Monday, August 31, 2009
Today is August 31st, Zach’s brother Gabe’s 24th birthday…so a good day. The music which plays annually during Gabe’s celebration is in full chorus. I forgot, when I wrote about corn, chicory and cicadas to include one more ‘c’: crickets!
Here in Maryland, as the corn grows tall and green and sleek - in a year with good rain, which we have had - and the cicadas chirp in the trees, and the chicory blooms blue mist along summer roads...
There is no music in the world as sweet as their song.
You hear it with the windows open, driving along, and it never stops: at 40, 50, 60 miles an hour, enough crickets sing in every square acre that as we zoom out of range of the song of one cricket, another five or a dozen or a hundred come into range, so the sweet chirp flows continuously along miles and miles of summer roads rolling through fields to anywhere, to everywhere.
I don’t think crickets eat anything. I don’t think they hurt anything.
They just show up and sing. Their song is the prelude to the seasonal dance in which summer gives way to autumn. In their music, you can hear leaves beginning to turn yellow, and pumpkins ripening. Deep under the ground, the earth begins to cool, and dream of frost.
Happy cricket-song birthday, Gabe. Rumor has it that someone may be calling you today, if he can get a line out.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I’m not a general. I’m not a strategist. Aw, heckk, I can’t even manage my own desk, not to mention three kids. And I’m not sure exactly when I last changed my oil and am now afraid to look, and worse yet, I’ll forget to check tomorrow.
But no matter what chaos is going on in my life, no matter how much I botch things up, I try hard to live the “treat other people the way you want to be treated” mandate. And the other one, which adjures us to respect the dignity of all human beings.
But what if other people make it hard for us to do that, because they don't play by the same rules? Then it's pretty hard to stick to your high moral ground. I would imagine the good folks at the top of institutions and organizations, being human too, would struggle with it.
So it was a kind of shock and pleasure to read this on the United States Marine Corps website, talking about the beginning of the work to support the elections: http://www.blogger.com/www.marines.mil/units/hqmc/Pages/BrigGenNicholson%E2%80%98Theintentionwastogoinbig,strong,fast%E2%80%99.aspx
The quote that caught me from the link was “the Marines' presence restricts enemy groups’ freedom of movement and helps restore peace and prosperity to the local populace.”
I like that.
It’s not badass. Badass can be way fun, as I well know, but this is way deeper and more lasting and important.
Peace and prosperity: it’s what we wish for those we love.
Sometimes folks in the local populace doesn’t even appreciate what our men and women are doing. But the Marines and other service members do the very best they can, every day, anyway.
And sometimes folks in the local populace are shooting at them, or trying to blow them up.
The minds at the top of the USMC know the cost to families who lose someone they love. They know the frustration and fury of an IED explosion taking the life of a soldier. They know what disfigurement and dismemberment mean to able young human beings.
And yet, those minds at the top are looking, not to “maintain order” or to “subdue the resistance”. No; it’s a far gentler, far deeper goal: to restore peace and prosperity.
War presses on people from the top, and from the bottom.
From the bottom is the place where bullets fly. It’s the 'today' of war. It is the sad result of a complete inability of two sides to talk to one another successfully or resolve differences.
From the top is where the ideas are put in motion. It’s the 'tomorrow' of the world. It sets the tone for the 'today' of war.
From the top comes the guidance for our soldiers:
• Use your head, use logic, use restraint
• Don’t feel about what you do. Just do it, and do it right
Human beings who serve as soldiers see terrible things. They see things that can make them sad the rest of their lives. And they find meaning in small goodnesses.
When the Taliban destroys a human life, whether a friend or a local child or a member of their big team,
They feel angry. Really angry.
They feel hate and desire for revenge.
Yet they are expected each day to set themselves back to neutral and get to work.
To “help restore peace and prosperity to the local populace.”
Please join me in feeling admiration and respect for all the service members who walk this difficult line each day, and do it with grace, dignity, and humor.
Could you and I practice such good intentions and restraint under such pressure? Will we?
I said at the beginning of this blog that my intentions are to use this experience of our son's deployment to work hard on myself for eight months to become a better human being.
Class is in session.
Thanks for checking in,
Monday, August 24, 2009
Anger comes easy.
Peace comes hard.
The other funny thing is that, whichever direction you take, the direction kind of takes over you.
