25 April 2008 (Sadr City, Iraq)

I woke up itching all over my body this morning. I’m miserable.

Today, we’re at Thawra II. It’s an Iraqi Police compound, but the Iraqi Army soldiers have totally wrecked the place. We keep soldiers here from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M. From what I understand, a lot of the shooting we hear at night is coming from here. It sounds like they get hit hard almost every night. For now, we’re just chilling. SGT Taaga is keeping eyes on the RWS (Remote Weapon System). We were given some huge packets of tuna and a couple loaves of wheat bread, so we’re sitting in our Stryker eating tuna sandwiches. It’s a nice break from MREs. As usual, we’ve got an iPod hooked up to the comm’s, so we have some island music playing inside the truck.

I realized how much sitting around and sweating we’ve been doing, when I noticed how bad my prickly heat is. It’s really bad where I sit and under my body armor. It sucks!

About 2 P.M. we received a call that a Major General Hammond would be coming out to visit. Company leadership started pushing down directives to make sure that everyone was clean shaven, had no rolled sleeve cuffs, and was wearing all the proper protective equipment. We figured it would be another dog and pony show where we put on fake smiles to tell a flag officer how motivated and happy we are to be here. The higher-ups always like to hear how great things are going. They also like to hear how we have everything that we need and could possibly want to be comfortable while completing our missions.

General Hammond and his entourage arrived, and about 30 minutes later, LT Schardt called over the radio. He asked for me, Jimmy, Eichler, and AB. Then he reminded us again about wearing full battle rattle and all of the proper gear. I put on a pair of gloves, unrolled my sleeves, ran someone’s shitty electric razor over most my face, and strapped a knee-pad over one knee before Jimmy and I headed for the main building. I didn’t really know what we were going up there for, other than to feed the general a line of bullshit. Eichler got out of his truck about the same time as Jimmy and I, and he told me that LT Schardt said it was, “for something good.” We went insdie the building the Iraqi Army was using, and we lined up against a wall. I joked, “Eichler must be getting a coin for shooting those guys, and Bridges is probably getting one for becoming a ‘terp’.”

Once everyone was inside, Captain Veath introduced each of us to the general, and he provided them with a bit of background information about our performance since we’d been in Sadr City. General Hammond spoke to each of us briefly, and when he reached the end of the line, he said, “attention to orders!” Everyone in the room snapped to the position of attention, and that’s when I noticed a captain with a handful of Bronze Star Medals. I wasn’t expecting that, and later Jimmy shared the same thoughts. He was as surprised as I was. General Hammond pinned each of us with a Bronze Star Medal, and told us that he’d get the paperwork taken care of later. To be completely honest, I’m not sure we’ll ever actually see the orders. After the impromptu awards ceremony was over, MG Hammond asked for the name and address of the person at home who loves us the most. He said he wanted to send them personal letters about this day. I’ll be interested to see the letter if I get home. Hell, I’d just like to see the bullet points and the citation on the award recommendation form.

I congratulated LT Schardt on his own BSM, and he said it was all us. He made a comment about how he feels about 2nd squad. I didn’t even catch it all, but I knew what he meant. He’s a good platoon leader. He’s modest, and he gives us credit for his successes. He even thanked us NCOs after he got good comments from the battalion commander on his OER (Officer Evaluation Report). Maybe part of his success is because of us, but it’s also him. I suppose the same goes for my NCOER. My boys make or break me.

Jimmy and I walked back to our Stryker in shock. When we climbed back in, SGT Fraleigh asked, “What was that all about?”

SGT Bridges held up his medal, just as I said, “Bronze Stars.”

Fraleigh said, “Where’s my Bronze Star? That’s fucked up!”

Bridges looked at him and said, “If you got a Bronze Star, and I didn’t, I’d just be happy for you.”

I have to admit, it was nice to hear Captain Veath tell a division commander that my squad is the go-to squad when it comes to getting things done. Who knows, he probably said that about every squad leader who got an award over here.

There’s been some talk about shuffling some NCOs within the platoon. I’m not really sure how I feel about it. Some guys in the vehicle crews want and need some experience on the line. Others could probably stand to have some time off the line. I’m not a huge fan of the SGT that may be coming to me, but I don’t really have a whole lot of a choice anyway. SFC AB thinks he’s doing a great job. I think he sucks. At the end of the day, AB’s the boss. AB will be going on R&R on May 20th, so I’ll be platoon sergeant for about a month. That’ll be a nice change, stressful, but something different at least.

We’ve been here for a few hours, and we just turned off the Stryker to save fuel. It’s only been a couple of minutes, and I’m already soaking wet. Sweat is running everywhere, and I’m filthy from all the dust and dirt anyway. Even my pants are soaking wet. We’re sitting in a dark metal box with no air conditioning in the Middle-freaking-East.

I was just sitting here thinking, and it hit me; my army career will be over in 13 or 14 months, if I survive that long.

Around 9 P.M., I took a shower! It was air temperature, which was warm, and there was no pressure, but it sure was nice. I got right back into my dirty sweat-soaked uniform, but I definitely feel better.

I tried to call Theresa, but she’s working, and her boss is visiting. She couldn’t talk, but she sent a text. I sent one back; having this Iraqna cell phone has definitely paid off since we’ve been down here near Baghdad. I decided to call mom for a bit. I told her about my Bronze Star, and she asked what it was for. I told her the truth; I don’t really know. She mentioned that my stepdad, Dave, was heading to the high school later to present awards at the Army JROTC awards ceremony. I asked her to have Dave tell LTC (Ret.) Yelk, my old JROTC instructor, about my BSM. Maybe I haven’t done enough to deserve it, but maybe I have. I’m not sure what to think about it. I’m not going to lie; the action in Iraq right now is in Sadr City. I like the idea of people in my hometown knowing that I’m here and knowing about what we’re doing here. I don’t want to brag about it, but you know, this is war, and we’re here living it. I guess I want people from home, people who don’t know what it’s like, to realize that they know someone who’s in it. I kind of enjoy the reaction I get when I tell people that this is my 4th deployment. I like it when people from my little Midwestern town know that I’ve done something.

Fraleigh started bitching about the Bronze Stars again. I told him, full of sarcasm, “calm down! It takes longer for the Congressional Medal of Honor to be approved.” Several of the guys here have congratulated us for getting these awards. My peers, the other squad leaders, haven’t said anything. Honestly, I think they’re more pissed about it than Fraleigh.

Some of the soldiers from the other squads have started complaining about never getting to do anything. I get it. I would feel the same way. I would also argue that my squad is more experienced; this is my 4th deployment, and both of my team leaders have been in combat before this tour. I think that all of the squads in our platoon are capable, but my guys are smoother when it comes to being under fire or assaulting an objective. Leo and Heckman have been both deployed before, but their team leaders haven’t been overseas before this. I don’t know what the solution is, but I wouldn’t trade my squad for anything.

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