perception we are no more than Vikings with expensive toys of death that delight in the rape, pillage, and burn concept, and I was overwhelmed with emotion knowing that Mr. Stein had stopped short of calling for others to spit on us when we return. I will forever be grateful, thank you, Mr. Stein. I grant there should be a special badge for two hours of Wolf Blitzer, but I was so wounded after reading that someone actually allowed him to publish this article worthy of my puppy’s housebreaking skills that they may have to award me the Purple Heart.

Would someone point out to me how Mr. Stein knows what we need? He has never served his country, been here not even as an embedded reporter, states he doesn’t even personally know a soldier and his only personal sacrifice is to have corn beef instead of ham on his sandwich at lunchtime. What we need is for America to support us, and for the USO to kidnap Mr. Stein and bring him to Iraq for the soldiers, which I promise you will be very entertaining us. In regards to making the general statement that we feel “tricked”, I was going to challenge him to come here and find even one soldier that feels that way, but then felt bad because I had forgotten he was handicapped by the loss of his manhood, and blinded by his patriotic selfishness. I suggest since Mr. Stein has removed his yellow ribbons from his vehicle he may wish to replace him with handicap stickers made in Taiwan.

I wish to express my apologies to Mr. Stein on behalf of the soldiers and their families for the parades granted for the wounded, and the grieving families that follow silently behind the hearse of the fallen soldier and their loved one, to have inconvenienced you with “insufferable” traffic delays. I can clearly see now why this would be a problem for you in rushing to your office and to take 10 minutes to type some of the most disgusting crap America has ever had to endure reading. May I offer you some insight Mr. Stein? Put away your collection Rambo movies that you used for your research in to this article. I hate to burst your bubble, but U.S. soldiers do not enter Iraq like drunken friends on a deer hunt. We do not fire into the air to celebrate our kills, or dance around large bonfires of pillaged spoils of war. The soldier(s) who your newspaper will publish the DOD announcement of their deaths in the future in, were dismounted from their protective vehicle, and did so not because they were seeking the “smell of napalm in the morning” but to enter the areas, as in all missions, to befriend, show support for, and to protect the Iraqi people. How do I know this? Because it is my job to save the lives of the wounded soldiers who were there doing just that when the IED changed their lives forever.

Forgive me Mr. Stein, I am a simple meager soldier without morality, so I need your clarification. At what point when people are shooting at us are we suppose to stop pulling the trigger? See I am confused, a car bomb exploding in the streets of Baghdad killing 125 innocent people at a market, this is not horrifying to you, but the soldiers returning fire during an attack on their patrol you consider a horrific event, because they are a collective army. By the way to assist you in understanding Germany and the soldier, it is the midpoint where soldiers change planes going to and from war, and the location of the major hospital where the seriously wounded are taken. Since many of them are without limbs, I don’t think you will find too many “just hanging out”.

There is one last thing Mr. Stein, you don’t know fear until you have “pee’ed into the wind” with an 101st airborne soldier (or any of the other soldiers who serve here) with an article like this. If you should run into one, just claim you are a fool, and that like Jane Fonda you will have to ask for forgiveness in the years to come of the people you betrayed.

Now more disturbing then this article is the fact that a major publication like the LA Times would publish Warriors & Wusses by Joel Stein. This demonstrates their position on the soldiers. To me anyone who spends a penny purchasing or subscribing to a publication such as this that incites people to think that the “truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they’re following orders or not” is immoral, and please don’t bother getting caught in the insufferable traffic for my parade. But then “I’m not advocating that we spit on” Joel Stein either.

Soldier’s Tribute Commercial

(The video page is not working yet, so when you click on this link, you will need to select “OPEN” : There are no viruses or ad’s or anything, just a great video that Mr. Stein should see)

Grey Eagle

“Air Assault ”


Remodeling The House

This is just a short post to announce the overhaul and tune up of the website. For the next couple of days (cross your fingers that it is only for a couple of days) you will notice that color schemes don’t match and some links may not work or work properly, but this is a result of working on the website and will Lord willing, be totally resolved within a couple of days. So if something didn’t work, don’t despair, try it in a couple of days. We will be working on this front page blog post and then the Fallen Soldiers Tribute pages next, so this is where you will see the most hiccup’s. In the end you should find the website is more consolidated, loads faster, less messy and without the numerous outside programs, and will have more information and photos (yes I have a bunch of new photos, but will take some time to get them all uploaded and posted). So please bear with me during this construction period and check back

Thanks for your patience,

Grey Eagle
“Air Assault”.


Time In A Bottle

I have days, weeks where the days blur into one very long day, and then one day I have some extra time. It is sudden, just occurs, and I am faced with a choice, I can get on the computer and post, maybe answer a few emails, or sleep which may have gone without attention for over 24 hours. And even though I know the effort is feeble, and merely an illusion, for some reason I always seem to choose sleep. Then the big day arrives. That extra time. I am diligent and focused. and determined to write a post which has been absent, my email floods with request as to where to send the flowers on their behalf for my demise. I sit down; fingers on the keys, emotions and thoughts flood my brain, and… nothing. A blank. I know all the things I was going to write, but now they are all crowding my brain wanting to be first in line. It becomes like a pilgrimage at Mecca. But I am determined, and I begin to type. Finally, I am done and begin to re-read my work for typo’s when I discover that my work of art reads more like a word search puzzle, then a reflection of deep thought.