Anger gets more and more intense.
Peace comes easier and easier.
I found myself struggling to do the right thing, to put aside my hurt feelings and feelings of "what do you mean, you think my work could be wrong/dangerous/too open?!??!!".
But once I made that choice, the way got easier. I found myself being more and more eager to talk, and to make sure that I was listening, as well as working on things from my own (generally fair) perspective.
It is a life lesson. The first step in doing anything is the hardest. The next step is easier, and the next easier still.
So we should choose our first little step, pay attention to our initial reactions, very, very carefully. Because easier and easier of some things is good...but easier and easier of others could be disastrous.
On another note: we got a pink note.
A pink envelope arrived in the mail, with a familiar FPO return address and the name of a Gunny Sargeant many of your guys would recognize. We were SO CURIOUS! Who was writing us from there?
It was a thank-you note. "Each small kindness, like a seed, grows tall in memory." And inside, thanks for a certain picnic to which we helped contribute.
Wow. That was unexpected and treaured. I cried. The note will stay on my desk...until we get the chance to, as they say, catch them on the rebound.
This might help plan it: http://www.operationwelcomehomemd.org/
If you are emailing or writing, thank you. If you aren't...let me ask you to take a moment. Just a few words about daily life, what you're doing, gives them a precious, precious connection to home.
Thanks for checking in,
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Think about it. World peace isn’t about what they do. It’s about what we do.
It’s all very well to talk about what we hope and want and expect them to do.
But are we willing to do it ourselves?
It gets so much tougher when we try to work at peace, with our own issues, in our own lives, with people we know!
I wanted to write this blog without any particular agenda in mine, except what is stated in the “About Me” box:
• I wanted to honor the work of HMH-463. I wanted to document what it is like to be the parent of someone over there. Lots of people have someone they love over there, but not everybody likes to write. I do.
• I wanted to do something good with a sometimes-challenging experience, and to create something of value.
My pledge to myself was only that I would be completely honest: I would not demonize or heroize war and soldiers. I would neither gloss over or glorify war, nor diminish the challenges. I would not be melodramatic, or overly sentimental, or parochial. I would not succumb to patriotism that has a hidden agenda of hatred in disguise.
I would just talk about things as they came up, and share those thoughts with others, and in some vague undefined way, to encourage peace.
It came as a complete shock, therefore, to be called on the carpet by not one but two women who also have loved ones in HMH-463, who believe this blog could endanger the lives of the people of our squadron.
This post is about the process of working through a difference of opinion with respect. I am writing about this conversation because it directly relates to the experience of creating peace. I AM NOT asking anyone to take a side. I do not want that to happen AT ALL, so please do not be tempted to do so! Keep reading!
This experience of being suggested/told what I should write about and what I shouldn’t has ranged from feeling definitely uncomfortable… to being emotionally painful . To feel accused, even in polite language, of doing something that would be damaging or even dangerous to their loved ones and my own son was hurtful. To be told that I was/had been reported to the USMC for censure was shocking to me.
I am passionate about my writing work. I write carefully, I think deeply about my words, and I sometimes work very, very carefully in working through an idea.
I do not believe that the things I have been asked to remove from this blog are in any way damaging, or could create danger, for the missions of HMH-463.
But they do. So here is where the rubber hits the road, as the saying goes. I’ve been writing this and thinking about the folks over there – the Taliban – and praying for peace in their hearts. But here is conflict, right at my doorstep, and with people on the same ‘team’.
WORLD PEACE STARTS IN MY HEART.
These women are giving me an opportunity to live my words. I have in this circumstance a chance to take my own advice about handling differences of opinion and belief to create peace instead of conflict.
I could take the distress I feel about the challenge and criticism of my words and get upset, even angry. Most big fights start over pretty small differences. But let’s think:
First: They are not trying to hurt me.
Second: They are trying to protect their loved ones.
Third: We have the same goals.
So how do we handle a emotionally serious difference of opinion?
I really, deeply respect the concerns of the women who contacted me. If you’re reading this, please hear the love and respect in my words.
I promised them that I would go through this blog today, and look through the entries for things that would be potentially dangerous.
I will do that.
But I will do it, not as a knee-jerk reaction – erase everything! Shut it all down! It is okay that we have different opinions. Respect for someone else’s feelings and opinion does not mean abdicating your own feelings and opinion.
