Archive for the 'Iraq' Category

End of Term of Service Speech

June 23, 2009

Below is the speech I gave today when I was awarded the Army Commendation Medal as I leave the military.

Thank you for the kind introduction, Sir.

I quickly wanted to thank a few people who aren’t here. I do this so their accomplishments can be recognized the next time you see them, even if I am gone.

SFC Davis and SFC Cooper taught me a lot about being a soldier, an NCO, and how to take care of soldiers, and when that means rewarding or when that means being tough. Between those two NCOs, I learned no one has any excuse not to do well on PT, soldier skills, or office work. SFC Davis is still teaching me things 4 years later, and I am still running on the track, in marathons, and forward in life, thanks to SFC Cooper.

SGM Tyler is the epitome of what a paralegal and NCO should be, which is why he’ll shortly be the Regimental CSM. I don’t have to expand any further on that. Thank you SGM.

To the officers I’ve worked for, I want to thank you for all being such friendly professionals. When you show consideration of your subordinates opinion by going so far as to explain any improvements or changes necessary, that shows a lot of respect and care for soldiers, and it was deeply appreciated. You’d have every right to just tell me “Go and get this done because I told you to,” but you take the time to explain it to me. You will be successful with leadership like that.

The civilians in the JAG Corps are so different than the civilians you see working elsewhere. This is a good thing. From Mr. Parker’s efficient but excitable manner, to Christine Hauser and Beatta Korz’s kindness in helping me 100s of times. Thank you.

I am leaving the military after 4 years, and at times it has been a hard career. I can think back to Iraq, trying to bend my head around regulations that were not written to accommodate the Arabic custom of “inshallah;” all those court-martials full of witnesses who were not going to arrange for their own travel; hundreds of Article 15s and chapter packets, hundreds of clients who wanted to know if their Power of Attorney would really let their spouse do anything. And that was just the desk work, not the countless formations, vehicle maintenance, and flutter kicks, how I especially hate flutter kicks. Do I even need to mention the omnipresent sand in Iraq?

In spite of all that, I’d sign up for the last four years again in a heartbeat. The OSJA of 1st AD did some amazing things in garrison and in Iraq, and there is a large part of me that wants to go with yall again. No one will ever take that deployment away from us, and the amazing things we did there, with the support of the rear detachment and our families. Unfortunately, that part of me, my heart, is held on to by my family who are going through a troubled time, and need me to assist them back in Texas.

But I will be jealous every time I read the good news coming out of Baghdad in 2010, knowing this office is working behind the scenes to make the world a much better place. The first time a teenager says something too smart in my high school class, I’ll wish for the days of compulsory respect and the power to prescribe pushups. Every time I see Old Glory flying, I’m going to miss making that salute as I stroll by, because it will remind me of the 4 years I spent serving in America’s Tank Division.

Thank you all for helping me grow these important 4 years of my life, making it so memorable, and being my trusted allies, mentors, and friends.
May God bless you all.

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Hallo, Deutschland!

December 9, 2008

I arrived in Germany and am doing well. I got my barracks room, but I don’t have internet hooked up right now. I am released each day around 10 or 11 in the morning after attending some briefings and doing some necessary paperwork. I already got stuck with a couple of needles too.
 
I and other people have already done the “Wait, how do you coordinate these civilian clothes” and “where’s my weapon” type moments. It was, and has been, in the mid 30’s temperature wise, and has been raining at nights. It is so very cold. No snow right now, although it already has snowed some before we got here. I have never been so happy to see wet, cloudy weather in all my life.
 
I already ate a cinnamon roll at Cinnabun, but have not taken a break from working out yet. I worked out yesterday, and will be working out today as well. My barracks room is right across the street from the battalion HQ, in the same building as the company HQ, across the street in the other direction from both the DFAC and brand new Gym, and the library and work is across post, which means less than a 5 minute walk. It is great to be on such a small post sometimes.
 
