Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving week

It's almost Thanksgiving, and I'm far from home and those I love. I have a lot for which to be grateful, none the less.

Here's part of an email I received from a Soldier who's been posted to a small Joint Security Station (living with the Iraqi security forces). I've only been able to get there twice in the almost four months I've been here Down Range. It provides insight into hardships our young Soldiers have to endure, even when the 'kinetic fight' (as they're saying these days in Army parlance) has subsided considerably.

It has helped focus my own reflections about Thanksgiving Day:

Being deployed is funny because it gives us so much time to think. While my friends at home are busy with kids, work, going out at night, traveling on weekends, etc; we are here stuck in a tower or a truck staring at an empty street. All we can do to stay awake is daydream and talk about what we daydreamed about. Because of this we live in a world half-fantasy and half reality.

This is a big part of what makes it hard to communicate with the outside world – we either flood someone with the products of our daydreams or simply clam up because we don't know what to tell them about a reality we don't particularly want them to experience (I'm a rare soul in that I came here not only looking to learn about this war but also to express that reality to the world; yet, I fall into the same trap simply because it seems like there's no way most people will know enough to understand.)

On top of that, I haven't learned all that much from this deployment as of right now, but that always changes looking back.). It's not that we're experiencing extreme danger or seeing horrific things on a daily basis: we're not. Mostly we're socially bored to a degree that's simply inexpressible. Nobody who lives inside the wire or back home can even imagine how it feels to pull guard for eight hours a day with another guy who ran out of things to talk about three months ago.

Which brings up something interesting: at this point we barely even talk to one another. Even Jake and I have only a few words to spare. We've talked about everything, made life changing decisions and taken strange and random choices as to what to do with our free time, but now we're done. It's not that we're ceasing to exist or becoming less human, but a group of people so isolated learns that talking doesn't solve many problems. As a matter of fact, it seems to me that it exacerbates many of them. If I talk about how angry I am, I get angrier; my gunner gets angry with me for being angry; my NCOs hear it and they get angry (which is their job, I guess). See where I'm going?

Another reason we don't talk too much to outsiders is that, for us, being what we are is almost like being part of the world's largest-yet-still-exclusive-fraternity. Many of us long ago ceased to be proud of what we do every day or even look at the day we swore in with disgust because we've been stop-lossed, aren't doing what we expected to be doing, or just didn't read the fine print. Those of us who feel this way see the fortitude that we felt when we chose to sign and waive as muleheadedness now, but we really don't want to bring anybody down and keep the gripes inside the brotherhood.

Repression is often the best option – no matter what pop-psychology has to say.

Despite all those things, there are times when we get in the mood to talk, and then we talk probably too much. I've always been a talker once I got comfortable with someone (and I've always been comfortable typing to anyone), but since I joined the Army I've noted that I will suddenly write, type, call everyone I know all at once. Which is sort of what this email is about.

All of that just to say, "hi, I love you guys and will be home soon."

Seriously. We're almost done. That gives us all something to talk about.

Peace, Hope, Love,


During this week when the United States observes Thanksgiving Day, everyone's attention seems to be focused upon how much the various 'bailouts' of corporate executives will cost everyone -- except the people who've aided and abetted this travesty to occur in the first place.

I would submit to you, Gentle Readers, that a much more appropriate focus of our attention might be on SPC C, the author of the note quoted above, and the countless others like him who have REALLY paid in ways that are more significant and more costly than mere dollars. What has all of this Down Range cost *them*?

How different might this Thanksgiving Day be this year, if we all shifted our focus a bit? I, for one, feel honored to know SPC C and countless others like him whom I've met just in the short time I've been in the Army.

I am grateful beyond words that in the midst of rigors beyond my imagining, these Soldiers choose honor over dishonor, the hard right rather than the easy wrong, integrity over compromise, and retain their humanity when others work hard to take it away.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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