Sunday, July 17, 2005

Letter from a soldier

Sunny Hi 120 Lo 90 for Baghdad, Iraq
Scattered Thunderstorms Hi 86 Lo 71 for NKY, USA

Song of the Week: Learn to Fly -- Foo Fighters

Good Morning!

Anyone that knows Michael and I knows how much we love an air show. Our usual goal is to hit both days of the Dayton Air Show and up to Cleveland at the end of the summer for a weekend of aviation entertainment. Yesterday we went to the Dayton Air Show. A number of issues were plaguing Saturdays events. A week ago today, one of the well known civilian acts, The Masters of Disaster took a huge blow- Jimmy Franklin and Bobby Younkin were killed when they collided at an air show in Moose Jaw, Canada. Over the years, Michael and I have seen how close the air show community is and this was devastating. Jimmy Franklin, for those of you that may not be familiar was this guy... that flew a WACO bi-plane... one small modification, he had a jet engine mounted underneath... Talk about on the edge aerobatics... wow... My sympathy goes to the family and friends of these 2 pilots. They will be missed...

Jimmy Franklin
Bobby Younkin

In addition to the melancholy feel of the show, the weather was not cooperating. It rained off and on... The clouds were real low too, so the performers couldn't do a thing... An F-117 went up, but came right back down because he had an engine that went out... not good. We did get to see 2 F/A-18's, the Canadian version too, an F-15. Glacier Girl, a P-38 was to do the Heritage Flight with the F-15, but again, due to the low ceiling and crappy weather... no such luck...

Our biggest disappointment was not being able to see the F-22 Raptor. This is the brand new jet, it was only scheduled to appear at 4 air shows this season... Dayton, being one of them... oh well...

However, as a gentle reminder to myself, Rob Reider once said (prior to 9/11), "Air shows are probably one of the last places where a person can be patriotic without feeling silly about themselves."

So, amidst all our disappointment, we were then witness to something extraordinary. We watched a group of young men and women being inducted into the Air Force. I can't express how proud I am of them. I pray that God will keep you all safe and comfort your parents while you are away.

Now, the following letter is from Sgt. Michael O'Rourke. It was forwarded to me by Tom Fecher and Kyle Smithson. Please read the letter in its entirety as it is powerfully written and gives a vivid picture of what our troops must endure. It also gives us an opportunity to see into the heart of a soldier.

Sgt. O'Rourke: Thank you for allowing me to post your letter. Thank you for your service. Please know that I and countless others support you and your mission. Please be careful and come home safely.

It's been a time since I last wrote any account of my pleasant adventures here in Iraq. Naturally I'd like to write more oft, but slow computers and little time obviates that endeavor. Just so, I still manage to punch out a few words every now and then, as the following lines will testify:

From the foregoing events of late spring, I'd like to press on to July, more than two months subsequent to my last long e-mail. Life in Iraq isn't fun. Since my last, we have moved twice, been shot at a few times, responded to 3 or 4 bombings, and almost got bombed again. We (my platoon) were stationed a goodly ways north of Baghdad, but we moved in the beginning of June and re-joined our company in Rustamiyah. We stayed there for nearly two weeks then moved to this, our present location. A few noteworthy incidents which occurred while still up north were an accident and a bombing. I was involved in the former, but we merely responded to the latter.
The accident I speak of occurred around mid-May. We were doing a patrol along the highway when we saw a couple of Iraqis pulled over on the shoulder of the road. Following routine procedures, we attempted to circle them in our humvees but as my vehicle was getting in position, a big truck rammed into it with frightening suddenness. I guess the driver of the truck didn't realize we were doing a circular maneuver. Too, I think he was paying more attention to his fellow Iraqis on the side of the road than the road ahead of him. In any case, my gunner saw him hauling right at us and gave a shout of warning. My driver slammed on the breaks. The driver in the truck hit his breaks too, but it was too late; he smashed us. The collision could have been worse; nevertheless, my gunner up in the turret was injured. We had to call a medevac for him. He has been gone ever since. I believe he's in physical therapy right now back at Ft. Polk.