So now I have changed my strategy. I get a lot of email which asks many questions. I figure if I just answer the questions in my posts, maybe I can get more posts done, and not over stress my brain in the stampede. So the first question up, what is life like here.

It rains frequently here. I am surprised at how frequent and how hard it rains. When it rains, my room floods. It takes hours to get my room clean after each hard rain. The water and sand mix into a sludge which covers the floor and gets into everything. I am amazed at how cold it can get. I remember packing my gear to deploy thinking why do I have to carry all this cold weather gear to the desert. Now there are times when I can’t get warm enough. Then later you stare out into a vast empty desert horizon. It is hot and barren and the heat vapors rise from the desert to blur the horizon and distort the images. As I sit and ponder this strange occurrence it occurs to me it is like my representation of my deployment.

There are days when it is like a hard rain. You know, those days when it just feels yucky and your thoughts continual drift to how nice it would be to crawl under your blankets, maybe a good book, or cuddle with your husband, and just sleep as the sound of the rain washes away the dirt. Well I don’t get to crawl into bed, I don’t have my husband here, and my room floods with the dirt. There are days when it never seems to stop, just keeps pouring, and there is no beginning and there is no end to the day, they all just run together into one very long day without time. It just floods, and everything around you feels like muddy images of a life you knew a long time ago, eventually you give into it from exhaustion, and like a robot you just go through the motions, unable to recount many of the activities later in your memories.

I thought I was prepared. I was well trained, I was anxious, even a little excited at the romantic illusion of war, and I deployed long before the plane ever left the ground. Now I get cold. Glad that people around me with greater knowledge of the reality of my illusion made me prepare for. At some point you realize that you are very glad you brought your cold weather gear, and grateful no one listened to my logic and rationalization as to why cold weather gear was just extra weight to carry in the desert. Gone are the romantic notations and the John Wayne mentality that walked with a swagger as I boarded the flight from Ft. Campbell that would eventually bring me here. What remains is dedication, devotion, and a comrade, and a unrelenting desire to go home. This is not a political statement, this is a human statement that says you don’t know what you have until it is gone. I am more committed to the soldiers than ever before, love the Army, and yes feel we make a difference. This is not defined in the bigger picture of the war, just a narrow perspective of soldiers caring about those in the streets. But I am glad I brought my cold weather gear.

There are days when it very hot. Your sweat acts like glue, and seems to echo a mating call to the sand. Life becomes burred, not as clear, and you strain to see. Like the vapors from the desert floor everything around feels like a mirage and reality as you knew it ride the vapors into the sky. Life becomes contained within the world around you. Whether it is on the FOB, or out on patrol, your perception circles within a box. Those within the box, your buddies, the guys you go out on patrol with who have your back, the vendor in the streets, are all tossed in your individual box and everything outside the box is like the heat vapors. Your memories, your family, your past, you can just barely make them out on the horizon, they are blurred, but you can feel them. Time has stood still, and I feel like a Jim Croce song, “Time In A Bottle”.
Time In A BottleBut not all is dreary. I have formed friendships that will last a lifetime, and shared moments that are forged like steel, bonded by blood. You see, I like everyone else here live for that single one moment. That driving force. The one moment in time where it all comes together that every single soldier here is driven by. That moment when you walk off the plane on the Ft. Campbell runway, you see you family anxiously waiting at the fence a small tear forms, you adjust your beret, you take your first step and feel the pride of a soldier, politics aside, you did your duty for your country, you march the final march of your deployment, and as your family races to you, you know you are home, you did good, and a split second before your family reaches you look to the heavens for those who will never know this moment and you say… “You did good”

Grey Eagle
“Air Assault”.


Welcome 2006 - A Year In Review

Pfc. Janelle Zalkovsky
Pfc. Janelle Zalkovsky, from a civil affairs unit of 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, provides security while other Soldiers survey a newly constructed road in Ibriam Jaffes, Iraq.
Photo by Spc. Charles W. Gill.

VIEW A YEAR IN REVIEW PHOTO SLIDESHOW
U.S. Army Slideshow Site

We all heard the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”. I guess that is why we like to read Time magazine or Life and see all the photo’s from the past year, or to sit and watch as CNN reminds us of the highlights of the past year, in case you missed it. We look back at where we were when we heard the news of this event or that, and we make pledges for the next year to be a better person. We set goals that we re-evaluate once the celebration wears off with a huge hangover headache. We make promises that we really want to keep, but by March we can’t remember what they were. Yes, the New Year is always a fun time. For me, I look back on the past year differently than all the previous 35 New Years I have encountered before. Instead of the usual “wow, I remember that” feeling, I feel as if I am living the event. Oh trust me, there are many soldiers who have it much worse than I do, so I am not pretending that I am kicking in doors and living each day IED by IED. But the feeling in the air always seems to reflect the pain and hardship of all the soldiers. Those of the 101st Airborne serving their country deployed here now, and the spirits of all of those who served and died here before us. It swirls in the air, somedays thicker than others, but always present. Over time it seems very odd, it can be 1400 hrs (that’s 2pm for you civilian folks) and suddenly my ears will pick up and I will look up as if to hear something, but only my surroundings provide the background noise. I see others in the same eerie curiosity, and then return to their duties. Later I will discover that an IED exploded a hundred miles away at that time and I can’t help but wonder if my heart heard the sound of two more fallen soldiers.

