I finally found the letters I had stashed away for all these years. They were in an ugly little box tucked away in a closet, just as I suspected. After sorting through them, I chose a few of my favorites, and compiled statements for readers to browse through for a taste of life in 2003 and 2004.
From an anonymous student:
April 23, 2004
Hello, my name is Kay. We are watching “Saving Private Ryan” in our English class. As I watch I wonder, is this how it really is or do they show all this violence for the sake of our entertainment? I’ve got two older brothers that were over there; one is now out of the Marines and the other is going back for the second time. It’s scary when there are people you love over there and you never really know if they are okay or not. We only heard from my brothers a few times when they were there. Because it takes so long for the mail to get back and forth, which I’m sure you already know. I was just wondering what you do over there and how long you have been there and how much longer you have to stay…wanted to say Thank You for all you have done for the U.S. while you have been over there.
Part of a letter I did not actually send:
First of all it’s very humid. I’m never dry…always sweaty. Don’t worry, but it is still dangerous here. We have our Engineer Village along the West Wall [of BIAP]. This is a favorite spot for the Fedayeen, the Baath Party, and Iranians to launch mortars…Luckily so far the incidents have been minor. Nothing more than a mortar here or there and a few quick shots over the wall. We haven’t been officially attacked…I’ve been doing a lot of foreman and NCO/leader stuff. I’m coming into my own now, feeling better about my position. The Iraqi men on the projects will ask me questions about cement, soils, etc. and respect my expertise (if any?). Some are cautious about talking to me and most do not shake my hand. I think it is custom…not prejudice…
Today I went to the Gates of Hell in downtown Baghdad for a ceremony practice. Tomorrow the brigade commander for First Armor Division will relinquish command…I’ll be in another ceremony, this time as the guidon bearer for the company. The Gates of Hell is a gorgeous monument: arches that look like two arms with crossed sabers. I got pictures, so you will get to see them.
Mysterious letter dated on my birthday, writer unknown:
October 9, 2003
How are things in Baghdad, Iraq? Everyday lately on the news we see that our men and women are getting killed. I trust that you are okay. I pray that you are…I am glad you like the [care package] items. I went by the list your CO put out…About the tape — you didn’t mention the kind of tape that works best for you so I sent “Duck” tape. I’m grateful for the person that invented this product; there are hundreds of uses for this item…
What do you do about the dust problem? Do they supply you with dust masks? What can be done about the dust that settles in your lungs each day? If it stays in there and stacks up won’t that cause problems in the future…health problems?
Survived the Easter Attack, 2004.
Letter from an ex who joined the Air Force:
…just finished my first week of Tech School. I don’t know if you had them but we got these stupid things called phases where we are limited as to what we can do. This phase concept blows absolute ass, because seeing how I just got here I am in Phase 1, and in Phase 1 you have to be in your dorm by 2200 every night…Plus you have to be in BDUs all the time except when in your room…not to mention no alcohol until Phase 2.
OKAY TIME OUT. If you are an Army veteran who went to Basic Training and AIT circa 2000 like me you are probably laughing at this joker right now because he is totally whining about PRIVILEGES that we Army grunts NEVER got. I have no idea about training for the Navy or Marines, but seriously. The Air Force is spoiled. Let’s read more, shall we?
So right now I’m pretty disappointed, but at least it isn’t basic training…I’m sorry I didn’t write to you while I was in BMT (Basic Military Training), I just didn’t have time. It’s kinda funny. I was talking to one of my real good friends…and he just couldn’t believe I made it through Basic Training without talking back to anyone…I don’t know how I made it…it really wasn’t that bad, I mean besides the yelling. I lost 20 pounds, then put on 7 pounds of muscle, so I’m feeling pretty good right now…proud of myself.
The part about BMT that did make me smile was Warrior Week. If you didn’t know, Warrior Week was a week we spent at a mock forward deployment camp. Tents, MREs, fake MIGs, the whole nine yards. We did the confidence course, the tactical assault course, road march, all that war game stuff. Only thing is we didn’t really do any war games, which is the whole point to the week…I thought the best part was shooting the M16; it was hella fun and I missed getting expert marksman by 2 but I can retest in six months. But the real reason I kept a smile on my face is because I remembered a certain someone telling me about her National Guard war games experience…I don’t know why, but the second day of Warrior Games I got the thought of you doing your little war games stuff stuck in my head and I couldn’t quit smiling all Warrior Week. The thought of you runnin’ around in a Kevlar helmet with BDUs or fatigues or whatever you call them made me smile…At the time you told me, I only had a mental picture to go by, couldn’t really put myself in that spot. And then Bam! There it was, I was at Warrior Week understanding what you were talking about and being like “Damn, this is what G-money did, well kinda did.”
Yeah, he called me G-money when we were dating. Okay back to Army stuff.
Rough draft to my father:
15 October, 2003
Hi! How are you? I am fine…back from a run! We ran a mile, then turned around and alternated sprinting, walking and jogging on the way back. After that we lifted weights to work our biceps. I had a really good time…Today is our phone day, I mean at midnight our phone day begins. I’ll try to stay awake to call Mom. Our cell phone was taken away. And now AT&T is running a monopoly. The bastards are ripping us off so from now on I’m boycotting AT&T! The battalion still has four phones, and the company gets them every five days, so I’ll just have to call then. At least the battalion phones are on a [better] exchange rate, not like AT&T which charges 92 cents per minute.