A few weeks following that accident, we received a mission to respond to an IED attack several leagues south of our base. When we arrived on the scene, we cordoned off the area, gathered intelligence, then took a look at the carnage wrought by the bomb. It wasn't an IED attack, but a VBIED attack. VBIED's are vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. They are usually placed in cars, driven by suicidal bombers, and are deadly. This particular one was driven by a suicidal insurgent from Syria, and we found pieces of him all over the street - a hand, his upper jaw, part of his face. The Syrian targeted a convoy, drove right for a humvee, then blew it - and himself - to kingdom come. The driver of the humvee was killed instantly, and the team leader had one of his arms blown off. These two soldiers were already taken away by the time we got there, but we saw the interior of the humvee... it was a ghastly sight. Most of us glared almost paralyzed, our brains refusing to acknowledge what our eyes were seeing. The suicidal bomber also killed a civilian in this attack, an innocent Iraqi just driving by at the wrong place and at the wrong time. His body was still there when we arrived, lifeless, in his driver's seat, with a horrid wound the size of a golf ball in his neck. Such grisly images are enough to shake a man to his soul's foundation.

-Next Day-
Anyway, that was back in May. For the most part, other than the two 'aforementioned incidents, the rest of our time up north proved uneventful. One night we had our tents ripped down by a terrific windstorm. Another time, we encountered an Iraqi family while out on patrol. Well, we were ostensibly doing a patrol... in truth, we were out in the desert doing some target shooting. The Iraqis - a man, his wife, and their four children - were out collecting brass casings for a pittance. One of the daughters, a dirty big-eyed child, started to roam from humvee to humvee trying dispiritedly to vend her plastic bracelets. I bought a few and slipped the girl a $50 bill. Fifty bucks is the equivalent of a small fortune by way of Iraqi currency. The little one flashed me a five-hundred watt smile, and I reckon her family will be eating well for the next four months. Alas, all generosity must be selfish. It makes you feel good all over. Most of the families we meet extol us and give us high acclaim - especially the children. Their favorite English phrase? "Saddam no good, Bush good."
All told, our time up north wasn't bad. We had a lot of time off, got plenty of rest, and even had some fun. That all changed when we joined our company in the beginning of June. Now, in the area of Baghdad, we run missions every day with little rest or respite.

To be sure, it (Baghdad) is a bloody dangerous place. Pictures are flat surfaces; descriptions are dead things - they don't prepare you for the staggering phenomenon of actual war. The insurgents are devils. In Iraq, all is a masquerade where men and women hide their real intentions with a smooth mask. But who is friend, and who is foe? The media back home would paint a pleasant picture of the typical Iraqi, but they have more faith in the Iraqi soul than I have; they aren't the ones getting car bombs and rpg's thrown down their collars.
About three weeks ago, my squad was traveling back to our FOB after doing a mission. It was getting late and darkness came swiftly in the city, seeming to flow in almost tangible waves down the black streets, and ooze out of the blacker entrances of the alleys and buildings. We were steering along when we suddenly heard the much feared, KABOOM. At first, I thought the bomb hit the vehicle behind me - like last time - but then I saw a white plume of smoke about 400 meters ahead of us. I also noticed that there was another convoy to our front, some other unit, and they were the ones that got hit. Well, my squad (three vehicles) immediately stopped and got into our defensive positions. As soon as we stopped, gunfire erupted. From which direction it came, I could but dimly guess. I knew the shots were close. When you hear gunfire, it sounds like, 'pop-pop-pop-pop,' kind of like a popcorn machine. When the fire is close and coming at you, however, it makes a loud 'CRACK.' We hit the ground, and that more than swiftly.
I make bold to remark that, whilst under such circumstances, I possess a certain equanimity that astonishes even myself. Oddly enough, I become most alive whilst under fire. Every sense is honed by the knowledge of the imminence of death. Primitive instincts, slumbering in the average man, are whetted to a razor's-edge by days of constant hazard. Every nerve, muscle, and artery in my body becomes steel and fire, bound together with the co-ordination, the fighting instinct, that makes a man a warrior.... Bah! Would that it were so! After we took cover on the ground, I remember fiddling with my night vision goggles. It was utterly damnable. I couldn't get the accursed things on. I tried to mount the device on my helmet, but I dropped the dadgasted bracket that attaches them.
Night-time in Baghdad, bullets flying, bombs exploding, and O'Rourke crawling around the ground on all-fours looking for a piece of equipment he dropped - intense drama giving way to high comedy. I quickly concluded that, if I were to ever get the blamed goggles on, I'd have to take off my helmet in order to do it. A simple thing, but only a fool would take his helm off when bullets are a-flying. After a few minutes passed, we scampered back into our HUMVEE - it being nigh bulletproof - and I got on the radio with the rest of my squad. One of the other teams said the rounds were being fired at my position. The sergeant of the team said he saw tracers flying across the street from a housing area toward the general location of my truck. I told him we were safe and, for the time being, weren't about to move anywhere. I then took the opportunity to don my night vision goggles without mishap.
Once I was able to see, I re-positioned our vehicle so it blocked a road that entered the road wherein the bomb went off. Not a few cars came down that road, and we had to fire a few rounds in front of those vehicles so their drivers could see the error in their route. After about 30 minutes or so, a quick reaction force arrived. Through the spectral grayness of my night vision device, I vaguely saw a squad of these soldiers doing a foot patrol in the housing area across the street - the area where the shots were fired from. They stalked furtively from house to house like the embodied spirits of Vengeance and Retribution, seeking the doom of all insurgent kind. With the reaction force came a few translaters. A few members of my squad, along with an interpreter, scouted out a nearby home on our side of the road. Within one of the brick and mud buildings, they found an old Iraqi man who kept babbling something about the bomb that went off. The interpreters questioned him for about an hour, trying to gather some intel from the old fellow.