There are times when the birds (the MedVac helicopters) sit quietly on the ground resting in the sun, the patients have been routed to various destinations, and only a couple remain. No news of any real activity, and I do a quick mental check-off of my friends in other places such as Camp McHenry or with the 3rd Brigade (33rd Cav) and make note that this quiet means they are safe. Rumors fly in the wind, like confetti falling during a parade, and you are tricked into believing that maybe, just maybe this time everyone as managed to find a peaceful solution to their issues. Maybe the end is near. But, then the birds lift off which means they are on their way to bring soldiers in, the illusion of a peaceful resolution is like the vapor heat off the sand distorting things on the horizon, and it is time to start preparing for the incoming wounded.

My New Years Day resolution? The same as everyone else’s here, to go home, hopefully in one piece. I think for me, I am more wounded mentally and emotionally than anything physical. I have never been more tired, more drained, and more stressed in my life. The excitement of being here has worn off, and reality has set in. Days seem like weeks, and sleep feels as if it was a dream many, many years ago. People around me appear as if they have aged a decade, and then I see my own reflection and do not recognize myself. I have grown weary of putting on the same ACU’s each day, everything painted brown or green and it is funny how you can miss something so silly as the feel of jeans or favorite shirt. I long to be able to talk a shower without having to travel over sand to get there, and remove body armor & helmet, my weapon in arms reach, just in case, and to have to put it all back on again. I miss the simple joy of throwing a football in my backyard with my husband and my kids (wearing jeans) and waiting for the bar-b-q to be done so we can all eat together, and my dogs are the only thing that disturbs my meal, not mortars, or rockets, or the thunderous sound of .50 cals assisting the insurgents in their journey to meet Allah.

But for me these little moments of depression are soon to be nothing more than that foggy headed, yukky taste in your mouth moments you get the next morning when you awake and realize you may just possibly have had a little too much Crown & Coke the night before. That’s because this is the first announcement that I have my leave date. I get to go home for two weeks leave on Feburary 27th, 2006. I cannot begin to tell you what a wonderful feeling that is. My New Year is going to start with me going home for leave at the 6 month period, halfway home from deployment. So it doesn’t get any better than this.

Grey Eagle
“Air Assault”


Embedded With the 101st Airborne

101picAP writer Ryan Lenz is embedded with the 3rd Brigade of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Iraq and will be filing periodic reports on life in that unit.
Copyright © 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Permission Pending
WEDNESDAY, Dec. 28, 12:35 p.m. local

The power went out and blackened the hooches today. Soldiers poured from their doorways, griping loudly and kicking the rocks and sand at their feet.

A generator that powers a group of buildings where soldiers live overheated and blew just an hour ago, leaving only the radios in the command post working.

Soldiers depend on electricity. Sun comes up, lights go down. Sun goes down, lights come up. But when there’s no power, the veil comes back with a reminder of where they are.

Profanities fill the air as soldiers return from their patrols to find darkness.

Electricity affords soldiers some of the comforts of home. Sony PlayStations, computers, DVD players. Coffee makers from Europe. Without it, another world waits just outside the gates.

It’s easy to forget that “other world” with a chow hall open four times a day and a constant flow of movies mailed from the states. But when the power’s gone, soldiers become intimately aware of how splendid it is to feel clean, wear fresh cloths, sleeping in the comfort of a bed or easing back in front of a television can be.

And, yes, soldiers have televisions here.

Veterans who have been in Iraq before, who slept on tanks in the desert during the invasion and ate MREs for months, talk about how good they have it now in comparison. Hot meals and warm showers, cold water and air conditioning.

But when the power dies, that disappears and their surroundings come creeping in. The lights no longer shine on glossy pinup girls. Coffee makers stop burping. Even the computer station down the road giving them access to the world outside turns black.

They are detached and left with nothing to do but think of where they are.

There’s truth in the adage that if a soldier can’t adapt to his surroundings, he’ll laugh at his misery to bide the time until things change.

The conversations outside the hooches brim with laughter now.

___

TUESDAY, Dec. 27, 2:35 p.m. local

Some days on the Forward Operating Base (FOB) slog by without excitement.

Since brigade headquarters left, the combat units on the post have had to split their time between patrolling surrounding villages and pulling guard duty.

It’s called force protection, and the soldiers resent it.

Soldiers watch the unmoving desert for hours from guard posts. Commanders struggle to keep up their patrols with a third of their company gone.

And the soldiers wait for their shift to come around, trying, just trying to get a few hours of sleep while the sun beats hard and bright outside the hooch.

Boredom. Fatigue. Monotony. A soldier in Iraq knows these things just as well as the thrill and the rush of adrenaline a patrol can bring.

___

MONDAY, Dec. 26, 8:15 p.m. local

An explosion rumbles like thunder on the horizon and no one moves. Soldiers stare blankly into the air for a few seconds, processing the sound.

A symphony of blasts rocks the outlying areas of Iraq every day. Controlled detonations of discovered munitions, practicing mortar teams, heavy gunfire. They are part of the day and seem part of the atmosphere - like police sirens at home.

But with time anyone can tell the difference in the way they sound and feel, the way the explosion moves the ground or shimmies building walls.