So I will examine my viewpoint and my work as you have requested. And I will do it as people in deployment are expected to do things under pressure:
Calmly. Logically. With respect and intelligence.
A decision made for emotional reasons may feel right, but is almost always bad in implementation.
I have another saying.
Fear is the root of all evil. And evil cannot thrive without the presence of fear
So, logically, and with research and documentation to support it… what’s safe to write about, and what isn’t?
Well, here’s an example from CBS news. (I deeply respect Lara Logan’s work!)
This worldwide news coverage clearly states the soldier’s names, their company, and their mission, as well as the emotional challenges they face and the success they feel in overcoming them (skip the ad):
In this print piece for CBS, and in another one I didn’t link, the future strategy, albeit without details, is also clearly discussed as well by the reporter. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/08/13/world/main5239251.shtml
For the record, I don’t discuss strategy. I wouldn’t, and even if I were so stupid, I can’t. My son does not divulge anything of that nature to us.
He also told me that because of me getting reported, he has already been called in by a superior officer to discuss this writing of mine, and that basically the rule is: once it’s happened, it’s okay to write about anything. Just nothing in advance.
He does not tell us any details about flights. Despite that, I did remove some wording regarding that mentions flight frequency - even though, realistically, I'm sure the folks they fly over know the schedule.
It seems that the item of most concern is the letter I reprinted from the CO. I genuinely do not understand how it could endanger the men in any way...but it concerns them deeply. So, out of respect for the women who need their feelings to be honored, I will be removing that letter and just quoting generic parts from it.
I went through and removed numbers where I could find them, about the size of the squadron, the flight crews, hours of days, etc. Although this information can be found elsewhere, I feel good in caring about their feelings to remove it from here.
Lastly, I did a check, googling combinations that would cause this blog to come up. And I couldn’t get it to come up in Google. But I did come across several written by Afghans, who write in danger, and which express so much that I wanted to learn. It was good to read that they value the help we are giving their country. The first one I read was shut down in 2007, after writing extensively against the Taliban.
I hope he is all right.
This blog was set up from the beginning to not be translated into Arabic languages. I thought carefully about that, and while I believe that cultural exchange is a powerful tool for peace, in the end, decided against it for OPSEC reasons.
I hope, my friends, that you will know that your concerns have been genuinely heard and addressed. The changes should be finished by the end of the day. Please let me know if you have continuing concerns, and what the specifics are.
And I hope that I have lived my beliefs. It is one thing to have beliefs. It is quite another to put them into action.
World peace starts in my heart. I hope that I have been respectful, both of the concerns of others and of my own beliefs. If more is needed, please let me know.
Because in the end, often it is not as much about the result we achieve, as the process we follow to get there.
A good process which includes respect, honesty, intelligence and compassion will always end in a good result… even if it’s not the result we originally planned.
It may be even better.
With our combined prayers for the safety, health and well-being of all the people of HMH-463,
thanks so much for checking in.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
killed or injured
during the election.
Take that, Taliban.
There's a news clip copied from The New York Times below.
There's a little number in it that means a lot.
The number is 1683.
That's the number of brave souls who,
in Taliban-dominated Helmand Province,
despite threats of death
despite threats of dismemberment
despite fear of bombings at the voting centers
despite concerns of election corruption
cared enough about freedom
to walk to the polls
cast a vote for freedom.
We don't know who they are.
I don't know if they all were men, or if any might have been women
how many were too old to be dominated
or who had kids at home who needed them
who were young and in love
or who were just tired of being dominated
but I hope their neighbors see them walking tall.
I hope they walk tall for many years to come
they looked bullying in the face
and dipped their finger in voting ink
in defiance of fear
in belief in courage.
I am - and I know we all are - so incredibly, incredibly proud of our loved ones who supported this election, either on the ground or in the air. Well DONE, Marines!
The Taliban failed to stop the voting Thursday in this dusty town in the insurgency’s heartland, but they did a good job of putting a scare into everyone who did.
A total of 1,683 Afghan men cast ballots in the cement-brick school that served as the town’s main polling place, a number high enough to buoy the spirits of local officials — although no one could say how many voters were actually registered in the district, whose population is about 80,000. Those who defied the insurgents’ threats to sever the fingers of anyone caught voting were almost too nervous to talk.