Meanwhile, a few more shots went screaming in the night. Somebody said it was warning shots fired by the unit ahead of us. Others said it was enemy fire. Nobody knew for sure. Then, from across the street, an eerie wailing began and the sound of it lent an eldritch feel to an already chaotic night. Evidently, across the street from where we were, there stood a mosque. I reckon it was prayer time in the Islam world, and every mosque in the country has loudspeakers on the outside of it. When time for prayer arrives, the speakers blare forth their weird and loud chants. The Muslim prayers were soon drowned out by three or four Apache helicopters which suddenly appeared overhead. The combination of it all provided a bizarre atmosphere, a surreal experience you'd expect to see in movies.. And it turned out to be a long, long night, weird, weary, dreary, and long. When it was finally all over with, we drove the remaining twelve or so miles back to the FOB, feeling glazed and unreal.

All is not bombs, missions, and gunfire. While we do stay busy, there are some hours of down-time and rest. Even on certain missions, there are times where we don't do much at all. At such times, I often fall into deep contemplation... Sometimes I sit and ponder these ancient lands once peopled by half-mythical races. How old is this realm? What do we really know about the Middle East of pre-history? Who lived here during the early ages? What vast empires lurked behind the dawn represented by Iraq and by Babylon? Maybe there were gigantic black cities from whose ruins the first Babylon rose, a last mirrored remnant of an age lost in the huge deep gulf of night...

.... By the way, if I seem drowsy and lacking in connection, please blame it on the heat and languor of war in Iraq during the summer-time..... But to continue with my philosophical digressions -

It has struck me suddenly and strangely to know the real truth about anything in life might require infinite experience and understanding. How could one feel immense gratitude and relief, or the delight in satisfying acute hunger, or the sweet comfort of rest, or the gratifying appeal of peace, unless there had been circumstances of extreme contrast? Such thoughts are doubtless contributed to my experiences here. When you are fighting, tooth and nail, against tyranny and exploitation, you see things differently. And yet, I am of the opinion that we are not really fighting people; we are fighting ideas, beliefs which are evil and which cannot exist in the same world in which the beliefs that made America are to be found.

-Another Day-
Our present duty involves patrolling the trash-littered streets of a little town called, Al ---. It seems every day we venture off to this little hamlet, there is a vast amount of buying, trading, and selling going on. The village is like one big bazaar. The streets and alleys are full of Arabs swapping donkeys, sheep, goats, carts, trucks, and the devil knows what else. The traders are generally a seedy and disreputable lot, who move about in trucks and wagons, living from hand to mouth and camping wherever night finds them. Most camp at the edge of the trading district, sometimes a dozen families together, where they would plunge into the business at hand. The Iraqi farmers usually come to Al --- with worthless produce and the noise of their arguments, assertions and refutations rivals the clamor you'd hear at a rock concert. There are men, women, and children selling blankets, rugs, brassware, shoeshines, chewing gum, straw baskets, pottery, clay vessels, fake mesoptamian relics, silver jewerly, cigarettes, dresses, arabian shirts, sandals, soft drinks, melons, and some kind of bread stuffed with God only knows what kind of meat. There is also evident poverty, beggars with missing limbs, dirty children with no shoes, stray mongrels, and there is a sense of hard life and hardship, of recent oppression.