Controlled detonations are fierce, with a boom that travels miles. The blast sounds tired when you hear it. Outgoing mortar fire is robust and lacks the sound of an impact. (You can feel the ground tear apart with incoming fire.)

I heard incoming fire today and knew immediately it was different. Two hours ago a mortar round hit a few hundred yards away from soldiers’ quarters. It rang out in the quiet of the desert night.

The soldiers stood with wide eyes. A pause. The radios rang out with calls for accountability. Was equipment damaged? Was anyone hurt? Was everyone found?

Weeks ago Cpl. Jimmy Lee Shelton, 21, of Lehigh Acres, Fla., died during a mortar attack launched just after the morning call to prayer from a nearby village.

No one was injured in this blast, but luck had something to do with it, the soldiers say. Safety is a perception.

___

SUNDAY, Dec. 25, 7:30 p.m. local

They binged on turkey, stuffing and ham. They crowded in the darkness to get a moment on a telephone to call home to their families. They gathered outside their hooches, smoking cigars in the cold and laughing about home.

Christmas at war is unlike any holiday I’ve seen, not because of what the soldiers have or don’t have, who they miss or even where they are. It’s their ability to make even far off lands seem a bit like home.

For days leading up to Christmas morning, they had strung tinsel from doorways and hung vibrant red, white and green holiday cards on the tan metal walls of their hooches. Artificial Christmas trees stood tall in dining halls and command posts.

But on Christmas morning, when the mail truck arrived packed with boxes - goodies from mom, letters from girlfriends, wives and husbands, toothpaste and underwear - the soldiers weren’t awake to see it come.

I’m not sure they even expected anything from home.

Having just returned from an early morning mission, they were sleeping when the truck unloaded. In the dead of morning they raided a village just outside of town, they hammered down doors, inquired about insurgents, dug deep for weapons caches.

And when they awoke, they weren’t heavy with homesickness or quiet with nostalgia.

Christmas was just another day with a job to do and a letter from home. Oh … and the food was a little better than normal.

___

SATURDAY, Dec. 24, 2:55 p.m. local

Soldiers nowadays have become media savvy warriors slung with guns and filled with an up-to-date knowledge of what’s going on in the world around them.

That alone separates them from their predecessors, those men who went to war and were left cut off from home and in the dark.

Newscasts appear at chow time. Copies of “Stars and Stripes” circulate from hand to hand in hooches across post. Those of us who aren’t soldiers but know about them from Hollywood movies have an idea that deploying to war is a complete severing of ties.

Hardly the case.

To illustrate the point, soldiers had a copy of one of my articles printed and taped to a doorway in their command post. They had it within hours of its release for publication.

___

FRIDAY, Dec. 23, 5:05 a.m. local

The morning call to prayer came just as the helicopters slammed the ground. The door flew open, and the soldiers disappeared into the darkness.

Before I could move, an unseen hand grabbed me, pushed me and I fell chest first into the sand. The silt from the desert floor coated my teeth and filled my mouth with a grinding crunch.

I pulled my helmet back from over my eyes, expecting the soldiers to be on the ground with me. Instead, they were on their knees, rifles cocked and pointed. They scanned the outskirts of the village through green video screens of night vision goggles.

So this is an air assault, I thought.

An air assault, the modern version of an insertion tactic the Army first used in Vietnam and the calling card for the 101st Airborne Division. Helicopters fly in the black of night and land with soldiers itching to move on an objective.

The objective today? A tiny village with mud homes that seemed cast from the bible more than the 21st Century. Soldiers searched through the morning for an insurgent thought to be living there who had killed five of their friends.

The man wasn’t there, and the soldiers ended with a disappointment they were reluctant to discuss. They happily talked about my “digger” that began the morning, though.

I have an excuse, though. They had night vision goggles. All I had was color blindness and compromised depth perception. Hey, you roll with the punches.

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 21, 4:20 p.m. local

BEIJI, Iraq - Fear. It’s a dirty word among the soldiers in Iraq. Even if they feel it, they don’t discuss it, or let anyone know it’s there.

They laugh at movies, gig each other and even play practical jokes. A passer-by can tell when they’re happy, homesick or pissed off.

But fear hides well in Iraq.

Maybe the battlefield makes normal men and women harder than they would be elsewhere.

Capt. Jamey Turner, commander of the unit I’m with, quickly reminds soldiers under his leadership that becoming a target is a matter of perception, and that the line separating a soldier from a targeted observer is thin.

If a soldier is scared, he will cross the line.

“If you look like an easy target, chances are you are one,” he often says, setting his jaw and locking his stare on them. “You’ve got to dominate your enemy.”

And they listen, these youngsters whose counterparts in the states are in school or partying on a Friday night.

Fear is here someplace, I’m sure. It’s just beaten every day.

____TUESDAY, Dec. 20, 9:30 p.m. local

ZUWAD KHALAF, Iraq - The voices came from the other side of a sand dune or over the radio, carrying an air of untouched desert in all directions.

“Found another one,” someone with a metal detector would yell as he swept the desert floor for buried explosives.

Soldiers pile into Humvees or run to help. After another five minutes, a yell would come and they would run again, burning with curiosity.

Missiles, rockets, mortars and mines, all wrapped in plastic and buried with care - mountains of them near a half-demolished brick building on an open desert plain in northern Iraq.

It was a rare moment. One in which soldiers let their guard down and enjoyed an accomplishment. They laughed and swore as they formed daisy chains of arms and hands to move the weapons from the ground into trucks to take them to be destroyed.

