Back to blogging
Ok, Philip. Let's get this blog back on track. I'll start by going through your emails and seeing what's appropriate -- meaningful -- to bring to public attention.
Oh, the email address in Comments is optional. Leave it blank rather than making up bogus ones.
And, Joe wants to know if you guy have figured out the best repellant to use on sand fleas.
Happy Birthday, Philip!
Today is your birthday. I am thinking of cakes. What is your favorite? Black Forest? Tiramisu? Vanilla? My favorite is Lemon. I love anything lemon. Lemon bars, lemon pie, lemon bundt with sweet glaze. I think I unknowingly had the same lessons from my mother as you did with yours...when life gives you lemons, make.....
I imagine the mideast has lemon trees, bulging in the hot sun. Wheat fields?, not likely. Sweets?, recognizable in any form?
Thank-you Sgt. Philip Jarvis for filling our hearts and our heads with real details. It is hard to transform the sweet sixteen year-old I met on Vermont soil to the Master Gunner that speaks to us through this log. I pray daily that you are infused with God's all knowingness and carried in his palm as you attend your duties.
Our daily candle in the window is the only tangible source to help us all express what words we can't seem to employ. Our now 14 & 12 y.o. 'tweens have a much different world view; knowing you are actively swatting fleas and carrying out work that goes beyond a desk.
It is a deep,deep honor to get to know you, more, through this log, this journal, that helps us all to know more. My comment to others often is, that it's such an extremely different war than the time your father and I grew through Vietnam. What a different world we will have because of this tool, and your taking the time to write.
Thanks. Thank-you. You are loved by many. Happy Birthday Philip!!
A MasterCard Moment
5 May 2004 0928 hours
The Outlaws had a "little taste of home" last night. Through a little resourceful thinking and bold action, we had a BBQ. It was a peaceful scene in the evening hours. The temperature dropped to reasonable 90 degrees. It hit a high of 114 degrees during the late afternoon hours; the "cool" evening air without the sun searing our skin was welcome.
I brought some party lights and a Weber grill from Germany. Monika mailed us forty pounds of charcoal that created the perfect bed of coals. We enjoyed steaks and hamburgers with a side of assorted potato chips. The Jack Daniels flavored BBQ sauce glazed the meat and gave it a smoky flavor. It was the first time since we assumed this mission that every junior soldier in the platoon was outside of their hooches together. We were throwing frisbees and footballs with chem-lites attached. It was good to see smiles on so many soldiers faces. I am talking about real pleasure; not some form of conjured up emotion under false pretense.
The cameras were out and in full use. Special times like that make this deployment pass just a little bit easier. MasterCard could produce a great advertisement from the scene. Grill, tools, and charcoal... cost $75. Party lights, assorted toys, and bug zapper... cost $50. Steaks, hamburgers, and condiments... cost $60. Unforgettable moments conducting a BBQ with United States Soldiers in Iraq... priceless.
I am no longer an Outlaw. I am being transferred back to Bravo Company, The Bushmasters. Only God knows what lies ahead for me. My mother taught me a wonderful anecdote when I was a child. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. That rings true to this day. The Outlaws are strong soldiers capable of performing heroic tasks when called to duty. I am proud to have served with the soldiers of the Outlaw Platoon.
Postscript: While I was writing this post I got E-mail from my Mom. She wrote this at the end of her message. "Love you very much. Please stay safe and keep making that delicious brand of lemonade only you can make out of those ol' lemons. Mom."
Hey, Hans! You're still delivering the mail, Man!
3 Jun 2004 1207 hours
Mail does not arrive every day. When it does arrive, it is a very exciting moment for the soldiers who receive it. My wife sends many comfort items, and I have purchased some things from the internet. My brother in Florida sends DVD's regularly, my sister-in-law sends candy from Germany, and I believe I should receive stock from Tower Hobbies for all of the stuff I have ordered. It is a rare day that I do not receive a package. The Care Packages are my "little taste of home" that help me get my fix. The impact that items from home have on a soldier's morale are immeasurable.
I received a very special package a few days ago. Actually, I received three huge packages from some very special people that I have never had the pleasure of meeting. Jeanette Lawing was the name on the return address label.