I feel good and will let you know when I get internet set up at my barracks room, but the way German customer service is, if it takes more than a couple days, I’ll just wait until I come back to Germany to get it set up right.  
 
I will write again soon. Let the others know who are not reading this knowhow I am doing. Thanks.

Summer Welfare

July 20, 2008

I’m not usually one to complain, but please, indulge me a bit. It will sound like it for a paragraph, but this is not complaining.

Do you know how hot is gets here? Let me explain something to you. I have to shave every day. Since I have a roommate who works nights, I take my shaving stuff to the bathroom which is about 40 yards away in a separate little building. I brush my teeth, floss when I remember, shower, shave, and then walk back to the CHU, or my Call-that-a-Housing-Unit? On the way there, I feel a sensation akin to being baked. My pores on my face are open after having to shave, and the chin strap of my helmet, the collar of my ACUs, or anything else just seems to irritate it that much more. The sweat drips and stings quickly because the average temperature is in the 80s at night, and over 120 during the day. In the south of Iraq, it is even hotter. This is about as much as I can complain about this place.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, I have it easy. Kirk, my brother, is in Afghanistan and has it a lot worse than I do. He bivouacs. The guys who were here in the invasion of 2003: they had tents if they were lucky, used holes in the ground as toilets, and used their canteens and water to shave. I’ve only ever had to do that for a week at the longest, and there were still porta-johns since it was training. I am extremely lucky. Even the war in 2003 was leagues better than what troops went through in Vietnam, either World War, or anything before. We’ve gotten to a point in modern warfare where accidents almost kill more soldiers than combat, which is a huge improvement over the Civil War era where hygiene and disease killed almost as many soldiers than the insane point blank rifle exchanges and charges.

So why do I even bother to mention this? Because I think some soldiers who are here are ungrateful. Soldiers of other current or earlier wars would love to only have the weather to complain about. And their attitudes towards other people’s gratitude is a little sickening.

Example: for some reason, despite not having it that bad, and having instructed my family members to just send me books or a computer game every once in a while, some very nice and well meaning people send us huge boxes of girl scout cookies. So, being an NCO, one my two principle duties is to take care of soldiers. A lot of soldiers come off of convoys, having come in from little rinky-dink bases, just to get help with their divorce, a power of attorney, find out information about how to become a citizen, and a lot of other things they don’t have internet or legal support for. I give them a couple boxes of cookies, make sure they have cold water, and pass out Gatorade packets to mix with the water if they need it.

Repeatedly, I have other people come into my office where I have computers and air conditioning, and a gym attached to the building. (I might as well be living in one of Saddam’s palaces.) These people who are on post come from similar facilities, where they have a hard structure with AC, plumbing, amenities, etc. But they ask for these cookies, as if the PX doesn’t sell 15 kinds of potato chips and 20 different kinds of cookies. Some of them come by multiple times just to get more cookies, and don’t even need legal assistance! I have no problem giving them water, because its hot and people never drink enough water, but do they really need these girl scout cookies? One or two cookies? Sure, and have a nice day. One or two boxes? Please. The dining facility here has a dessert bar. Do not ask for these cookies I have reserved for the troops who actually live in harsh conditions.

This kind of attitude, where individuals think “I must take everything offered to me, and try to take anything that looks available” completely boggles my mind. Some people would call this a “Welfare Mentality” but I think its more selfishness. If I lived in Sweden, or Germany, or Canada even, and was charged taxes to benefit from the universal health care, pension programs, or handouts, then that would just be the benefits of living in that kind of society. But I don’t. Even though the Army has 50 different programs to help me out, I’d rather help myself the majority of the time. I get things I need, and if I can’t get it, I’ll ask if it’s readily available.

People are under the misconception that things are so bad here in Iraq, and for a lot of soldiers, it is pretty nice. Just like with any charity, when you give, you need to take the time to make sure that your giving is received responsibly and actually used in the method you intended. So, if I get sent anything, I might have the odd Rice Krispy Treat, or a couple cookies, but I will give out the rest to these soldiers who are out and about in Iraq, and have it rough. Rewards should be for the deserving, not for the asking.