They sang lewd boot camp marches as they filled one truck, and still munitions appeared in sandy holes that looked like graves when emptied.

These soldiers knew the weapons they had found could just have easily been found by someone else, whoever it is making the bombs they find on the roadsides: Homegrown insurgents, foreign fighters, whoever.

But today the weapons were in American hands. They knew it and laughed loudly as cars slowed to watch on a highway in the distance.

SUNDAY, Dec. 18, 10:30 a.m. local

BEIJI, Iraq

Brunch in Iraq? Yup.

Every Sunday, the soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division are treated to an American-style brunch of scrambled eggs, pancakes, hash browns - the whole nine yards.

Now there aren’t glasses of mimosa or bloody marys on the table, and it’s still dished out with the lightning speed of a military meal.

But I suppose it’s the thought that counts.

___

SUNDAY, Dec. 18, 3:30 a.m. local

BEIJI, Iraq

A big screen TV flickered with images from half a world away - soldiers wives and children gathered at Fort Campbell during a live satellite feed.

It was a holiday present. A surprise.

One by one, sleep-deprived soldiers shuffled to a microphone, donned a floppy set of headphones to hear their loved ones thousands of miles away.

They laughed, watched as their children made faces into the camera, and wished their families the best for the holidays. It wasn’t a lot of time they had to talk, but it was striking how the Internet has affected even soldiers at war.

Just as paper-and-pen letters have fallen out of favor back home, soldiers in Iraq have the luxury of high-speed Internet connections to keep them from becoming strangers to their families during long deployments.

Every night, lines of soldiers of all ages file out of a bombed out building on Forward Operating Base Summerall where they can call, e-mail and see their families and friends via Web cams.

The downside may be for historians. When the history of the Iraq war is written, there won’t be any letters from soldiers to their friends and family to chronicle their days in the field.

___

FRIDAY, Dec. 16, 8:50 p.m. local

BEIJI, Iraq

You find yourself thinking in acronyms, nicknames and abbreviations if you live with the Army.

You swim in a pool of jargon and shorten everything.

After waking up in the morning ready to move, you are “G2G,” or good to go.

The soldiers strap on their “happy gear” or “battle rattle” and SP, start patrol.

There are even nicknames the soldiers use for their weapons. An M-16 is a musket. A .50 caliber machine gun jutting from the turret atop a Humvee is a “Ma Deuce.” There’s even a machine gun known as a “Saw.” Perhaps after the sound it makes.

It’s a dizzying world for an outsider.

But even I’ve found myself making appointments for interviews in military time and planning my day around “ops,” or operations. My “hygiene ops,” “chow ops,” “writing ops,” “sleep ops,” “e-mail ops.”

It’s an addictive way of speaking, even graceful - in a weird abbreviated way.

___

FRIDAY, Dec. 16, 2:15 p.m. local

SHARQAT, Iraq

Soldiers watched from a sandy hillside as an election they helped make possible went on without them.

Under strict orders to leave the process to the Iraqis, they paced anxiously as voters strolled casually into rundown buildings to vote in Iraq’s Sunni Arab Salahuddin province north of Baghdad.

They got into their Humvees, got out again, smoked cigarettes, chewed tobacco - anything to pass the time. They talked about guns, bragged about marksmanship and gave impersonations of “Dirty Harry” - all the while waiting for a calamity that never came.

The closest came when children from the village crowded the surrounding hillside, taunting them and asking for money. Their shrill cries sounded too much like a Western movie where indistinguishable voices come from the hillside.

An interpreter named “Norton” who travels regularly with soldiers from the 33rd Cavalry Regiment taunted the kids and tried to chase them down. But he stumbled where they seemed fleet-footed. The hillsides were their playground, and they knew the terrain well.

The night before the election, the soldiers slept on cots in an Iraqi ammunition depot outside Sharqat waiting for the election. I had awakened with them hours before sunrise to ride to a point in Sharqat where they could oversee the polling sites.

They wanted to be ready to move if anything happened but nothing did. We returned to post early this afternoon, showered and slept. Was it disappointment that kept them quiet on the way home?

The soldiers say that a boring day is a good day. So a boring election would be a good election. An election without bombs or IEDs would bring them one step closer to coming home, mission complete.

Staff Sgt. Jason Scapanski, 33, of St. Cloud, Minn., put it this way. “Sometimes it feels like we’re beating a dead horse, but maybe this here today will be the culmination of it all.”

___

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 14, 8:10 p.m. local

BEIJI, Iraq.

The radio had crackled just minutes before with a soldier screaming that his Humvee had hit an IED planted on the side of the road near Sharqa.

No one was injured, a tire was destroyed, and soldiers from the 33rd Cavalry Regiment’s Bravo Troop had begun searching nearby homes for someone, something, anything that might have been used as a detonator.

They found a young boy in a room that had walls covered in pictures of Hollywood models. A pornographic American film played on the television. The boy smiled sheepishly as soldiers led him into the courtyard where a group of women had gathered, laughing.

That’s when they found the old man, chained to the wall and pawing at a bowl of rice covered with flies in an alley filled with rotting food and feces. His beard was matted with grime, and he mumbled through chewed food that spilled from his mouth.

The man reached out as soldiers passed him. Maybe he was asking for help. Maybe he didn’t know what he was doing. I couldn’t look and began to gag.