I was curious who this very generous woman was as I opened the boxes. Though I did not know what bond I had with her, I was nevertheless thankful for every item in the boxes. A box full of wonderful books was sincerely appreciated by several avid readers. I opened the last one and knew instantly what cast our relationship. A manila envelope laid underneath the top flaps. Written in gold letters was the following, "In Memory of Capt John F. (Hans) Kurth." Its contents caused one of the most emotional moments I have endured.
I first came to a letter written by John Aleksander Kurth, son of Captain Kurth. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for him. I answer, "Yes John, everyone enjoys the stuff, thank you"! There was another well written letter by a young man named Aden Webb, age 4. He writes that he is best buds as well as cousins with John Aleksander. I could not imagine a better friend to have. The dominoes that Aden picked out are a favorite of many of the soldiers. We play a game called "Bones" with them on the picnic table outside of our rooms.
Holly Webb, your letter brightened my day. I thank you so much for taking the time to send a message to me. I have been receiving some flack because of what I write; your support is welcomed. CPT Kurth was a very special man who is loved by many, respected by all, and must never be forgotten. You mentioned in the letter about how he would not buy a shirt, but would gladly lay down $40 for a 2 pound steak. We are talking about a man that wore a Rolex watch to the field. The quality of a product was a characteristic that he understood and appreciated.
I have been approached by wonderful people who are all connected by their affection for Captain Kurth. I can tell by all of the correspondence that he was surrounded by individually beautiful people with admirable character. The Outlaws Platoon thanks the Chiquola Baptist Church, First Assembly of Greenville, S.C., and friends from Rocky River Church of God. Thank you so much for your generosity. As for the "little taste of home", the homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies were delicious. We savored every mouth-watering morsel and dipped them in milk to enhance the full bodied flavor. We appreciate your kindness with all sincerity.
For all Moms out there. If you have a son or daughter in sector, send him or her some homebaked Chocolate Chip Cookies. Throw a couple of extra hand fulls of chips in, and maybe some walnuts. I believe in the healing power of chocolate. Beware though. It was 114 degrees yesterday. Chocolate cookies will make it, Chocolate bars will not.
SSG, US Army
Disconnecting the Flow
2 Jun 2004 1210 hours
(Note: I changed the Iraqi names for security reasons)
Over the past few days, I have had direct contact with local nationals. The Army pays men $5 a day to pick-up trash, fill sand bags, and place the sandbags where we tell them. Most of the Iraqis that show up are 15-18 years old. There physique is much smaller than that of the average American soldier. They have very little mass on their visually weak skeleton. I hesitate to call them "kids". There is experience in their eyes. They have seen things that few people where I come from can relate to.
Given the proper motivation and direction, they work very hard. There was one kid, Rami, who wore old sandals. One of his toenails was broken with a blood blister formed under it. He had several cuts on his feet from the jagged rocks. He asked for shoes. One of the soldiers who I assigned to supervise the Iraqis had recently purchased new running shoes. He gave his old ones, which were serviceable, to Rami. The kid told me he would come back the next day to work for us again.
The next day's batch of workers arrived in a large group. I began to search the ground, looking for the shoes from the day before. Rami was standing there, proud of his shoes, smiling when he saw me looking for them. I gave him thumbs up and pointed him into my work group. He works diligently the entire workday, only resting during the breaks I scheduled.
The first time I made contact with the workers was challenging. Every time I said something to one person, all of the workers would quickly come over and try to be a part of the exchange. But quickly another local, Dilshad, has made himself a "boss" by providing leadership. The task is simple, fill sand bags, put them on a truck, American soldiers move the truck where the bags are needed, then the Iraqis stack them where necessary. Dilshad has shown that he is capable of keeping the others from slacking off and gets the mission done smoothly. I allow him to direct the work force because he increases efficiency. Now, everyone knows to go to Dilshad if they have questions.
I brought each worker a bottle of cold water at the end of the day, and a Pepsi for Dilshad. Another Iraqi, Hassam-Sali, asked for shoes a few days ago. We only had one pair of shoes the other day; Rami's feet were in worse condition. I called Monika, my wife, and explained the situation. Most of the Iraqis wear dilapidated sandals that afford little protection for their feet. The shoes that Americans give out are appreciated, and worn on a daily basis. Several workers show up wearing old desert boots or black Army boots. I have some old shoes in the basement that she mailed out. She also called her workplace, School Age Services, in Schweinfurt and started a shoe collection program.