Promotion Speech

June 30, 2008

Effective 1 July 2008, I am promoted to Sergeant Mark Mansfield. The ceremony was actually on the 30th, at 1700 hours in the evening. I was pinned by LTC Robinette, and CW2 Diaz read the orders. Below is my speech after a flattering introduction by LTC Robinette.

“Thank you, Sir.

As the colonel mentioned, I have a degree in English Literature, and not in Public Speaking, so I’ve written this very short speech out.

There are a few people who I would like to thank for helping me have this privilege of becoming an NCO.

First, my parents and family for providing the support and role models that have helped and inspired me to get here. I have countless old war stories that are not mine, but that I grew up with. Whether they were told by pilots, MPs, Rangers, enlisted, officers, or even military spouses, I grew up to appreciate how incredibly noble it is to serve in the military, and from an early age, I knew I wanted that for myself.

I also want to thank the officers and attorneys I have worked for who have listened and taken my advice. When they disagreed or I didn’t understand, they thought it was important enough to take the time and effort to explain it to me. It has been an education, and a pleasure.

I’d especially like to thank all the NCOs I’ve worked for, SFC Davis, SSG Cooper, SFC Neal, and SFC Preston, all who have taken large amounts of their time to give me advice (whether I asked for it or not), answering my limitless questions, and for taking an interest in this soldier ho wanted to live up to the good things his NCOs have said about him. I am sure I wouldn’t be promoted without their hard work and good graces.

Finally, I’d like to thank my wife and child. They could not be here today, but they are my inspiration to continue to try and make the world a better place; one job, one day, and one soldier at a time.

I’m not going to be cliche and say I know exactly what it is that makes people good leaders, because leadership is not like some object you can hold on to, and tell what color it is. Forms of leadership are as varied as the people who have it. It is one of those qualities that is easily recognized, and hard to duplicate. But I am confidant that with the leadership I’ve had, I will be able to lead soldiers and provide that good example that I have had provided for me.

Thank you.”

April Showers

April 14, 2008

We haven’t had a lick of rain here, but that is ok. This is still the greenest I have seen the base, and I see pictures of the whole area which are even greener. It is weird to see life pringing up between the gravel and sand that coats this base. I am trying to document some of it, and have been taking pictures of the plants and other flora I can find on the base. It is inspiring to see it, and makes me smile, so perhaps you will enjoy the pictures as well. When I get some time and some bandwidth, I will upload them to my Flickr page.

I lost the Battalion Soldier of the Quarter board, but that is ok. I did very well, and didn’t prepare at all for it, so I am glad I did as well as I did given the amount of work I put into it. It was a little different than a normal board because it had a quick, rapid question format that felt like the lightning round of a gameshow, instead of the systematic grilling each board member does in a traditional board. There was a hands on portion that included maps, radio communications, and weapons knowledge, which went well. I am glad I was put forward as a candidate, and am also glad to be done with it.

I hope you all are doing well. I will be coming back sometime in May, so let me know now where in the Metroplex you will be, if at all. I want to spend this time with family and friends since I have to redeploy to Germany after this. I look forward to hearing and seeing you all.

Fleshwound! Right on!

February 22, 2008

Well, I finally got my first wound here in Iraq. It’s an awe inspiring story that somehow involves a distinct lack of insurgency.

The gym I go to is perfectly small for me. You can’t fit but 8 people in it until it gets crowded, and there are just enough things to pull, push, climb and lift to get a good workout. I don’t need variety, I just need some dumbells and space. No mirrors for the vain, and no circulation except that which the open door and desert wind provides.  

I was doing abdominal muscles. I was alternating sets on two different inclines for sit-ups, a podium to do reverse sit-ups on, and hanging from the pull up bar to do L shape lifts, where I bring my feet up parallel to the ground. It gets tough in combat boots. 