The soldiers I’m with say they’ve seen this before in Iraq’s tribal villages: families that have chained relatives to the walls because of age, senility, disability or disfigurement. Apparently they are seen as an embarrassment to the family.

I had seen it once before. At another home just a block away, soldiers found a disfigured boy chained to the wall. They were talking excitedly about it when he somehow worked himself free from his shackles and wandered closer.

The soldiers spun around, offered him candy and shooed him away with yells.

Finally one soldier led him by the shoulder toward a group of women that were peering around a stone wall who seemed to know who he was.

The soldiers had just been attacked, and the boy was becoming a distraction.

The unit detained six men today from another house they searched after the explosion. They found automatic rifles, $900 in U.S. bills, license plates from Dubai and a picture of the homeowner standing next to Saddam Hussein’s brother.

But tonight, it’s the man in the alley and the boy on the street who have kept everyone talking.

Grey Eagle
“Air Assault”.


Purple Heart Recipient Describes Attack

Liberty
By Lance Cpl. Matthew K. Hacker, 2nd Force Service Support Group
Reprinted with permission from Blackfive

…Sitting in the second to last seat in the back, on the right side of the truck …She remembers talking with the female Seabee next to her, when a series of combined explosions violently lifted the truck from both sides.

“When it blew up, we all flew back and then forward again in our seats,” said Liberty. “I looked at the girl next to me and saw her bounce up and down in the flames. I just closed my eyes and waited for it to end. I felt myself being thrown in the air, but my eyes remained shut. When I impacted the ground, I realized nothing hurt. I felt everything that was happening, but it was like there was a bubble around me, because when I hit the ground and woke up, I felt no pain. I looked at my hands and saw the skin hanging off my left pinky finger, but it still didn’t hurt. Not then.”

On the ground and covered in dust, she knew it was an improvised explosive device. Later, Liberty said she learned it was constructed of five, 155-millimeter incendiary rounds and a few propane tanks. They had gone off about six feet from each side of the truck.

Trying to recover from the concussion and the ringing in her ears, she looked over and saw the Seabee she had spoken too just seconds before the blast.

“She was lying next to me, unconscious,” Liberty added. “I tried to pull her away from ground zero, but there was a firefight happening at the same time, so a few guys pulled me off and threw me against the wall. I wanted to go back for her, but the way the truck was positioned, it rolled over on top of her before I could.”

After the firefight died down and the injured Marines and sailors were recovered, they loaded onto another vehicle and headed straight for the Battalion Aid Station at Camp Fallujah, said Liberty.

“We then just jumped on another seven-ton and drove away,” Liberty said. “We all just sat there in silence, except for the sounds of discomfort and pain. I can still see the people with their skin hanging off of them. I remember seeing this girl with blood all over her flak jacket and the skin on her fingers falling off. Then, suddenly the silence broke, when a girl in the back of the truck started singing, Amazing Grace. I remember praying to God, and thanking Him that I was alive.”…

Lance Corporal Liberty was one of the last to be brought into the CSH. Her second and third degree burns were treated and she was thought to be stable when doctors discovered that she had a vertebrae injury. She returned to the states for medical treatment, and she was recently awarded the Purple Heart.

…”It was extremely hard to accept, knowing all the people that had died,” said Liberty [about receiving the Purple Heart]. “It’s nothing you can train or practice for, and you always receive it under the worst circumstances.”

Liberty will undergo surgery in Florida next month, where they will put a metal plate between her C4 and C5 vertebraes in an attempt to stabilize the break.

In light of the life-altering events she’s been through, she’s still moving forward in her life. Liberty married on Sept. 19, after getting engaged right before she left for Iraq in February.

“It’s been a rough engagement,” Liberty said, with a light, but respectful chuckle. Liberty said, that even though it has been almost four months since the incident, she still has thoughts of that day.

“I wonder what would have happened if those guys wouldn’t have pulled me away from the truck,” she added. “I imagine what would have happened if I had the strength to pull her away. I’m sure that will always stay with me. Honestly, my mind and my heart hurt way more than my body ever will.”

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Erin Liberty (from Niceville, Florida), an ammunition technician with Ammunition Company, 2nd Supply Battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group, sustained several injuries when an improvised explosive device blew up near her convoy near Camp Fallujah, Iraq, June 23.

Grey Eagle
“Air Assault”

To help and solve the mystery that I have been emailed about. Yes, Lance Corporal Liberty was on the truck that was attcked in which three female soldiers were killed. There was only one female SeeBee killed that day… Regina Clark. So Lance Corporal Liberty gives you a first hand account into the deadliest day for females in Marine history.


Female GI: I'm just here to do my job


Reprinted article from the Stars & Stripes. FOB McHenry is in Kirkuk, Iraq which is also where FOB Warrior where I am deployed at is also located. FOB McHenry is also home to one of my best Army buddies from Charlie Company who is there serving with the Aid Station & on convoys. I thought this reprint would give a nice touch to life here at the holiday season.

Greatly outnumbered, female soldiers hold their own at FOB McHenry

By Anita Powell, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, November 27, 2005

FORWARD OPERATING BASE McHENRY, Iraq - It’s a man’s world.

Or at least that’s how it feels on this tiny, spartan forward operating base in northern Iraq, where fewer than 20 women share living space, base facilities and a shower with three infantry companies.

