Sunday, May 30, 2010

SGW: Life Lessons the Afghanistan War Taught Me

[Editor's Note: While all of our posts are original to either Kate, Lydia, or one of our awesome special guest writers, we read this in our newspaper this morning, and felt that we needed to share. We like to think of it as a DaddyLand Rant, but it's way better than that. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did. - Kate & Lydia]

Late last year, after eight months of service halfway around the world, I decided to take stock of myself: I had not been monitoring my stock portfolios and investments closely. I was not current on the machinations of the faltering economy or what the health-care debate meant for my insurance. I had never heard of the finalists on any of the reality shows.

Was I unenlightened and out of touch with reality? Perhaps, by a conventional definition of being connected, informed and up-to-date, I was woefully ignorant.

I was deployed in Afghanistan, and that combat sabbatical taught a completely different regimen of vital knowledge. I have learned:

  • Although soldiers are predominantly young, virile men, cut off from feminine wiles and charms, what they miss most is food. But having said that . . . 
  • Megan Fox is to Afghanistan what Betty Grable was to World War II.
  • When you look into the face of a gravely wounded soldier, your eyes fill with tears.
  • With some imagination, the sling seat in the gunner's turret of a Cougar combat vehicle can seem like a rocking chair.
  • Sometimes it is better to stay on radio watch than freeze in your sleeping bag.
  • The bulk of soldiers would relinquish their birthright for one ice-cold beer.
  • I dread the specter of death but do not fear it.
  • I am capable of performing acts of brutality but don't.
  • Although all Americans are born equal, all boots are not.
  • Having a culture different than America's doesn't mean there is something wrong with that culture or that it is not as good.
  • When heated and liberally seasoned with Tabasco, all MREs are good.
  • You don't feel the effects of a battle until the day after. Then you are swept with feelings of anxiety, anger, thankfulness and a profound weariness. A hollow sense of shock descends. It passes, mostly.
  • Afghan food, although prepared in a way that would make a state health inspector faint, is tasty. And...
  • The vast majority of soldiers get sick on American, not Afghan, food.
  • The Afghan people are a giving, warmhearted group.
  • The Afghan children are absolutely beautiful, with their hopeful smiles.
  • Nothing is more important than family. Nothing.
  • When Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" said, "There's no place like home," she was spot-on.
  • Soldiers still flock like pigeons when mail arrives.
  • Notes, packages and letters from Americans we don't even know warm our souls to the core.
  • Pictures and letters from a first-grade class make our sacrifices seem worthy.
  • The Afghan people deserve better than they have gotten the past 300 years.
  • The M240B machine gun is a wonderful weapon and never jams.
  • The Afghans are tough as nails and extremely resourceful.
  • Mortar and rocket explosions are much louder at night. So is machine-gun fire.
  • American soldiers are here by choice. They want to make a difference for Afghans and provide security for the folks back home.
  • This war is necessary and worthwhile.
  • When you are cut off, out of fuel, water and food, it feels even worse than it sounds.
  • There is no risk too great or mission too dangerous for the U.S. soldier if the goal is to retrieve a missing comrade.
  • Narcolepsy is rampant in the military. No place is too uncomfortable to sleep.
  • When a roadside bomb explodes, even if you know it is coming, you still jump.
  • When I look at my right sleeve and see the 101st Airborne combat patch and the subdued American flag, I am stirred with pride.
  • The first thing you say in a firefight is: "What the hell was that?" This is quickly followed by: "Where the hell did it come from?"
  • You never know how beautiful a sunrise is until you don't know if you'll live to see it.
  • I am always incredulous when the bullets stop whizzing past and no one is hit. 
  • American FRACU (Flame Retardant Army Combat Uniform) uniforms fade to dingy, mottled beige and are made of papier-mache.
  • Life for Afghans is an inexact science.
  • The MRAP is a fabulous, mine-resistant vehicle. It gives its life willingly so our soldiers do not have to give theirs.
  • Normally hard as tungsten and cold as sleet, a soldier will cry at a memorial service for fallen brethren.
  • The Afghans laugh at us behind our backs, too.
The war will not be won or lost in a conventional definition of victory or defeat. Stability is the ultimate goal, not notches on our national battle flags. We win when the Afghan people win, and not before. It is up to them, not us, when this war ends. We will persevere as long as they persevere.

[Special thanks to Maj. J. Mark Jackson, US Army Reserve, who wrote this amazing piece for the Washington Post. He served in Afghanistan from April to December 2009.]

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  1. wow. I'm not an American but i am Canadian and i feel for everyone who goes overseas to this war. Doesn't matter where your from or what you believe in. i always say a prayer for anyone who is there.This war is everybody's business even if you don't agree with it.

  2. This managed to make me both laugh out loud and bring me to tears. As the wife of a 3-soon-to-be-4-times-deployed soldier, I know that every one of these points is true, beyond a doubt. Happy Memorial Day to everyone, and please remember that even if you don't believe in this war, you should pray for every soldier, airman, marine, and sailor to come home safely.

  3. God Bless America and Our Brave Boys!

  4. I've never commented, but often spit coffee at my laptop reading you girls. As a proud mother of two kids who recently endured 4 short months (as compared to 12+) without our military Dad, thanks. On a side note, reading your blog makes me want to drink before lunch. Is that normal?

  5. Thank you for posting this and giving us a perspective that we don't normally get.

  6. Thanks for this. I have a good dear friend serving in the Army in Afghanistan. I faithfully send letters and packages. Happy Memorial weekend.

  7. Oi this made my heart ache for my husband even more. It is incredibly difficult being the spouse and knowing you won't ever fully get what they're going through. I can't imagine how difficult it truly is for him to come home back to "normality" after he's been over there. God bless all of them and thank you Lydia and Kate for posting!! <3

  8. I feel like my husband could have been the author of that article and it made me cry. So many of the points he made have been things we've talked about in the last few days. Afghanistan is a very dangerous area right now. I try to let it roll off my back because this is our third time and I KNOW how to deal but there are moments that it becomes overwhelming. I'm just ready to have my husband home.

  9. Thank you for posting this. I have been on both sides as I am an Army wife and also a Vet of operation Iraqi freedom. Happy Memorial day!

  10. Thank you to all the men and women that keep us free and safe! GOD BLESS AMERICA AND OUR BRAKE SOLDIERS!! Happy Memorial Day and please dont forget why we celebrate this day!! This post was so wonderful and insightful! Thanks for posting it!!

  11. JRA, Command Sergeant Major, Retired, US ArmyJune 9, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    Powerful, honest, reaching the core of the soul, this profound article says it all concerning our men and women in harm's way. Having served, I too, relate to what is written. That is why all of us combat veterans have a kindred spirit amongst ourselves. And, I too pray for peace and understanding. You family members out there, please continue to believe in your family and your faith. Love is the most powerful emotion, and there is no limit on its impact on the lives of all concern. God bless you, and may God bless our country.




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