I showed Hassam-Sami a picture of Monika and explained that it would be a few weeks before the shoes arrive. He smiled and vowed to work hard every day. He told me that I am his friend and made the symbol with his fingers. I just want him to fill sandbags and go home. It has been over 110 degrees every day for the past week. If giving them shoes will help them work harder, by all means, give them some Air Jordans.
I drove a Hummer to the front gate yesterday to pick up my workers. My Point of Contact at the gate told me that the workers were outside the FOB and would be in shortly. We arranged for a meeting place to divide them into work groups. I saw the Iraqi dump trucks outside of the gate, heaping with Iraqi workers. It would be about 10 minutes. I informed my POC that I was heading over to the local national shop to buy a Coke, and then meet him at the exchange point. (Note: the local national shop is on the FOB; next to the "px") I turned the Hummer around and drove away. A few minutes later, I heard a massive explosion and saw smoke rising in the direction of the front gate. I headed back to the gate to see what was going on. From the safety of the FOB I saw the aftermath of the carnage. A suicide bomber drove a car laden with explosive toward the front gate of the FOB. It exploded only a few meters away from the dump trucks and ICDC personnel; many were lost. Many Iraqis were killed, including members of the ICDC, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps. As a matter of fact, only Iraqis were killed. I was informed that the total number of dead is at least 11, 32 wounded; one reliable source said that the number has climbed to 17. I do not know the exact number; I think that is irrelevant anyway. It does not matter if 1 or 10 were killed. Some of the dead were the workers coming to the FOB. What kind of sick fuck kills innocent people deliberately? The workers had been quickly shuffled into a holding area. I saw Dilshad, he approached me with wide eyes. He said, "no work today, no work today", in a voice that I can only describe as petrified. I told him that we were not going to have them work and to standby for instructions.
My heart sank as I looked at the group of young Iraqis. Their eyes did not show emotion. I expected to see fear, hate, rage, or loss in their expression. They have been through so much in their lives; they just stood still waiting to see what we were going to do with them. I was told that one of the Iraqis lost a brother in the attack. They were supposed to feel safe with us overwatching them. It was such an ugly moment; unable to change the course that evil took.
None of the workers showed up at the gate today. How am I supposed to give Hassam-Sali his shoes?
It does not matter where you are
26 May 2004 0837 hours
It's been a while since I've seen the way the oil fires light the sky. The Morale Welfare and Recreation tent on Camp Wolverine in Kuwait is totally unlike the facilities that do not exist on FOB Summerall. I entered the vast tunnels of tents connected by wooden docking stations that keep the entire facility sealed from the forces of nature outside to find myself confused again. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind, physically and emotionally. This stop in Kuwait is part of my redeployment into Iraq. On 14 May, I returned home on Emergency Leave due to an illness in my family. Let me tell you what I have experienced over the past few days.
It was late in the afternoon on 14 May when I arrived at LSA Anaconda. For those of you who are playing the home game; Which of the following choices best completes the following sentence? LSA Anaconda is ... A: a major logistics point. B: huge. C: bombed frequently. D: A, B, and C. Answer D is correct. I enjoy seeing the world through other people's point of view. So it was nice to have another soldier from FOB Summerall leaving with me. He ranted from the moment I met him at 0700 until a little past late in the afternoon after we arrived on Anaconda.
He was pointing out very specific events that occurred with his unit that he wishes he could do over again. It was so interesting to hear about the joint missions from his point if view. Remember the time my driver ran over a power cable during a lightning storm? My new friend was on the assault team that entered the building we were providing security for during that mission. He was hating on everyone whose job does not take them off of the FOB. This guy was cracking me up with his humor and sincerity. He pointed out shortfalls from weapons that were poorly maintained, lax security on passing convoys, to inability to adhere to uniform standards. (Note: CNN just told me that 19% of a Gallup poll showed that America blames the "War in Iraq" for high gas prices. Wow.)
The liaison informed us which flight were manifested on as well as the "Showtime" for roll call. Seeing as how we were hungry, and the food on FOB Summerall comes out of a can, we figured it would be a good idea to take the shuttle bus to one of the dining facilities. It had been three months since I rode the bus from Camp New York to the Close Quarters Combat Training out in the desert in Kuwait. We laughed as the bus pulled away from the stop. The air conditioned comfort of the bus allowed us to relax and enjoy the ride.