For some, the overwhelming odds are cause for good-natured grumbling. For others, they’re a negligible fact of life on a remote base. For all, it seems, they’re a conversation starter.

The base’s women, all members of a support unit from the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division of Fort Campbell, Ky., said life on the testosterone-filled base can be trying at times.

More women, said Pfc. Josett Campbell, 20, “would take the heat off” those who are here now.

The high male-to-female ratio, coupled with the base’s rampant infantile infantry humor - the most popular joke seems to consist, in endless variations, of one infantryman accusing the other of homosexual tendencies - has only intensified the boys’ club atmosphere, the women say.

As a result, “You have to kind of stick together,” Campbell said. “We stick up for each other. To some males, we’re a piece of meat.”

Christal Lopez, 20, said she also tires of being typecast. “Being a female, I guess males see you as weaker, they automatically want to help you,” she said. “I get tired of it.”

Her roommate, Pvt. Amber Bice, 20, was more upbeat.

“It’s not that bad,” she said brightly. “I’m used to being around brothers.”

However, she added, “there are a couple of [infantrymen] I’d love to smash in the head, for writing things on port-o-potties.”

Other female soldiers say they’ve had no problems adapting to the environment.

“I don’t care who looks at me, honestly,” said Pfc. Shannon Root, 24. “I’m just here to do my job.”

There also are advantages to being in the minority, Spc. Sherell Humes, 22, has discovered.

“Females usually get better rations at the [dining facility] than males,” she said. “I get a lot of extra stuff when I go in there.”

She pointed to a box of muffins in her bedroom, which she shares with Bice and Lopez.

“A guy brought them to us,” she said. “And he brought a box of juice. I didn’t ask for it, but I’m grateful for it.”

The men on base offered varying opinions on the fact that FOB McHenry has barely enough women to fill a calendar. (Though many male soldiers have evened the odds by decorating their living areas with calendars featuring women who would be decidedly out of place among their camouflage-clad sisters.)

“We need more women,” said Pfc. Frederick Turner, 23. “It’ll bring the morale up. Look at any other [forward operating base]. Will it hurt to have more [women]?”

The overwhelming majority, however, said they preferred the base to house few or no women.

“I don’t think they should be on here,” said Pfc. Stephen Ballard, 21. “On some bases, but not out here. The conditions are bad.”

“I think we could focus better on our mission with not so many females here,” said Capt. Cedric Burden. “It would be harder if [the ratio] were fifty-fifty.”

If it were up to some soldiers, the two sexes would inhabit separate planets.

“It’s so easy to make an [equal opportunity] complaint, most people just stay away from them,” Pfc. Michael Hatten, 19, said of the female soldiers. “I think if there were more of them, more things would happen.”

Other soldiers compared the base to a well-known duty station where women are in famously short supply - and high demand.

“It’s baby Korea,” joked Spc. William McDonald, 24.

Squabbles aside, there is one point on which the sexes agree.

“Those soldiers are combat multipliers, regardless of their sex,” said Capt. Mike Zoldak, battalion effects coordinator.

“They bring as much to this [forward operating base] as any male soldier.”

� 2003 Stars and Stripes. All Rights Reserved.

Grey Eagle
“Air Assault!”.


Merry Christmas

I Was At The Ramp Ceremony For One Of These Three Soldiers. Sadly three new tributes will be added:

DoD Identifies Army Casualties

The Department of Defense announced today the deaths of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. They died in Baghdad, Iraq, on Dec. 23, when an improvised explosive device detonated near their HMMWV. Both soldiers were assigned to the Army Reserve’s 351st Civil Affairs Command, Mountain View, Calif.

Killed were:

Sgt. Regina C. Reali, 25, of Freso, Calif.

Spc. Cheyenne C. Willey, 36, of Fremont, Calif.

DoD Identifies Army Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier
who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Sgt. Myla L. Maravillosa, 24, of Wahiawa, Hawaii, died in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Dec. 24, of injuries sustained earlier that day in Al Hawijah, Iraq, when her HMMWV was attacked by enemy forces using rocket-propelled grenades. Maravillosa was assigned to the Army Reserve’s 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.

And yes, I am in KirKuk, Iraq as you know, so you know where she was when she was taken from this earth from her injuries. I can tell you that she was struck by a RPG, and it was a very sad loss. My heart goes out to her family and I can assure them that we did everything we could to save her. I know Christmas Eve will never be the same for them, and I express my deepest sorrow at the family’s loss.

As you can see, the insurgents do not celebrate Christmas, and it has been a very busy period here for us. Please understand the delay in my posts as a result of their increase in their activities. Also we have been under a gag order until this soldier’s family could be notified.

Merry Christmas and may this holiday be one of joy for you and your family. Let next years holiday season hopefully be one of peace on earth and good will towards men.


The Tear Of Awakening

Spec. Russell Nahvi

You read of the fallen soldiers. You cry when you see their pictures, your heart is heavy. You wonder about them, what they may have been like, and in some cases you search the back of your mind and wonder have you have ever met them. On some you pause a little longer than others, something caught your eye and you stare into the picture and take that extra second to read about them. Your mind attempts to vaguely capture what the horror in that moment and what it must have been like, and then you notice the tear gently gliding down your cheek. A single tear, a tear dedicated to them, your silent memorial.

