Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Day I almost died

It is easy to pinpoint the point in time when I almost died as well become clear after a bit of narrative. I had been flown to Ft Sill, OK from Reno, NV to take part in an exercise wherein we would simulate a real mobilization for war and then travel to Korea (Cold Rea- remember it is south of Siberia) As part of the exercise, we got some shots, and then we went to the lawyers, JAGs(judge advocate general) to update our will (or in my case to make a will), I had just had a bunch of shots. Being the ranger that I am, I didn't want to talk about the discomfort in my arm, but it was becoming more and more compellling. I asked one of the soldiers if they could get my an aspirin. She said that shewould check one of the offices. She came back and said that the office was closed so I should just go back to where I had the shots. They remembered me because I usually am very talkative and friendly and they told me to sit down and they took my blood pressure with a smile. However, after taking my blood pressure, the fellow had a fearful look in his eyes. He told me to lie down, I did feel progressively worse. They checked my pressure again and I saw a more fearful look. they called for the ambulance and I was still laughing and joking until I stepped outside and felt like vomitting. I made it to the hospital and as I walked in I saw a girl with her back to me and I said, Hi Katie (my daughter) wondering how she had gotten the word so fast to meet me at the hospital from Seattle, Wa. She turned around and it wasn't Katie which I couldn't understand. I continued to joke around with the nurses and staff. I was starting to feel pain in every joint- the balls of my feet, my ankles, knees, lower back, neck, head. But I was still making jokes. They took my blood pressure again and suddenly I was surrounded by nurses and I had 4 IVs put in me (I found out later that my Blood Pressure was 80/40) I saw visions of my son Gabe and it seemed that he was standing next to me. The doctor came up to me and I thought it was someone I knew in high school and I said, "Hi brother, good to see you." Still making jokes. The doc looked down at me and said, How do you feel? Ready to make a joke, I suddenly realized that I couldn't answer. My first aid training was kicking in except I was on the receiving end. It suddenly dawned on me that he was trying to keep me aware and I wasn't aware. I did something internally to reroute my circuits so I could respond and I whimpered, "I'm ok" All the jokes were gone now replaced by a serious concern. I was suffering more and more until I got a shot or something in my IV and it took and wonderfully the pain was dissapating. They asked me what was comfortable and it felt good to have a pillow under my knees, They wheeled my into Intensive Care and I had all sorts of monitors on. To comfort me, the TV was tuned to CNN which non-stop was covering the siege of Waco featuring phone calls with David Koresh!! (I think another channel might have been better!!) About a day later, someone from my military came in and said, "you aren't going to Korea." I nodded-being in no condition to argue. But as my strength came back, I said I want to go to Korea and they had me sign a statement words to the effect that I understand I am going to Korea and I am ready. Physically, it probably wasn't the best idea to go. I was constipated and then came down with bronchitis. I remember trying to walk up stairs and it wasn't pretty. Gradually, I regained my strength and I am glad I went because it really was an interesting experience to go to Korea. Itaewan (a section of Seoul) caters to tourists, but I went off the beaten path to some club and there I was doing disco with all these Koreans around me cherring me on. They were real friendly, even offered me cocaine which I politely refused. After narrowly surviving death, here was someone trying to kill me slowly. I did tempt death by eating in the Korea mess hall. Each night one officer would eat with the Koreans and sample their food. It was ok to me (Rangers can eat anything.) The three star Korean General said I looked like one of his in-laws so it was very friendly. I even learned Arirang http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arirang, http://kreah-craze.com/arirang-lyrics-singer-sg-wannabe/ www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FlXH9CGnvw which I sang with my new Korean brothers at the end of our tour. Again, there was a chance to die since the Korean officers seemed determined to drink themselves and anyone else to physical collapse. I managed to avoid being made to drink to excess since I usually have no fear to perform and some assume I needed liquid courage. One of our Jewish officers to reciprocate sang, Hava Nigilah http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hava_Nagila and www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFtv5qe5o3c
which I knew how to sing since I had studied Hebrew at the U of Washington. Our last event was to visit Seoul's fortress http://english.seoul.go.kr/today/news/newsclip/1230150_3675.html and http://i.pbase.com/g6/96/408296/2/75477189.eUwJGuHk.jpg and we went on a shopping trip. I wasn't really interested, so I and one of the sergeants waited outside laughing about the "old folks" doing their shopping.

No Man Can Always Stand Alone

From John McCain's Acceptance Speech. http://elections.nytimes.com/2008/president/conventions/videos/transcripts/20080904_MCCAIN_SPEECH.html"A lot of prisoners had it worse than I did. I’d been mistreated before, but not as badly as others. I always liked to strut a little after I’d been roughed up to show the other guys I was tough enough to take it. But after I turned down their offer, they worked me over harder than they ever had before. For a long time. And they broke me. When they brought me back to my cell, I was hurt and ashamed, and I didn’t know how I could face my fellow prisoners. The good man in the cell next door, my friend, Bob Craner, saved me. Through taps on a wall he told me I had fought as hard as I could. No man can always stand alone. And then he told me to get back up and fight again for our country and for the men I had the honor to serve with. Because every day they fought for me. "