About 15 out of 30 minutes into the workout, I grab the pull up bar with both hands close together, and turn sideways to bring my knees up into a tuck. Ususally you don’t hang straight, but lift with your arms so you clear the ground. I pull on my arms, and…

Pow! Stars and spots of quickly changing colors burst in my vision. I say something not too nice (I am a soldier, remember?), and blink a couple times. I look up and notice the middle part, where people do not expect you to be pulling up, is connected to main machine and the support bar has a corner on it, which I must have hit. Wow.

But I’m a tough guy, and finish my workout over the next 15 minutes. I go inside and back to work. I am sitting at my computer, thinking very hard on how to solve the Iraqi problem, when a coworker comes up and stares in horror. “What is that on your head!?! Why are you bleeding?!”

“What?” I get nervous. I run my fingers through my head, and find a big spot all clotted with the 3 days of hair growth I have. Wow. I hold a paper towel over it, and like most wounds on your scalp, it takes forever to stop bleeding. Now I have a bump on my head like the old Warner Bros. Cartoon characters.

My first blood loss in a war zone, and it’s accidently self inflicted. I don’t think they give medals for those.

New Year’s Start

January 11, 2008

It is now 2008, and I am finally in the same year that I will redeploy in. This is amazing, and a huge morale booster. For 3 months, all I could think was that I still have another year here, and now I am within that mark. Unless, of course, my request to volunteer and extend here gets approved, but first I would have to submit it. Perhaps you think I’m crazy for mentioning it, but follow me on this thought process.

I am in Iraq, thousands of miles from my family, forced to share a room with a roommate, wearing a uniform every day, working long hours, and getting paid double what I would in garrison. I can’t drink, and get one day off a week, which might go away during a big operation and is only a priveledge, not a guarantee.

When I redeploy, I will be thousands of miles away from my family, forced to share a barracks room with a roommate, wear a uniform almost every day, work uncertain hours, and get paid almost half what I get paid here in theater. I can drink, but shouldn’t, and get two days off a week usually.

I am not blind or stupid. Well, I’m not blind at least, so I see the differences in those paragraphs as much as you do. Sure I will be in safe, green Germany for 7 months and have the opportunity to travel, but I don’t want to travel alone. I’m a very social person, despite reading and video games being my choice ways of spending my leisure time.

Here? The main thing is I don’t get to see my family. I would be able to call and chat online a bit more often in Germany, but for a little safety and a little German culture, I would be taking a pay hit of almost $1,500 a month. Plus, I spend a lot of that while I’m buying groceries, eating at the DFAC, going out with friends, buying video games and bus tickets, traveling will be expensive if I do any, and, if you hadn’t heard, the Euro is a lot stronger than the dollar right now. Listing it that way, Germany doesn’t sound too much more appealing.

Of course, since I have the luxury of almost another year to figure this out (see how nice that is? Almost a year, not more than!), I can enlist your aid and ask for you to send me your own thoughts at my email address. Please send me an email, and I hope to talk to you again soon. Until next week…

Happy Christmas

December 25, 2007

I hope everyone has had ample opportunity to spend time with their families and friends this holiday season. Just because I am missing out over here in Southwest Asia doesn’t mean that anyone else should have to. I’m not a jealous guy that way.

We are having fun and making the best of the holiday here in Iraq. We ate a huge holiday lunch, have been playing games on the “office Wii” and I did half a day’s work this morning. There are many other soldiers that don’t get the day off, the ones on patrol and who are closer to the actual bullets than I am, so please remember them and do not worry about me this holiday season.

In fact, I want to make a special request this Christmas. This is the traditional celebration of God’s gift to mankind, and so in that holiday spirit, I ask that if you send me a package with anything in it, send toiletries and useful things, like wipes and such, and I will send them on down to the little COBs, FOBs, and JCC and such, where guys don’t have working showers or are only there for a few days at a time because the conditions are so rough.