I knew a soldier. No, I knew a man who became a soldier. A wonderful man. Full of life, full of humor, who found the positive side of the challenges that awaited us. He had completed basic training, as all of us had and was now in AIT (Advance Training) to become a medic. To take that final step to become a soldier.

Ours was special calling, for we sang the cadence of soldiers, honoring those who fought before us, but would be handed a bag of bandages and tools to save lives, long before we would be issued our first weapon. Where other soldiers learned to avoid incoming mortars and gunfire, and to flank the enemy, we learned how to dash in the mist of the mayhem, and return with a wounded soldier who we would then attempt with every ounce of our skill, prayer and dedication to send home to devote to his loved ones, a proud and honored hero. To make that sacrifice reflects in the character of a combat medic, and Spec. Russell Nahvi lead the way in that character.

I shook and the tears flowed as if I mourned for thousands of people who never met him as I read the account of his death. I still have pictures at home of him and the rest of the gang hanging out at the cabins at a lake in San Antonio Texas as we sought refuge from the barracks and camouflage clothing of what had become our life. As I stood in the sands of Iraq,I cursed this place, I hated it all, I hated being away from my family, I hated conditions, I hated the crap, I hated everything about this place, and I hated what it had done my comrade, my long lost brother, my friend. My knees weakened as I read “on a patrol Oct. 19, a bomb hidden in a pothole dismembered him and incinerated his Humvee. Two other Americans were also killed. One soldier survived: a platoon sergeant who managed to wrench himself out of the vehicle, flames rolling off him. An officer handed Nahvi’s mother, Nancy, a form asking if she wanted her 24-year-old son’s body parts returned if they were recovered.” - no body was returned home.

The anger filled me. I felt a change come over me. I didn’t know who I hated more the people who had done this to such a wonderful young man, who had vowed to preserve life, or the anti-war movement who would use him as just another number and a story to promote their views, never even knowing that he had such a caring spirit or the pride he held in being a soldier.

I couldn’t think, suddenly this large base grew very small. I took a vehicle and left, not really caring anymore where it took me. I ended up at the gym where I attempted to work off my frustration, my sadness, redirect my tears. When I returned no one spoke to me, they could see the change that had come over me, and feared its release.

Today I am still wrestling with the emotions. I suppose he was no different from any other soldier who perished in this conflict, except that I knew him. I suppose no one would find him remarkable in his picture to stop long enough to read that his body will remain in Iraq forever cast into the sands. I suppose he was no more a hero than any of the other 2100 (+) soldiers who have perished, except to those whose lives he touched with his humor. I know that a piece of him is within me, his death was not in vain. His prayer was fulfilled for I am proud of him for the way he served and for the honor in which he approached the mission, and that 56 days later the Iraqi’s would hold a free election to take that first step in restoring peace. His prayer had been answered.

(BALAD, Iraq) Long before he came to Iraq, Spec. Russell Nahvi hoped to save the world. In a spiral-bound notebook filled with math equations, he jotted his secret yearnings: “I PRAY one day I can make the world proud of me. I hope I can restore an unknown peace to wartorn nations, peoples, families, friends.” - Washington Post December 13th 2005

Today marks the 2nd month of his death. Though the name Russell Nahvi may not become a household name, it may never be entered in any history books, or even be remembered except by those who knew and loved him, his blood remains in the soil of Iraq, and he will forever be apart of this nation he helped to set free.

As for me. I see the wounded come through here every day. I am still inspired by their bravery, and their courage. Though I did not, with much regret follow Spec. Russell Nahvi after we parted AIT, I know the man who became a soldier, and stood with him the day we became soldiers in the United States Army, we became combat medics, and I stood with the gentle man with the great sense of humor, and I believe that he would have never wanted me or anyone to be so full of hate. I am learning to reconcile my emotions and now I am just angry, a step down from the rage that burned within me days ago. There are still days I hate this place. I want to go home. I want to see and feel safe in my husbands arms, and hold my children. Strange as it sounds, I wish to seek a move from the comforts and security (as opposed to the line troops) that I enjoy here and spend more time among the people with the line soldiers, to make a greater difference. So I guess I don’t hate this place as much as I hate what it represents, the death and destruction, the loss, my family, the many ungrateful citizens of a spoiled nation that I defend.

But I know while writing this post I shed my memorial tear to Spec. Russell Nahvi, but I did not pause to picture his final moment of horror, instead I remembered the man standing on the steps of a cabin smiling in his gentle way, the man that stood in formation with me the day he became a soldier.

Spec. Russell Nahvi was assigned to the 5th Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, part of the 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga. The unit’s year-long combat tour is now in its final days of their deployment.

Grey Eagle
“Air Assault!”

Spec. Russell Nahvi was laid to rest today (12/23/05) at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery with full Military Honors. A church service was held in Ellisville, Missouri. Clayton road which runs in front of the church was manned by the Ellisville Fire Department with their large fire trucks and large American flag over Clayton road. Police Departments of Ellisville, Ballwin, Manchester and the Highway Patrol made sure there were no problems with the procession on their way to Jefferson Barracks. The Fire Department of Manchester had their large fire trucks on Highway 141 with a large American flag over Hwy 141. Services at Jefferson Barracks were private but at the front gate there were several people lining both sides of the road each holding a small American Flags to pay their tributes and honor a fallen soldier. God speed Spec. Russell Nahvi.


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

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