Whenever we patrol up and down a lot of these crowded little streets, we are met by Iraqis with varying degrees of suspicion, indifference, secret amusement, and generosity. Our first mission here took place a couple of weeks ago. It was a late mission (we didn't leave the FOB until nearly 7:00 p.m.), and didn't arrive in the town until nearly 8:00 p.m. account of Iraqi traffic being thick, ugly, and dangerous. Our first OP was near some wandering donkey traders who were more or less a nuisance. For reasons that defy the imagination, a few of them thought they could swap a lean and mangy old ass for one of our humvees. When we told them, "Laa, laa, de-tif-te-him, laa," (No, no, do you understand, no!) the idiot Iraqis howled until it was a scandal to hear. They were actually serious about the trade.
Suddenly we heard a most outrageous outbreak of noise and clamor - more howls, blows, bellowings and the drum of flying hooves. Looking behind us, we saw a turbaned Arab careering down the street in a high state. He was trying to stand up in the bed of a wagon while another Arab, maybe his son, started screaming at the top of his voice, standing upright and pouring leather into the donkeys. The old man was beating the boy, the boy was beating the donkeys, and the asses were at a dead run straight toward us. Well, what do you do? We started yelling, "Awgaf, awgaf" (stop), and even pointed our weapons at the spectacle hurling its way toward us. VBIED's are a constant threat to us - even if they come in donkey-drawn carts - and we didn't know what to make of it, but we were prepared for the worst. Just when we were about to fire a warning shot in front of them, an old woman dressed in black started yelling something at the two individuals in the cart. The boy managed to control the donkeys, and the woman ran out and started waving her hands at the pair the while spewing forth some kind of heated invective that, though in Arabic, was enough to curdle even our toes. It was weird, strangely weird. It demanded some kind of explanation, but we never got one. About 10:30, a howling sandstorm came up to add to the general lunacy of the evening.

-Next Day- The 4th of July
I really have no grudge against an insurgent who wants to kill me. But there's a difference between the one's that bomb you, and the ones that try to shoot you. The difference is treachery, a difference sometimes intangible and nebulous, but nevertheless a real factor that cannot be ignored. The motive behind an act is not the only thing to be considered; the manner in which the act is carried out must also be considered. Look, you have two Iraqis - one aims to bomb me with an IED, the other wants to go after me with a gun. Both these men wish to maim, cripple, or kill me. But my feelings toward them are quite different. One is open in his attack, and I have a chance to defend myself. The other, the bomber, is subtle and underhand; he tries to get me without risk to himself, and without giving me a chance. It's the old business of treachery again... I'd rather a man simply swindle me out of $600 than knock me in the head and take it away from me. On the other hand, I'd have more respect for the latter, than for the man who writhes his way into my trust, or takes advantage of my situation. By respect, I mean it in a relative way; I have no respect whatever for a swindler; even less for an insurgent.

-Another day-
Battling these insurgents is like fighting a shadow who wields a club. You sense the presence of your enemy... You rush in savagely and futilely, mad to come to grips and smash his ribs in, but hitting only naked air; at the end of the fight you are groggy and dizzy, sick with a feeling of helpless futility. That's the damndest thing - getting punished fiercely by something you can't come to grips with. Punishment isn't so bad if you're handing it out at the same time. The other fellow may be strangling the life out of you, or ripping your ear off with his teeth, but if you're driving your knee to his groin, sinking your fists in his belly or have your thumb in his eye, you can stand the abuse. The hell of it comes when you're up against an enemy you can't hit, or are licked and down in the dirt with the other fellow stomping your guts out or grinding your face in with his boot soles. That's what war in Iraq is like - fighting shadows, taking lickings that you can't return.