In the Company of Heroes

One of the privileges of serving in the military is opportunity to serve with heroes. I think a lot of the soldiers serving right now in Iraq and Afghanistan are heroic, but few are a special breed.One such soldier is Robert L. Howard, Congressional Medal of Honor awardee. http://rlhtribute.com/. COL Howard was one of my Ranger Instructors (RI)s in Ranger School.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranger_School and https://www.infantry.army.mil/rtb/I was in the mountain phase headquarted in Dahlonaga, Georgia. We trained to perform patrols in the mountainous Tennessee Divide. I still remember when he called my name in the darkness to take the patrol from point A to Home with the admonition, Don't F*** it up. Prior to that he had explained tactics: concepts I still take to heart. I was privileged to meet this great soldier and will always value his leadership example. I don't pretend to be such a hero as Robert L. Howard, but I can strive to be better and when the opportunity presents itself, I have the choice to be courageous. And to those who consider this to be a glorfication of war, read this link about a conscientious objector, Desmond T. Doss Sr. This is a man who refused to learn how to shoot a rifle but nothing could stop his relentless pursuit to aid his comrades. The following link does not state this, but I seem to remember that as they tried to evacuate him with a stretcher, he rolled off and crawled to assist another soldier. Where do we find such heroes as these? http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/25/AR2006032501181.html

Monday, October 6, 2008

The "siege" of Baghdad

On July 22, 2003, Baghdad got the word that Uday and Qusay Hussein were dead. http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/07/22/sprj.irq.sons/
All war stories are supposed to start with, This is no ****. I will recount what is was like from my perspective that night. At some un-remembered time in the PM, I was in the "majors" house -each rank had its own house basically in the Green Zone in Baghdad. I heard someone say, "look outside." So I went outside and said, "Holy ****!" The sky was was filled with tracers. (Some bullets are able to shine brightly as they make their path from rifle muzzle to ground.) I didn't know what to make of this so I called one of my men (one of my subordinates who had the rank of corporal) who used to be in Marine Force Recon. My gut said that he might know something. I was right. He was on top of Saddam's old palace with some special ops guys checking out what was celebratory gun fire. You see, Iraqis aren't exactly worried about gun safety. A few months earlier we had encountered a distraught women in a Baghdad neighborhood who claimed that at night, a bunch of Iraqis would get drunk and shoot their weapons in the sky. I had already seen rifles "test fired" at the local market. It did remind me that as I used to drive rural roads in Alabama and other southern states I would usually see several bullet holes where the speed limit sign was used for target practice. So armed with this information, I contacted by cell my friend Joe who lived with me in the Lieutenant Colonel house. We had the most elevated position in our company and anyone going to roof would have good observation since we were right next to the Tigris River. I knew Joe was a little hard of hearing and he lived in the basement. I told him, "Joe, you might want to see what is going on outside." In the meantime, I encountered Henry who was in charge of the Rapid Reaction team we had for enemy threats. I told Henry that the commotion was only celebratory fire. Henry said, I am going to check it out, it could be cover for an attack. I said,"you do what you need to do, I just wanted to give you some information." I asked Henry if he had a vehicle and he said no so I gave him my HUM VEE to use to travel and then I made my way to my house and the roof. I grabbed my helmet and my kevlar vest and my rifle. On the roof was Joe, Jerry, and Lou my ranger buddy (we always say that about anyone who ishares a Ranger qualification. I said, "Joe, do you agree that you might want to see this." He nodded. Now Joe, Jerry, Lou and I all had Infantry training but sharing the roof was one of our JAGs-a soldier lawyer. The rest of the house I guess wasn't interested because they stayed below. Henry came by after a short while. He made sure that he communicated with us so he could check the shore line of the Tigirs without us shooting him. It seemed to me that I heard something it the roof within a few feet of us. It was not far fetched to think it was a bullet because that very evening a soldier who was sleeping on a cot on a roof had a bullet go into his foot. Sadly, I had spoken with some Iraqi friends who had had a relative die when hit by a stray bullet from someone "celbrating." After a while, the amount of shots faded and we kind of congratulated ourselves because we felt we had been on top of the situation.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

From Studying History To Making History

When I was in college at the University of Washington 1973- 76, I changed my major from Classics (Ancient Greek and Latin) to Near Eastern Languages and Literature. It seemed interesting to study these languages and there were many related languages to study. Hebrew was related to Aramaic, Ugaritic, akkadian, phoenician (Sumerian - was an unrelated language but gave a lot of loan words) and Arabic-Arabic was thought to be useful especially after the Oil Embargo after the 73 Yom Kippur War. I studied the history and saw things like the Ishtar Gate in Babylon and the Ziggurat of Ur. When I joined the Army, people asked me what I studied and they said, "You will never use that" So here I was, Apr 2003, going in to Iraq having all this historical knowledge and background.I remember waiting in a convoy for 2 officers who had run-off (there intention was get us to stay in Talil so they were talking to people to arrange a tour of the Ziggurat of Ur) and I was talking to a COL about Xenophon's Anabasis (the march up country). Centuries ago, Xenophon had assumed command of some Greek mercenaries and they were traveling up the river (the land between the 2 rivers Tigris and Euphrates) just as we were. We got to visit the Ziggurat of Ur (we were lucky because it had temporarily been closed when some soldier had defaced some of the area) It certainly was a thrill for me to see the Ziggurat and then to walk in the area of excavation. The Iraqi curator who was the grandson and son of previous curators assured us that they had found Abraham's house. (Abraham was supposed to have left Ur for the promised land). Later I got to take a day trip to Babylon. I saw the Ishtar gate, I saw the ancient cuneiform writing, and we saw reconstructions of what Daniel's lions den would have looked like.