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The Beginning of the End

I'm currently in transit from Patrol Base Olson, Charlie Company 2-505's home in Samarra, to Baghdad -- a two-day trip. Saturday evening, Red Platoon drove myself and Franco, an Italian photographer who works for TIME magazine (who showed up at Olson a few days ago) from Samarra north to Forward Operating Base Brassfield-Mora, where we caught a flight to FOB Warhorse in Baqubah (it was not where we needed to go, but that is a different story). From here, I'll be heading through several different FOBs to finally arrive at LZ Washington in Baghdad -- the beginning of the end of this trip.

It is always with a heavy heart that I leave each unit (and Iraq), though I also look forward to returning home (not to the 10-day journey there, but the arriving part). The cameraderie shared by, and with, people who have taken fire, charged through doors into the unknown, and performed other supremely demanding tasks together is something that cannot be understood by those who do not have such common experiences, and it is always extremely motivational and gratifying for me not only to spend time with people who do have similar experiences and backgrounds to myself, but also to forge new relationships under fire, and to create that common bond with a new group of people.

Though few think of it that way at the time (especially those who have never been here before), when they return home at the end of October from their 15 month *combat* tour, the young men of Charlie Company will come to the (somewhat sad) realization that their friends and family who have not been through such things will have no comprehension of what they have experienced over here. Thus, if they are to discuss and to share such experiences (rather than to simply keep them bottled up), these men will find themselves seeking out the company of those who have also experienced what they have. For me, coming here is one of the few opportunities I have to be around people with whom I share that common bond; for that reason (on top of the belief that there are few jobs more important at this time than to communicate the ground truth from Iraq, and to tell the amazing stories of these soldiers), these missions are all the more valuable to me.

As I was departing PB Olson, Captain Buddy Ferris, Charlie Company commander, presented me with an 82nd Airborne Division combat patch -- the unit designation worn on the right shoulder by soldiers who have spent a month or more in combat with a unit. "You've earned it," he said, "as much as anybody else who's been here 30 days has." It's a gift that I will keep forever.

Though I was not present for some of the most action-packed (such as "Jihad Night," the night of July 7, 2007, when the entire city came alive against the coalition, provoked by messages over all of Samarra's mosque loudpeakers calling them to "jihad" against the coalition) and tragic (such as March 5, when eight soldiers and an interpreter from one squad in Charlie Company's Red Platoon were killed, and several others incapacitated, in a span of minutes) days and nights, I did see a good bit of combat in Samarra, and have seen firsthand -- amidst the IEDs, RPGs, and small arms attacks -- that it is indeed a city that is very much at war.

As I sit here at FOB Warhorse, I am already experiencing a bit of that alienation from the "other army" that those who are doing the real fighting in this war feel when they leave their patrol base sanctuary and get around the rest of the military again. Here, there are people who have never seen this war except as it appears in their copy of Stars and Stripes, or as it is told them by others. There are forty-five inch waistlines in Army ACUs and PT gear; there are people who actually have nothing better to do than to walk around correcting others on their appearance; and there are people who have never once experienced the combined senses of thrill, terror, risk, and purpose that accompany going "outside the wire" day and night for the sole purpose of engaging the enemy. Though it is a poor, judgmental reflection on myself to think this, I cannot help but look down to a degree on these "FOBbits" who are the *other* Army in this war -- the pampered, comfortable, well-fed, relatively safe one -- ESPECIALLY after having spent an entire month with such a combat-weary, battle-hardened, experienced, efficient, and *heroic* group of people as the men of Charlie Company. Much like all combat journalism is not created equal, all combat deployments are likewise not created equal.

My personal antipathy toward those who have effectively sat around in this war, rather than fighting it, is not important, and it will fade in the next few days, as will the bitter half of the bittersweet emotion that overtakes me as I leave such an outstanding unit, as well as a country which provides me with the opportunity to have such experiences as those that I have each and every time that I come here. I am immensely grateful to all of the commanders who have invited and welcomed me onto their bases and into their units, and to all of those soldiers who have accepted me as one of their own while continuing to perform their missions as expertly as ever.