For all of that, I believe we are making excellent progress in this war. Whenever we actually do have the opportunity to confront our enemies in open battle, they fall like ripe wheat before the farmer's scythe. Our forces have done good execution on many of them and, deep down, they know this - that is why they have to resort to treachery as a means to achieve any kind of victory. They fear us greatly. They fear being swept off their feet by the hammering tide of American fury. Were it not for the insurgent's treacherous mode of warfare, this conflict would have been over two years ago. It's a hard and harrowing duty over here, but when the difficulties arise, the coward says, "Run Away." The hero says, "Stay and master it." As for all them naysayers, anti-war gurus, craven journalists, and protesters... they are banana peels on the steps of progress, and need to realize that the true object of war is PEACE.

On a more personal level, I'm happy to report that I am doing well. I am in splendid trim and in full possesion of myself. Life swells through my veins in full and magnificent flood. I was made for contest, and the powers have willed that my battlefield should be this perilous, dirty, inglorious city called Baghdad. But what of that? Life would be a strange thing if we did not have some fiery trials to test us.
I'd like to thank everyone once again for sending me packages, cards, pictures, and letters. I have received all of them, and I wish I could thank everyone individually, but I am under harsh time restraints (this e-mail is taking days to write). At a time and place wherein there is little to look forward to, deliveries from home speak volumes. Many have inquired as to what I might need here, so I made up a short list of things that are always low in supply, but high in demand:
Batteries: AA's, mainly. Everything runs on batteries: cd players, flashlights, two-way radios, gps systems, night optical devices, etc, etc, etc...Food/Candy: We all like it, so do the Iraqi children.Toothpaste/toothbrushes: Always necessary, and always running outHand cleaner/baby wipes/deodorant, rubbing alcohol: All personal hygiene stuff.
Pens & mechanical pencils.... always need them and they seem to get lost frequently. And, finally, pipe cleaners, cotton swabs, and other useful items to clean my weapons with.
Anyway, the above items are things I'll probably be always in need of. Anything else will be by a special request, or by the thoughtfulness of you, the sender. I will be in the States this month for a two-week break (catharsis, more like); whereupon, I shall visit both Arizona and Ohio. I hope to be in Arizona sometime between the 18th and the 20th. I fly to Ohio from Phoenix on the 21st. I'll be in Cincinnati up until the 31st, I think, then back to Arizona for a day or two. Concerning these dates, blame all the ambiguity on the Army.
I can't thank everyone enough for all the support and prayers, and I hope to see most of you in a very short while.

I am, & remain to be, Your humble soldier & friend,
Michael 'The Dark Celt' O'Ruairc


Final words:

To my grandparents-- MOM & PAPAW I hope you had a wonderful anniversary!! 62 Years and 1 day!! I heard that White Castles were on the menu... eww...!!! I thought I raised you better than that!! Holy Cow!!

Blog of the week....Friday, when I came home from work, I found that my honey, my husband had created a blog.... How much fun is that? His blog will be interesting... I recommend you bookmark it...

I am still updating this list... please forward the name of your loved one.

Don't forget about the benefit dinner for Susan Curran on Saturday, July 30.

Michelle Malkin brought this man to my attention. You can find Mr. Bjerre's website here If you are able to show your support by sponsoring this guy with a pledge when he participates in the blogothon please do so.

Have a great week. Please keep the family of Tim Hines in your prayers.

UPDATE: My Mother just called me this morning. One of her sister's passed away yesterday. My Aunt Masako had been very sick for a very long time. She came to the United States last year for the first time.My Mom is very sad today. She didn't want me to come over, she doesn't want to go out. "Today I cry". Pray for my Mom's heart to heal.


The last time my Mom got to see her sister Masako (on the left, my Aunt Haruko is on the right) Posted by Picasa


Bleriot Posted by Picasa


C-47 Posted by Picasa


B-25 Posted by Picasa


Les Shockley's Shockwave... Look for a special on The Learning Channel... Posted by Picasa


A veteran Posted by Picasa


priceless Posted by Picasa


Ominous skies Posted by Picasa


OK... this little girl was cute... but I had no idea I also took a picture of the moon too!!! Posted by Picasa


The crowd being introduced to the Air Force inductees Posted by Picasa


Taking the oath.
"I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."Posted by Picasa


Waving to the Thunderbirds Posted by Picasa


Sleeping through the Thunderbirds performance Posted by Picasa


Still sleeping... Posted by Picasa


Uh... yeah... still sleeping... Posted by Picasa


My favorite plane... C-130 Posted by Picasa

2 comments:

Cathy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
GNN Staff Writer said...

I do pray for your mother. And mothers and sisters everywhere.