“Until the day I die, I will support this government,” said Niamatullah, lowering his voice to a whisper and walking away from a crowd that had gathered outside the polling center. “But there is no security. The Taliban are still strong.”
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
An article written by a friend of mine from college, James Rupert, who is in Afghanistan by choice:
It's nearing midnight in Afghanistan. Election day is almost here.
What will happen?
Thank you for checking in,
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I think of how hot and dry it is in Afghanistan. The current weather for camp is: “Blowing Widespread Dust”.
I wonder what the Afghan farmers would think of rain.
I wonder what it would be like on Thursday, August 20, the day of their elections, if it rained gently on everyone.
Would they look up at the sky in wonder and delight? Or would they be afraid, because rain is not normal there? I have googled all sorts of phrases that would help me know if they have rain in that part of the world. In Bagram, they do. But in Bastion? I don’t know.
It’s a little question, but I find it comforting to think of gentle rain wetting the villages and hills, the cafes and camels, and cooling tempers and calming fear. Rain can do that.
IT IS TWO DAYS UNTIL THE ELECTION IN AFGHANISTAN. If the elections are successful, will the violence diminish greatly after that? Will people in the villages, sick of being controlled by the Taliban and in debt to them and forced to grow crops for drugs turn on the fear-mongers, and rise up against them?
Will they grow courage instead of opium poppies?
Want to hear of less suicide bombers in Thailand, in England…in America, perhaps? And definitely in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq?
Then hope and pray for a strong election, one which the Taliban CANNOT say was “fixed” by the west.
Did you know that the Taliban has put up notices threatening to cut off the finger of anyone who has ink from the voting machine on his or her finger? Or just kill them?
In a small rural town, that’s a pretty big damned threat.
Would you vote? Would you tell your loved ones to vote?
Or would you succumb to fear?
I don’t know what I would do. I would hope that I would have courage, but would I have the courage, a woman, to walk down the street election day, or the day after, knowing any Taliban man who wants could pull my hand from where it was hidden in my burka, and look for the tell-tale stain of voting ink, and cut off my finger or my hand or stab me, right there, just for casting a vote?
Would I have the courage to vote?
President Obama has ordered US military personnel to guard the polling places.
Would that give me more courage? Or would it be the block beyond the polling place where the terror would wait?
Each Afghan person must wrestle with fear and hope, with courage and cowardice. It is 4:30 am their time as I write this. They are beginning the day before the elections.
Here is a picture of young men carrying the polling booths to a remote village on the backs of donkeys: www.guardian.co.uk/world/gallery/2009/aug/18/afghanistan?picture=351795492This is isolated.
And it creates an exercise in trust: trust and hope that each person in each dusty little town can cast their votes safely. Trust that the votes will get to the election officials safely, trust that the votes will be counted honestly.
Please offer your prayers, however you pray, that each individual of each province in Afghanistan - but especially in Taliban-controlled Helmand Province - will find courage, strength, and hope in his or her heart to go to the polls,
…and will express it in their vote.
May they find freedom, and safety and peace.
May the Afghan voters see in the eyes of the men guarding the polls the strength that freedom from fear gives.
and may they reach for that strength for their own country.
May the Taliban people, should they choose to vote, see the in the eyes of the men guarding the polls the strength that freedom from fear gives,
and may they wonder in their hearts, and inwardly yearn for that for themselves,
and may the desire for it erode the power that their fear has even over their own hearts.
May our loved ones who stand, LITERALLY, today, as representatives of freedom, stand safe.
May the members of HMH-463 fly safe.
May August 21 get here without one more life lost.
Thank you for checking in,
Monday, August 17, 2009
Orlando, in the middle of International Drive.
Fancy hotels, fine restaurants, and days of training interspersed with some amazing, top-notch speakers: football coach Lou Holtz, and the co-founder of Franklin Covey, Hyrum Smith.
Emily Bear played the piano for us.
Pause: please check out Emily Bear. She’s, um, seven: http://www.emilybear.com/
We slept in soft beds, with lots and lots of air conditioning.
There was all the delicious food you could want to eat.
Nice people from all over the world to talk to.
I was aching to go home by the third day.
Now, our guys are not in as lovely a situation as that was. Nothing even close to that nice!
