While I have so recently been reminded by our friends in the 101st Chairborne that I’m some arugula-chomping, word-chopping, bubble-bound faux-American, it happens that even folks from my particular corner of Alinskystan talk to people whose daily life is as real as it gets.
Which is to say that one of my friends most often in my thoughts is an infantryman to the bone, decades in uniform, absolutely dedicated to the idea of service and his men. He’s an enlisted man, on his third tour in the Iraq/Afghanistan long war — and you can take this to the bank: if you or your child had to hump up some hill where folks sought to do him ill, you’d want my friend there too. He’s one of nature’s sergeants, I’m trying to say, the kind of guy who knows what he’s doing to some very deep level, and takes the use of that knowledge as an obligation he owes anyone under gaze.
In December, I wrote him a quick note — just a “happy holidays – hope you’re OK” kind of thing. When I got his reply, I asked for permission to post it here — which I’ve just received.
My friend speaks for himself. I’m not going to gloss it further except to say this: I’m past tolerating being told by comfortable American Exceptionalists about the necessity of the next war, or the war after that. My friend and his friends carry the load for all such Dulce et Decorum posturing.
So. Notes from Over There:
I am still in Afghanistan in [Deleted] province at an altitude of [Deleted] feet. We have no heat in our bee huts (plywood shacks that sleep six), the temperature at night is in the low teens. They tell us they are working on getting a heater.
It is a tough tour. We lost six men to an IED three days before Christmas, [not his unit] we worked closely together and I knew them well. We have lost twenty Americans since I arrived. Today I was on an air mission we flew high into the mountains in a heavily Taliban controlled area, luckily we had no trouble. War is a strange thing, going out on missions almost everyday and not knowing if it will be your last day on earth.
We work with the provincial governors and sub governors to build roads, bridges, schools, and give out humanitarian aid, but the leaders steal most of the money and little gets down to the people. I am out in the boonies, we fire artillery all day and night and they rocket us. Soldiers…are killed and wounded almost weekly, the call goes out over the loud speaker all this type or that type of blood report to the aid station. I have carried wounded on to helicopters in the field and carried others off the helicopters back at base. It always makes my eyes water and heart hurt to see their broken bodies. It is surreal. I will finish my tour in [Deleted], I had a short leave home in [Deleted]. It is interesting; we raid villages at night and capture terrorist responsible for the bombings, we caught the ones who killed the Polish the night before last.
I am fine. I am an old soldier, and still tough, I plan missions and lead them and so far, thank God, I have not lost one of my men. The fighting in Ramadi Iraq was more bloody, but this place is no joke either. I will never understand why nations go to war, I know the politics, countries do bad things, but it is so ugly. I now have a collection of faces of men that I knew who have been killed in action that live in my head. I am sorry to write like this but I guess I was feeling philosophical.
I hope you join me in sending every good wish and hope to my friend. That is all.
Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, Old Soldier, undated — first half of the seventeenth century.