Before now poetry has taken notice
Of wars, and what are wars but politics
Transformed from chronic to acute and bloody?
from "Build Soil"
Robert Frost

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dead Eyes

It wasn't a good night to have a new LT on patrol. Our LT was was out with us, of course- the new guy would be leading the platoon coming to replace us. We were on a mission that could easily turn bad- as it happened, everyones night but ours was bad. We waited around at a Combat Outpost for hours for our Marine attachments to resolve some equiqment issues, cleared our route, and went home. One of our sister platoons ended up MEDIVACing two men on a helicopter after an IED strike, while another route clearance team out of Falluja was hit multiple times, and an EOD team hit a bomb that flipped a Cougar and sent two techs to the hospital.

The new LT asked "Is it always like this?". His eyes had the dawning realization that he was now at war- that he was about to begin a year of one of the most dangerous jobs in Iraq. The "Oh shit" look, we call it. It's the moment when you realize that these heavy armored trucks are not the panacea that Senators and Army trainers make them appear, not when faced with a determined and ingenious enemy. It's what you get when you see something go wrong for the first time, and the guys around you accept it with a quiet prayer and stoic determination, rather than any outward signs of shock or fear. It's the moment that makes you stop and wonder "Oh shit... what did I get myself into?"

I remember when that moment first came for me- it was right after we got to Ramadi. The Transfer of Authority ceremony had just finished, officially putting my battalion in charge of route clearance operations across a broad swath of western Iraq. I saw an old friend from ROTC back in college, and went over to talk to him. He'd been a platoon leader for the last year, and he looked a hundred years old. The last time I saw him was two years prior, just before he left for his final training as an officer before going to his first command. Then, he'd been lively and vibrant and (dare I say it?) he was a little bit of a dork. Always clowning around, that sort of thing. Now, he looked dead, and I knew that the last year had taken something out of him that the years ahead would be hard pressed to put back in.

The circle has turned, now, as it always does. Now, we are the veterans- the calloused, dead-eyed men who just want to turn over the mission and go home. There's so many things that wear men down- the slow, slippery slope of progress, the questioning and lack of support in news from home, the steady churn replacing wounded (and God forbid, dead) men. The lack of sleep, the hectic stress of changing missions, the broken men, broken families, broken children.

I hope these new guys make it through all right, but for now, we just want to go home.


  1. Anonymous29/8/07 07:59

    Yes, it is definately about time for a solo book from you. Keep it up. :)

  2. War is hell and none know it better than those who fight. That is why the rest of us owe you all so much. Thank you.

  3. every post of yours I read...I learn something new.

    stay safe. thank you.

  4. Another good post TD, stay safe, get your self back inside the wire..

  5. Tell you've got my support, and my family's as well.

    You're all doing a great job, and we're supporting through to victory!

  6. Anonymous31/8/07 08:51

    You reminded me of this, from Sassoon:

    ‘FALL in, that awkward squad, and strike no more
    Attractive attitudes! Dress by the right!
    The luminous rich colours that you wore
    Have changed to hueless khaki in the night.
    Magic? What’s magic got to do with you? 5
    There’s no such thing! Blood’s red, and skies are blue.’

    They gasped and sweated, marching up and down.
    I drilled them till they cursed my raucous shout.
    Love chucked his lute away and dropped his crown.
    Rhyme got sore heels and wanted to fall out. 10
    ‘Left, right! Press on your butts!’ They looked at me
    Reproachful; how I longed to set them free!

    I gave them lectures on Defence, Attack;
    They fidgeted and shuffled, yawned and sighed,
    And boggled at my questions. Joy was slack, 15
    And Wisdom gnawed his fingers, gloomy-eyed.
    Young Fancy—how I loved him all the while—
    Stared at his note-book with a rueful smile.

    Their training done, I shipped them all to France,
    Where most of those I’d loved too well got killed. 20
    Rapture and pale Enchantment and Romance,
    And many a sickly, slender lord who’d filled
    My soul long since with lutanies of sin,
    Went home, because they couldn’t stand the din.

    But the kind, common ones that I despised 25
    (Hardly a man of them I’d count as friend),
    What stubborn-hearted virtues they disguised!
    They stood and played the hero to the end,
    Won gold and silver medals bright with bars,
    And marched resplendent home with crowns and stars. 30


  7. Anonymous31/8/07 13:14

    TD: I have read your blog for the past 6 months. I find everything you write helps me make sense of the time I have spent on deployment. Being AF I haven't deployed in 4 years now but still find comfort in your words. I have felt every emotion you've expressed so much more eloquently then I could have and because of it, I have shown your entries to my husband so that he can understand what I am unable to express properly.
    I want your readership to understand how really great this is because you and I are probably about as far apart as we could be and still I hold a strong "fraternal" bond with what you have put down in both poetry and prose. Just to highlight some differences, I have been in 30 years, I'm AF and haven't seen a 10th of what you have even after being in two wars....still it's as if you have pulled my thoughts out of my head and put them to paper (only way better, way way better:-) I think I understand what your feeling now-- the way leaving is both draining you and is a totally exciting prospect....hang on...there is another life on the other side and you will find that you can live it. And deep inside, this deployment will actually end up being a place of strength you can go to privately--to remember friends you won't see again and all the great things you and they did. Hope you continue to write.....thanks for everything.

  8. Good post. I imagine no one will ever really be "the same" upon their return.

  9. Anonymous31/8/07 19:40

    While you've been deployed, truth has started to break out all over -- even back here in the media. That is probably in no small part because of the persistence of milbloggers like you.

    Your writing of tactical days has had strategic impact.

    Bravo Zulu from an old sailor,
    dw in San Diego

  10. Anonymous1/9/07 09:53

    I think despite all the talk from those who are somewhat in opposition, be assured that 99.9 percent support those troops on the ground.

    May that message never be lost on those who wear the "red badge of courage"

  11. I have a lot of students here on Ft. Hood who are set to go back soon, some for their third time, for 15 month tours now. Hope you stay safe.

  12. Anonymous2/9/07 18:49

    "we just want to go home!"

    - From your thoughts to God's Brain and the thought made fact.

    Thank-you for a productive deployment endured. God bless you, TD

  13. (hugs and prayers) coming from here in Loganville... Hope you are home real soon.

  14. Anonymous21/9/07 20:23

    In case you didn't know, you won at the Watcher's Council ( Congratulations.

  15. Awesome blog. Thank you for the post.

  16. I love this post. How I will you to see loving magic eyes instead of dead...