And they’re guys.
So they are not going to come out and say that word “homesick”.
Which means, to keep them from feelng that way, they need to work and work. And joke around. And sleep.
And we need to make sure that we send letters, letters, letters. Pictures.
Don’t send worries. Keep your humor strong. Support them with a great attitude.
Now, some thoughts for today:
Where ever you live, that’s home.
If you grew up on a farm in Arkansas, that’s the most beautiful place in the world to you. If you grew up in San Diego, or a suburb of Rapid City, or in rural Maine, or Florida, or whatever state…that’s home.
I might get tired in three days of your gators and your summer humidity and your palm trees, but to you, that’s home. And beautiful.
I might not like your curved development streets, one leading to another, but to you, that’s the road on which you rode your bike.
I might not appreciate your dry Arizona desert, or your treeless Montana hills, but to you, they are the loveliest sights in the world.
And that’s what you’d miss. So wherever your Marine is from, that’s what he’s missing seeing.
I’m going to write about our home, so you can see it a little bit. Maybe Zach can too, from this.
It’s the middle of August, and in the middle of the middle of Maryland, that means three things:
The corn is high, really it is, climbing clear up to the sky. The rains have been good this year, so it’s not curled and dusty blue-gray; it’s spiky and rich full green…and the tassels have come out.
When you drive past a field full of corn on a hot summer night, with the car windows open, you can smell it. There is no smell like that of green corn flowering. It smells rich, sweet; full of promise: the crop will come in.
On the sides of the roads that meander this part of Maryland, when the corn blooms, the chicory does as well. It only blooms in the morning. Hundreds of soft blue flowers open in the early misty morning and become a haze of soft cool blue as you drive along the road.
They are beautiful.
They are wild.
You can’t cut them for a bouquet; they will immediately droop.
As the heat of the day builds, they close up. That’s it for the day; you only get the morning. They are the more beautiful because of it.
They are my favorite flowers.
The cool sweet heavenly blue of chicory, and the sweet rich smell of corn in tassel…it means summer to us.
That takes care of sight and smell…what about sound?
Sound would be the raucous chirring of cicadas.
Zach loves them.
When he and his brothers were little, we had one of the seventeen-year cicada cycles. I let them catch dozens, and bring them inside the house to fly around. As they got older, he became expert at hearing one start it’s chirp-chirp-chirrrrrrrrrpppppppp in a tree, and locating it from the sound, and tossing a big stick high, high up at the branch to knock the cicada off, and catching it as it fell.
Yeah, he did.
I loved watching him do it. It was a kid in love with nature.
Who had amazing aim with a stick.
That’s it. Nothing big deal or special today. Just listening to the cicadas singing in the trees tonight, and smelling the corn floating on the night air, and thinking of him.
Wherever you are, send some summer love - describe in the littlest detail whatever is special this time of year - to your folks on deployment. It'll be a gift across time and space to them.
Every little word you take the time to write carries love, and makes a day there better for them.
Stay safe, loved ones.
Thanks for checking in,
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
It is so easy, and understandable, for us as Americans to be angry at the people who are part of the Taliban. Maybe even to hate the Taliban. They have killed people we love. They have killed innocent civilians all over the world. They have disrupted the world in many ways, made it more fearful, less free.
I think to myself about them what do you feel like when you have blown an American soldier or an Afghan bride to pieces? Do you have a sick feeling in your stomach, seeing that? Or do you rejoice?
No matter what anyone says,
I am going to choose to believe that something in them, something deep in them that they might never admit to another person, feels badly about it.
No matter how different we are, I am going to choose to believe that, being human, somewhere deep within we connect, even during war, in a way that is deeper than the divides of country or religion or hate.
So it may or may not surprise you that when I pray, I pray for the Taliban boys' peace as much as I pray for our own boys and their peace and safety.
Because their peace means our peace.
Our military people follow strict rules. In the middle of war, they are trained to follow the rules of engagement, to respect peace, and if possible, to respond without violence.
Our military do not initiate conflict. The rules of engagement are that we respond to conflict appropriately.
Our soldiers are trained to respond, and they will respond. I am not in any way advocating that they not respond. It is their duty and their job to do so, and I respect them for doing their job well.
But they will not and do not start conflict. That requires so much strength under pressure that I admire them tremendously for it.