There will be much more to come about Charlie Company -- including one exclusive tale of a level of heroism unimagined and unheardof by most at home -- in the next days and weeks, so please stay tuned in, and continue checking the website for updates.

For now, though, I'm off to continue my journey away from danger and from my newest comrades, and back to "civilization." It is a trip that is always much more difficult for me to make than it probably should be.


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At 12:52 PM, Blogger The Historian said...


Thanks for providing the rest of us with the truth on the ground. Please tell the troops that we fully support and much appreciate their effort.

At 2:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a proud Mom of a soldier at Patrol Base Olson I have read every word that you have written while in Samarra and would like you to know how much your articles have meant to me. My son did not have a choice to go into a war zone but you did and because of that I know a little more about what they face on a daily basis. I remember a High School history teacher telling me "your Grandparents served in wars so that you and your children will not have to", how wrong he was in saying this.
I am patiently waiting to hear the date for Shane's homecoming ceremony, it will have been almost 8 months since we have seen him and I thank God everyday for helping to keep him safe.
Again I thank you for all that you have done, I am sure you have made a far bigger impact than you could ever realize.
Jamie Drake
Winfield, Kansas

At 3:08 PM, Blogger DC said...

My son is a paratrooper at Patrol Base Olson, red platoon. Thank you for the news from the front. It really helps me to see and understand what my son is going through on a day to day basis. It is very difficult to not know and wonder. I thank the Lord for your eyewitness account and am very grateful for the work that you do. As his mom, I am so proud of the job he is doing and proud of him and all the men/women who are serving to keep our country and future safe. Thank you

At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am mother to a senior airman to be send soon. I thought it will never happen but there it is. Everyday I look forward to read any new comments because in a way is like being there. Thank you for letting us know the reality of being there and how much we need to support our children when they come back. Its painful for me because its my only son and he is expecting to have his first daughter on January but I feel very proud of him. Are you going to FOB Hammer?
Bless you and all men/women there.
Carmen, New York

At 5:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jeff,

Thank you, thank you, thank you. The information contained in your blogs has provided insight from every perspective into the life our son has been living while stationed at Patrol Base Olson. My husband and I want you to know that we feel you are doing a great service to the families back home who can only imagine what their sons and daughters are experiencing while serving their country in Iraq. We are so proud of our son. The information contained in your blogs makes us even prouder.

An airborne mom.

At 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff- My boyfriend has been one of the soldiers you have posted photos of. Thank you for these pictures, because they are the only way I get to see his face and know that's he's alright.

At 10:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey...What's the benefit of going after the soldiers back on the FOBs? I mean, there's an entire NATION of people not lifting a finger in support of this war, and you're spending words and time attacking soldiers who are there doing whatever job they've been tasked to do. I don't have a bone to pick with the fight, but I just don't find it very productive. There are plenty of fat, lazy losers in the States deserving such disdain. Nobody on any FOB in Iraq could be called "pampered." That's just an absurd statement.

At 10:37 PM, Anonymous POPS said...

Thanks Jeff for your great reporting. My son who is curently attached to C Co, 505 at Olsen sent me your atricle telling me you were one of the only journalists who gets it right about what it's like for the troops in the field. Too bad little of this actually gets printed. Unfortulatly it seems like most of your stuff about the troops is not of interest to the news media or the mags. Most of the articles you write of editorial nature, (outstanding, by the way) gets printed, but the articles about the troops doesn't seem to generate much interest from those in the media who have their own agendes. It seems as though there's a type of journalism popular now that is actually accepted by and even encouraged by editors that involves writing an article with a certain point of view and then collecting the facts and quotes to support it later. I see it locally in my hometown newspaper and in the national media as well. This is not reporting and I appreciate the type of reporting that you do as a breath of fresh air. It's your brand of journalism that was meant to be protected by the constitution and the other, that I mentioned is the reason that many Americans have a credability problem with the mainstream media. Keep up the good work my man. I and my son both appreciate it!


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