Anything I receive over the next few months will go to these people who need this stuff much more than I do, because I have a PX I can catch a shuttle bus to if I run out of soap, or razor blades. Some of these soldiers don’t have places to even use soap, but are still expected to use razor blades. So please remember them, they are the real freedom fighters here; all I can do is make sure I support them at the division level as much as possible.

On a side note, I have shaved my head. It is, in a word, drafty. Many comments have been made about my sudden resemblance to Lex Luthor. I don’t know, but you be the judge. We took some pictures the other day, so when I get a chance, I will upload them so you can tell me whether I need to start storing up the kryptonite.

Happy Christmas and Merry New Years!

Sand Storm

December 14, 2007

So, occasionally I take a day off from saving the free world and propping up democracy in the middle east to relax and try to run some errands. One of my favorite past times here is to be able to sit in the patio area of the one coffee shop on post and not have anywhere to go for a while. I sit, sip my java of choice (usually whatever is least expensive), and read my latest Economist Magazine, if I have one. I watch people as they go by, and just enjoy the warm afternoon air in the shade.

Today it was very windy. In fact, when I went running earlier, I was making great time out on the first mile and a half, but the other mile and a half back I was slowed by the wind to almost a stand still at points. Where I was running, there is not as much sand as some portions of the base, so I was comfortable just running in shorts and a T-shirt.

I walked to lunch, and it was getting windy. I ate, and headed to the PX area where the coffee shop is. I couldn’t see 100 meters the wind was blowing so hard and so much dust and sand was being kicked up in the air. I had to keep my eyes squinted, by head down, and lean forward to make sure I didn’t get excessive amounts of sand in my eyes. This is why people wear even clear glasses during night here.  

I sat down. I had to put the coffee cup inside my patrol cap so it wouldn’t blow off the table. It was warm this afternoon, but the wind would swirl around me and I would feel cool on the one side. Time passed, I finished my coffee, and eventually couldn’t handle any more news or analysis. I grabbed my rifle, noting it looked rather dusty and that I was going to have to clean it later. Then I stood up and a cascade of sand fell off every crease in my uniform, off my shoulders, and when I ran my fingers through my hair, wafted out into the air. I gaped. I looked like a walking mudslide, the non-alcoholic kind.

That was me sitting for one hour outside, just to give you some perspective. I think if I had stayed in place all day, I would have just looked like a sand dune. Then I imagined what it was going to be like once the rain started turning all this mobile sand into mobile mud.

I can not wait for R&R.

Holiday Ethics Exam

December 6, 2007

In case you hadn’t heard, I am in Iraq, and while I do not have it as bad off as the majority of the soldiers here in theater, I do not have all the amenities of a normal military post or civilian city. I do have internet, of course, so I suppose I could purchase things on Amazon or other websites and have them shipped, but that is only a stop gap solution for what I want to do.

I want to send out a family letter, or at least a letter from me since we haven’t had the opportunity to be much of a family for half of this year and most of next. I bought some blank cards from the store to mail out, but pictures usually accompany things like this. I have taken a very limited amount of photos with my digital camera, but operational security must be maintained, so they are few and far inbetween. Plus, being the conservative minded man I am who believes in as small of a footprint as possible for government, I would balk if another agency of the government was printing personal color photos out using government ink.

With those prefacing comments, would this blog with a picture or two make do? Of course, part of sending gifts is that you either took the time to make something, or spent money you worked hard for to purchase the gift, so there is thought and effort behind those. And the letters and pictures are for everyone to hang on their refridgerator so other people can comment how handsome your family member or friend is.

I need feedback. Will people weight the fact that my temporary lodging in Tikrit, Iraq offset the completeness of observing a holiday tradition, or am I completely absolved of any responsibility, and I’m just doing good by thinking about it? Or, more frightening but possibly more true, will anyone want a letter from me without a picture of Luke included?

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