It can be very, very difficult sometimes to walk that line. And mistakes can be made.
But it means that we will hold the line at peace if you will. We will not start it.
So if I want our boys to be safe,
I pray that the other side will not start it.
I pray, and I think of a young man in hot and dry Afghanistan. Maybe he is being taught how to wire a cell phone into a what’s-the-word, the thing that detonates a bomb remotely.
Maybe he grew up with hatred of Westerners. Maybe he was taught it from his infancy from his father, his mother, his uncle.
Maybe he didn’t, but maybe he just never fit in. Didn’t have good looks or good skin or as much money or a mother who loved him or any self-confidence because he was never good enough in his father’s eyes.
Hate societies have a way of welcoming those who feel as if the world rejected them.
Whatever the case, whether hatred of democracy and western ways and free thought were bred into him, or whether he got sucked into something that horrifies his parents…
…hate is taught.
But I believe that deep, deep inside a person,
They know right from wrong.
People know true good from real evil.
Maybe he is afraid to disobey the orders of his Taliban leaders or his Taliban buddies or his cousin in the Taliban or his father. They are telling him to start something. Maybe he is afraid of what will happen to him. It wouldn’t be pleasant.
When I was a little, little girl, I lived in a very racist area. But before I knew the word for racism, I knew it was wrong.
We can be taught hate. But deep within us, we can choose not to hate.
We can take the tiniest little steps to something different.
And those tiny steps matter.
They are the drops that build a river of goodness.
So many times when fear comes to me, instead of letting it control me, I pray,
and I reach out to the young man of the Taliban.
Maybe not start anything today, I offer to him. Maybe when you see the helicopter fly over today, if you have a rocket on your shoulder…maybe today you will tell yourself that you are not ready…and you will let your finger relax on the trigger.
A tiny step.
A huge step.
I reach out in my heart to the young man with the cell phone is his hand. The distance is nothing in prayer.
Maybe not today, I offer, in peace and encouragement and kindess. Maybe today you will feel goodness in your heart. Maybe because if it you will not be able to finish working on that phone today. Or maybe you will drop it so that it doesn’t work right.
Or maybe when the young men in American or British camouflage are standing near the buried bomb…
maybe you will pause just the tiniest bit.
And not do it. Not start it today. Maybe just not today.
Maybe not tomorrow either. Maybe today will give you a little strength for tomorrow, and I pray for that too.
May you know peace, I pray. May you feel love. May goodness come to you and yours.
May the tiny little decision you make with your finger on the trigger or the phone
Mean a day that no one dies in Helmand Province
Not your people
Not our people
May nothing start, because of you
And your courage, your little step of peace.
And may something take flight in your heart in that moment, and soar
Believe what you want, about who God or Allah or the Universal Spirit is. Believe that some of us are going to hell and some are going to reward. Offer to anyone your way of believing.
But beyond that, please believe that
it is up to the One you believe in to sort out about
who is going to hell, and who is going to heaven,
And let it go. Let the bomb go, let the trigger finger relax.
I send you love, as an emissary of peace.
I send love to them.
It is the best way I know to protect my son and his friends.
War is an event between countries. War is the nations of NATO against the Taliban. It is a big event. War has rules. War’s intention is to create peace, but it is impersonal and massive and it does not change quickly or easily.
Peace is an event between people. Peace is tiny. Peace is personal. Peace is flexible and fluid, and it happens one little decision at a time. And peace can turn on a dime. It can be created or destroyed in a moment.
The destruction of peace creates war, on a small or large scale.
The creation of peace creates peace.
Maybe the young man will feel something today from my prayers. Maybe he won’t. I’ll never know.
But what I will know deep in my heart is that I strove to create peace. I did the same good that I am asking the young man in the Taliban to do. I put aside my fear and my anger and my hate, and I offered...nothing.
I offer nothing; no advice, no criticism, no you're-wrong, no judgement. No 'start'.
And I ask for nothing: no detonation. No trigger pull. I pray for nothing to happen in that moment.
One little moment of nothing happening.
One little drop of peace.
Little by little they can wash away the war.
Friday, August 7, 2009
How come it doesn’t instruct us to love and honor our children, as specifically as the other rules do?
Because I’d like to do that right now.