A memo from a constituent services representative from Senator Tom Daschle’s office:
Tuesday, June 15 2004
At the pie and coffee social in Belle Fourche, I met with a woman…She and her husband were helping raise her beautiful grandson…two years old, but his mother hadn’t seen him for either of his birthdays because she was serving in Iraq. [The] grandparents had placed pictures of [the] mom on the refrigerator, and the little boy would walk up to the pictures and kiss them. [He] was an absolutely charming little boy; he had bright blue eyes and was wearing a floppy red hat that he refused to take off during the entire social. He immediately jumped into my arms and gave me a big hug while his grandparents watched and laughed. Her parents wanted [the boy] to meet Tom and talked about how important it was to watch out for our troops, and make sure they are properly protected and taken care of.
ASIDE: My son did get to meet Senator Daschle, and became a big fan of Tom. At another pie and coffee social in Belle Fourche during the 2004 campaign my little monster wouldn’t stop yelling “where’s Tom Daschle!?” during Tom’s entire speech, so his wife Linda gave him a tour of the campaign bus to keep him occupied. At our redeployment ceremony both Senator Daschle and Governor Rounds were accosted by him because by that time he had developed a fetish for sticking his hand into men’s blazer pockets to find “treasures”.
Letter from a Vietnam Veteran in Idaho:
Hope this finds you safe and well. I talked with your dad last Sunday. He said you were caught up in the 90 day extension. I know it seems like a dirty trick. I got caught in one in 1969 while in Korea. I watch a couple hours of war news every day. It is hard to believe…we don’t get much feedback on the good things that are going on. We are well into Spring now; the blue birds are back. I hope you know and will let your friends know that we support you and pray for your safe and speedy return home.
I heard about the Baghdad Boils, must be sand fleas? In Nam there were leeches, snakes, and the occasional tiger. I was planning to go to South Dakota when the school year was over but I think I’ll wait until you come home. Gas is at $2.00 a gallon. I am hoping to get caught up this spring. I haven’t got your letter yet; I keep waiting got your mom to forward it. I think she may be a little preoccupied, you suppose? Be well, be safe, keep the faith.
Another friend from the Air Force, this time an Academy graduate:
10 September @ 9:30 p.m.
I found that other letter I wrote on my co-worker’s desk. I was pleased to see it because I actually wrote down some thoughts I was meditating on, and they were significant to me. What’s up? Today I went to talk to some high school kids about the Academy. I really think that they were bored because the teacher kept steering the subject onto the semantics on it. You know, what’s the commitment, what exactly do you pay for… I wanted to talk about the fun parts, challenges, prestige, and benefits of going there (of course I included the service to the nation thing too). Oh well, we also talked about being a “special agent” but it was hard to gauge their reaction. I’m sure they enjoyed it… I kind of like public speaking. It hasn’t presented any problem as far as nervousness or anxiety. Only time I felt fidgety was when I was briefing a one star about the status of my squadron. However, as long as I know the general topic I can usually get by. Not to say I’m any good at tit. I just don’t hate it or avoid it…
Giving the flight simulator a spin at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Then I went to work out during lunch. It’s really nice to knock out most if not all my lifting during my 45 minute workout. Hardly anyone is there and I can really focus on the task. Except for the occasional girl; that’s a give-me (is that the term or is it “givey”?) Then in the afternoon (after work) I can run and be out quick to enjoy my night of reading and writing to you and cooking, witch is a learning process for me (very hard to make a good meal). By the way, if you’re thinking “what guy reads, writes, and cooks at night? He’s gotta be gay…no man does this for fun.” Well my DVD player went out and so I have nothing but the radio and SNL and Family Guy on my computer. That only lasts so long before picking up some books. Currently I’m trying to improve my memory with a memory techniques book. You reading anything over there?
Getting back to my day, after lunch I came back to work in my gym clothes. I started washing cars and did about six cars. Fun, right? After 3-4 hours of that I noticed how much time people take out of their day with smoke breaks. I have the occasional cig on a weekend, but even that is bad. If I were General of the Military I would not allow smoking in uniform or on base. What do you think? Am I way off here? Honestly, I don’t mind washing cars and putting my back into it. You know what I hate is the 200 jackass/smartass comments as [people] walk by. Here are some of my favorites: “you washing cars, huh?” (No, I’m massaging the car’s wax coat you stupid fuck!) “You going to do mine next?” (Yeah, El Fucko, just as soon as I’m done using your office for a shitter!”) and last but not least, “you missed a spot…” (Holy shit! Why did you open your mouth?! You’re a freakin’ moron. Lay down and put your head under the tire so I can release the parking brake and put you to use!)
Allright, that was pretty much my Wednesday. Still looking for a letter, but no worries. You just relax and try to keep healthy and strong. Hmmm, I wonder if/when we’ll ever see each other again?
Your Friend on the Same Continent
Quick note from my Battle Buddy from Advanced Individual Training:
Wanted to add this quick letter to your package. Hope it gets to you near the holidays. I’m certainly not expectin’ miracles though…My boys are doing well, the third boy on the way. After that I will find out my plan for duty…Our unit left on the 10th of December for Fort Sill…they will train up for three months roughly, then head out…I really admire your strength Battle. I can just see that big white smile through all that beige and brown out there. I have you all in my heart. You just hold a special spot. Love you and Happy Holidays!
A Baghdad sunset.