The scene was strange. I felt like I was riding a city bus through Schweinfurt; except the pedestrians are carrying M16's. There were MP's in sport utility vehicles patrolling the roads and overwatching intersections on post. There were soldiers in Physical Fitness uniforms running in formation. There were soldiers walking the roads performing police call with orange road guard vests on. It appears that there are more civilians working here than soldiers. Even the smallest details, like traffic control signs, make the base feel like Anypost, USA.
My new buddy was just livid from all of the "normalcy" he viewed. We talked about how the LSA does not outwardly appear to be in a combat zone. There are trees that break the skyline, and the sheer size of the post gives the illusion of security. FOB Summerall does not appear normal by any means or fashion. Every structure is surrounded by Hesco barriers or sandbags. There is absolutely no scenery on the FOB. No road signs, no interactions between soldiers of other units. The only thing we have is our brothers by our side, and the entertainment in our cells. I did not realize the impact that the living conditions have had on us.
For his privacy, I will call him Fernando. Ferny made comments about every soldier that we passed. A group of soldiers boarded the bus. A particularly colorful character sat down across the isle from me. He greeted me with a big smile and a historical reference to the Big Red One patch on my shoulder. I have found out over the years that many people thrive on being associated with units that have noble lineage. He was one of those gray haired Specialists that were around when the Army wore fatigues. He asked a couple of the usual questions such as what FOB we came from, where is it, how long have we been in the Big Red One. Fernando is not easily dissuaded from his hypothesis that all support personnel are POAG's. (Note: I do not know the origin or authenticity of the word Poag. I just know that it has been around the Army longer than me. I do take credit for creating the following definition: I believe that POAG's are "Personnel Obviously Assigned to Garrison".)
Fernando made a statement to the soldier about how being on LSA Anaconda is not a deployment, referencing all of the facilities that make the quality of life much better than it appears to him on Summerall. The soldier assured us that being on Anaconda was in fact a deployment due to it's location in Iraq and length of operation. I could see Fernando rolling his eyes and not really giving two shits about what this guy was saying. I made a reference to the news reports I had been reading about the high frequency of indirect fire attacks on LSA Anaconda. Ferny turned towards me and said, "who cares if they drop mortars on this place? Who will miss it?" There were quite a few raised hackles on that bus by that point. He changed gears quickly and reworded it in a manner that referenced the size of the base. The odds of a round actually hitting something of value was decreased due to the reduced probability of a hit. By this point I just wanted to get off the bus and hide Fernando from interacting with any more locals on Anaconda.
The old man stayed sociable despite Fernando's impolite behavior. He informed me that the dining facility would not open for a short while and gave me directions to a nearby tent where we could watch a movie. We meandered over and walked in half way through bootleg Kill Bill 2. Having no interest in watching only the last half of a highly anticipated film, we exited. We began to soak in the small details of the area we were in. We found a prominent board that contained a message written in block letters. "Uniform for all soldiers is Kevlar, flak vest, and weapon: WORN AT ALL TIMES ON LSA ANACONDA". We chuckled as a portly soldier waddled by wearing flip-flops, PT shorts, brown t-shirt untucked, and towel around it's neck beneath a head with no cover. It is a travesty to see how large some soldiers have gotten over here. Thank goodness for Army Regulation 600-9.
The soldier turned and entered a tent marked with a sign that did not allow us to enter. Fernando and I began to talk about how Non-Commissioned Officers have an inherent responsibility towards their soldiers. We are responsible for the health, welfare, and appearance of our soldiers. I knew the direction to the Dining Facility and turned us in the right direction. I suddenly heard a sound that I remember hearing a few months ago. But it only lasted a millisecond this time. It was a "Whoosh" over my head, followed by a loud "Bang". I looked over and saw the impact in between two living quarter cells. There was a small plume of smoke and a body on the ground. I immediately ran in the direction of the person I saw in the prone. I was the second person to arrive at the casualty's aid. It was an Iraqi with a cut on the inside of his thigh. He will survive. An American soldier received minor injuries. By the time I saw him, a medic from nearby was on scene. I told Fernando, "This is all your fault...all that Haterade you're drinking up on this LSA. God is telling you to shut the fuck up because everyone in Iraq, regardless of what FOB they are on, is a target". He laughed and agreed with me. We were only a few hours from flying out of Iraq for 14 days when an enemy attack landed 75 meters from where we were standing. It does not matter where you are, everyone is threatened.
12 days later, here I am, back on FOB Summerall.