Two days of no communications from Zach meant that a death had taken place. I have personal feelings now about the young men who are killed in Afghanistan. They are not just numbers glossed over in the news. They are part of my family's life now, because my son may be part of the team who picks up their body and begins to escort it home.
It is difficult for every single person who is part of that escorting process.
When we love someone deeply, we want to share their lives, even – and perhaps especially – the difficult parts. That is where the work of love happens. The rest of it, the easy parts, are just fun. Love looks in at the difficult parts, and even when flinching, holds out its hands to help.
So, while we learn as a family what it means to love someone who is at the front parts of a war, we are learning to look at those difficult parts too.
When Zach does not call Courtney, I know someone has died.
There is no need to turn on the television. There is a website I go to now to find out: http://icasualties.org/oef/
And there are the names, and the provinces in Afghanistan, and what the young man did, and how his death happened.
This is all so hard to write. These are human beings, loved by other people.
Zach called Courtney early this morning to talk after the communications blackout had been lifted.
On Tuesday night, they escorted the body of a young man who had been killed back to the camp. Zach spoke of it briefly to Courtney. This time, it was not a small and precious box, but a bag holding the soldier’s body to take home.
Are there gentler words? If so, I would like to know them. We must choose the most gentle, respectful words there are.
Right now it is a Friday night in the small, happy town where I live. My husband has just helped the local fire company set up an outdoor movie, and there are literally hundreds of families outside in the beautiful night air watching Kung Fu Panda from their lawn chairs, happily munching popcorn under safe, quiet, starry full-moon skies.
I am writing outside in a white rocking chair. Comfortable. Safe.
Our oldest son should be just finishing his flight duty for tonight. It would be about 4 am there.
When I was his age, I was cocktail waitressing during the night and water-skiing during the day and generally having the time of my life. Almost no responsibility what so ever.
I would like to extend admiration to my son as crew chief, and to the pilot and co-pilot of the helicopter, and the AO and the ground crew for having the presence of mind and learned skill to crew an enormous helicopter; to get that multi-million dollar bird safely maintained, loaded, up, out and back, and to watch the whole time for someone who might try to attack them.
This is why I would like us to honor our children, honor what they are capable of, so young, and so strong. As they are flying over hamlets and homes, the people looking up at the helicopter do not know the individuals flying in it, or the cargo of the plane, or how those in the plane are affected by what they are carrying in the plane.
If I saw an armed helicopter fly over my patio right now as I sit in the rocking chair, and saw Zach or Scott pointing a gun at me, would I feel safe? And what about if they looked different from me, came from another land, were dressed completely differently in battle gear? Would I feel safe?
But they do not know how hard these young men have trained to be able to control their emotions and assess a situation clearly and intelligently.
If my son needed to do so, he would not hesitate at all to follow protocol and fire.
But they do not know how respectful he is of human and other life. I know him. He thinks quickly. He respects life of every kind. He would not fire inappropriately.
They do not know that my son is one of the kindest, most laughing people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
They do not know how good his pattern recognition is, how quick his eyes are.
They do not know how safe they are with him over them, even though he may have a gun trained right on them.
The mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and girlfriends in Afghanistan worry like we do.
I wish I could say to them, who are living with this war as we are, but so much closer to it: there are two boys from Hereford, Maryland up there over you. They may be carrying soldiers to the forward bases, or food to them, or medical supplies, or Humvee parts. They may have cartons of mail to soldiers who are hungry for news from home, or reassuring mail from them back to their families here.
Or they may be escorting not mail, not supplies, but something far lighter, and much harder to carry.
No matter what the cargo, no matter how they feel about it, they will manage their feelings and do their job. And underneath all the training, all the restraint-in-response, all the readiness, are young men who have good hearts.
War is the crudest form of diplomacy. And yet, it can accomplish good every day. As they fly over, the opportunity for peace exists between you. I can give you my word that they will honor it. Our sons are strong, and good. Look up, and trust.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
I’ll keep you posted, but there may be a picture of me on the USMC website soon. There was a guy from Combat Camera testing out his new night vision camera on one of our flights. He got some pretty cool pictures of us.
Dinner was good the other night. Sundays we get ice cream (which doesn’t last very long in this heat) and usually steak and seafood. The flights here are long but I’m pretty much in the swing of things now. I’m not half falling asleep by the time we land at the crack of day!
