Thursday, November 22, 2007


These two pieces, bumped up once again, to commemorate the day. If you detect a slight irony in any comparison I might have implied between my own culture and some other, well, you must be imagining it. I have nothing but the utmost reverence for all cultures, equally. If you claim otherwise, that's hate speech.


Feast and Fast

Consider Air Force Chief Master Sgt. John Gebhardt, 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group, Balad, Iraq.

The little girl's entire family was murdered by terrorists, who, to punctuate their point, shot her in the head. The operation was a success, but she cries and cannot be comforted except by Sgt. Gebhardt. So this is where he sleeps.

There's something about kids, hurt, and the way we respond, that tells us whether we're the good guys or the bad guys.

Remember Beslan?

First week of Sept, 2004. I became a little unhinged, that week. No reason in particular, that springs to mind. Something must have occurred... I do recall that one hundred seventy two little school children were butchered by Moslem terrorists. Is that how they prepare for their fast of Ramadan? By washing their feet in the blood of children?

Because it is near Thanksgiving, let us put hatred out of our hearts. For a time.




Intel said it would be a wire fence that he’d just have to cut through. It is a wire fence, but it’s on top of a three meter concrete wall. Not promising. Rather than scrap the mission he has his men climb onto his shoulders. Five two-hundred pound men with their 80 pound packs. All those deadlifts pay off.

And they are in.

It is dark and still and quite inside the compound. They move across a wide open space toward the nearest structure. Intel said there would be no dogs. There are dogs. Big bald snarling Iraqi dogs slobbering like a dozen Cujos. It is a silent mission. The dogs are dispatched silently.

Now they are in a long narrow alley. He moves to the end, the men following. Clear. They move out. From around a corner twenty meters to the northeast a guard steps out and opens fire.

A roving guard. Intel said the guards were stationary. The guard carries an AK. Intel said the guards were unarmed.

They open fire all at once. In SF training they call it a mad minute. He has no memory of raising his piece. No conscious decision is made. It is simply firing. Time slows. He thinks: sounds just like training. No difference. No difference in the sound. And he has been fired at before. No difference in that either. This is what they mean by battle hardened. Nothing is left that will make him nervous.

One of the men moves into his line of fire. Time has never moved so slow. His finger pulls away from the trigger -- then pulls in again when the man is passed. There is no thinking involved. Training. Other soldiers on other missions have made a mistake at this point. The training didn’t take. That’s when friendly fire takes its toll. But his training takes.

The Iraqi screeches and races away into the night. Born under a favorable star, he was, to have survived.

He sees the Iraqi running, and turns to run himself. He comes to one of the team members, frozen. “Run,” he shouts, and the man does. And he turns and gives covering fire. All the men are running back now and he turns and follows. Through and outside the alley they reload -- every magazine is empty. A mad ten seconds. Clear.

Mission blown. He calls for transport. It hasn’t left the area yet and is back in a few minutes.

Mission blown. A mission is only as good as the intel. But no mission is a failure, that has no casualties.

That’s how he spent his Thanksgiving. That's how he told it to me.

What are you thankful for?


That, from last year's Thanksgiving. Today, this very day, on or about, my son will have left Iraq for some European base. In two months he will be home. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it. Don't I seem intense enough, that I should weep yet again?



Andrea said...

I am glad for you - that your son is returning safe and sound!
Please relay to him my humble thanks for what he has given me and mine - no small gift - security.

Jack H said...

Well thank you kindly. Odd, how we put ourselves on hold. I emailed my son about the fact that now he's in Germany, he needs to find ways to identify and deal with the stress that he's been under for so long. He emailed back that he had indeed been noticing a new, strange anxiety.

We put our emotions to the side, and deal with them when we have that luxury. Well. This is the time.