The flight crews work about a fourteen-hour day, and maintainers about twelve hours a day. I go to work in the afternoon when the sun is high and it’s halfway up the sky the next morning by the time I get to sleep.
The days pass quickly though, since every day seems the same…it’s like the movie Groundhog Day.
More folks moved in yesterday. It’s going to be nuts around here until everyone gets settled in and in a routine.
I’ve spend the last few days putting together a brief for my guys about what to expect and how things are run out here flight-wise. I catch a lot of grief from maintainers since I’ve moved up to operations because they think I don’t work. They don't really know what I do behind the scenes and how much of my time it occupies. It's okay. The experience I get managing this program will be a benefit in the real world. They also don’t spend seven hours a day in the back of the plane :-)
Everything’s going well, though. Thanks for getting that coffee and stuff, that will be way better than sugar-filled energy drinks. Give Riley a pet for me and tell everyone I said hi, and that I love you all,
Courtney relays that his predictions were correct: unloading the massive baggage that was needed to support their squadron was a huge job. Getting to work was hard because the buses were tied up with shuttling people from the airfield to their tents and bunks. And it will be meetings, and training them in the new procedures at an extremely rapid pace, and flying right away, and them getting adjusted to the heat and where to eat and how to get to work...so much, but it will, I'm sure, very neatly and quickly resolve itself, and in a day or so the whole squadron will be running the operation well. And the folks leaving can go home to a well-deserved rest.
And to welcome the new guys, the A/C broke, so everyone got to enjoy the 130 degree heat right off. Oh, and the phones went out.
Thanks for checking in,
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
He promised to send updates every so often to provide us with some perspective and info on how they are doing, and closed in reminding us to "be confident that our Marines are well-trained and ready to accept this challenge."
They are great.
I also told Zach to quit exaggerating. He's been saying it's 130 degrees but the CO clearly says it's a balmy 112 degrees.
Thanks for checking in,
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Over that long stretch of years, the Taliban has worked continuously to grow their influence there, especially during the time that military focus was on Iraq.
They are strong.
They bomb and hurt people, deliberately choosing civilians.
They make people afraid.
Fear is the control-choice of terrorists.
Elections are the opposite of fear: instead of curbing choices, offering them. Not telling people what they must do, but asking a people what they will do.
Elections are an example of control stemming from faith in freedom.
And so still now, as then, as so many places and times in history, it can reduce to a simple choice: will the world will be controlled by fear...or by faith in freedom?
Afghanistan is trying mightily to have elections, and the Taliban is increasing violence against those elections, and against those who will be trying to protect the people casting their votes.
Who will win? Or perhaps it should be worded, what will win? Fear? Or faith in free choice?
They are far, far from us, those bearded men in turbans walking to the polls, and their wives and children, and those running for political office. But our fate and theirs is linked in complex ways.
Our sons are over there, trying to help hold the fear at bay. The result of those elections, and the success or failure of Taliban violence at disrupting them, will feed or starve terrorism there and in other parts of the world.
Respect for survival of the fittest is ingrained in our human natures.
And in Afghanistan, respect for survival of the fittest may come down to respect for those who protected the elections…or respect for those who disrupted them.
How can we practice strength with restraint? How can we fight terrorism and not create fear?
From the webblog link below:
In his first day on the job, the new Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen outlined how he plans to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a "grand central station" of terrorism.
Rasmussen started with a pledge to ensure security for the upcoming elections.
Al Jazeera's James Bays illustrates the enormity of the task, after news of more violence in the country via a uTube video on this link: www.helmandblog.blogspot.com/
Please take a moment to click on the uTube dated Tuesday.
Thank you for checking in,
Monday, August 3, 2009
He has flown in the couple of weeks there more hours than he would fly in a month in Hawaii. Lots and lots of flying! Still mostly at night, so it’s cooler. Not for the day guys though!
He is anxiously awaiting the first packages from home. They get mail twice a week, so I’m thinking he didn’t get our package today, and will have to wait four more days for it.
From an email:
I’m so ready for it to cool off. I took a shower today before work and the cold water was the same temp as the air...130 degrees. I’m flying nights now so it's a lot better. Still have to get the plane ready in the heat but at least the 6+ hours in the air are a little cooler.
Thanks for checking in,