You Should Read Every Word They Write:
Wednesday, May 12, 2004
James is a friend of mine from my days in Illinois. James is one in a billion. He was a terrific leader in the Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer (Ship Driver, for you civilians), but for reasons that defy all good sense, he was "RIF'ed" (dropped from the Navy as part of a 'Reduction in Force'). James became a Naval Reserve Intel Officer and a civilian analyst at our former command (I am being a bit circumspect, as James is currently in Iraq, and I don't want to break Operational Security). James is as interesting, kind, thoughtful, funny, witty, and intelligent guy as you'd ever want to me. He has to be to have agreed to eat lunch with me so many times while we were together back in Illinois.
James is currently deployed in Bagdad, doing his part to rid the world of the scourge of radical islamic terrorists. He frequently writes letters of exceptional quality to those of us fortunate enough to be on his mailing list. I've urged James to put his marvelous letters in a blog, but he doesn't have the time to do that right now, so he has graciously allowed me to post his wonderful stuff here. There are few people in the world who would make a better dinner guest than James, and I hope that you can pick up his marvelous personality, and his desire to serve his country, through these letters. I'll post more as they arrive.
Dateline: Baghdad, May 8, 23:31
This will be far shorter than the usual, since I have been running around with my hair on fire all day. That means that I didn't have time to compose and send off a nice juicy email. That was the bad news. The good news, at least at this end, was that we got a huge amount of work done. Far more in one day than most Government Offices in D.C. would get done in a year. Today a lot of decisions were being made by big important people and we were called on to give our (well reasoned, of course) opinions on what should be done on a number of fairly important issues. We did not have a lot of warning that this requirement was going to come down from on high, so we were scrambling against a super-tight deadline to get a number of policy papers, military estimates, projections and recommendations ready to go out the door and ready to go in front of some top people. After that I and some of my compatriots had to run off to HQ (in one of the Ba'ath Party's monstrous marble piles) to attend several back to back meetings full of Colonels and Generals. I would have preferred to be quiet, but my boss...the Colonel... had instructed me 'don't be a wallflower'. That is his way of telling me to give in to my natural inclination to behave like a bull in a china shop and force our point of view down the throats of all who were there. I took a more diplomatic course, and bided my time, listening to all the positions of the folks there before charging in like a rhino. It was a pretty interesting series of meetings with American military folk of all the various services and several coalition officers including our Polish comrades.
I have a soft place in my heart for the Poles. They are an intrepid and heroic people, long victimized by geography and their neighbors. About the only thing the Germans and the Russians could agree on for about the past six hundred years is that there should not be a country called Poland. Only the bravery and relentless hard headedness of the Poles prevented them from being wiped out as a nation. Even when Poland disappeared from the map the Poles dreamed of their freedom. During WW II, when their country suffered under the genocidal tortures of the Nazis (who viewed the Poles as sub-humans to be enslaved or exterminated) at least half a million exiled Poles fought in the Allied armies furiously fighting from East (Russia), West (France) and South (North Africa and Italy) to liberate their homeland. Even during the Soviet period the Polish armed forces was known as among the most nationalist (and potentially disloyal to COMINTERN) military in the Warsaw Pact. You could force a Pole to say he was a Communist, but you could never make him believe that he wasn't a Pole.
Now they are handling some very tough territory, dealing with the unrest fomented by some very bad folks. The Poles are demonstrating the usual heroic intrepidness, buckling down and finding a way to get the job done. I'm grateful for to the Polish nation, because the main reason they are here, so far from home, is to demonstrate to the U.S. that they are good allies and loyal friends to the U.S. I never had any doubt about that, but I am grateful to have these intrepid soldiers on my flank. You can always trust them to hold the line. (They also believe in the mission. As recent escapees from cruel totalitarian tyranny the Poles have a uniquely personal view of Iraq, a country that has not yet escaped
from murderous totalitarianism and its twisted aftermath.)
I was impressed with the Polish officers in this meeting. Extremely professional, and knowledgeable about the tactical and strategic situation. I'm glad they are on the case, and I'm glad I got to meet them and hear their views on the situation. It gave me a really useful perspective on what was happening in their zone.
Back to talking about me (my favorite subject). Any way, I contributed a little to the first two meetings but pretty much waited until the third to really weigh in. At the decisive third engagement (oooh, sounds so military) I presented a few comments the officer leading our discussion and things developed well from there. Time to not be a wall flower. Another officer and I were able to lay out our views, and the meeting pretty much unfolded as a discussion of our approach to the subject at hand. This meant that we then had to hurry back to our ever luxurious office trailer and build more briefing papers, and provide more info for a follow-on meeting, but that's what we wanted.
If this all seemed fairly obscure, I'm sorry but hey, that's war. Keep everyone guessing.
After this day of heroic admin the Colonel invited me into his office to watch MASTER AND COMMANDER on the large screen computer monitor. It is one of the good official DVDs, not one of the horribly junky pirated ones they sell on the street in Baghdad. The Colonel really enjoyed all the swashbuckling, and even tolerated my running commentary on obscure 19th century naval stuff that he was seeing. I think he may actually pick up some of the Patrick O'Brian novels that were the film's inspiration. Ah, my plan is working. Soon I will have drawn him over to the dark side, and will convert him from the Army to the Navy.
Interestingly, in all the gore and destruction, the only part that he had trouble with was a scene where a young tawny haired boy midshipman had to undergo 19th century surgery. He was squirming, but I think it was because the boy looked too much like his son for comfort. The Colonel took up rooting for the boy, impressed by his pluck and spirit. In the final battle he watched with concern that his young hero might not make it through alive. Happily, both Colonel and Middie survived the engagement with flying colors.
Well, that's about it. I have to get back to my trailer and get up at 05:00 (I'm sleeping in late.) We call our cycle six Mondays and a Tuesday. Tomorrow being Sunday on the calendar, it is the comfortable Tuesday of the work week. Only about a 12 hour work day (06:00-18:00) rather than the schedule of every other day - 05:30-20:00 (about a 14 hour work day).
Have a great Sunday. I'll be thinking of you all.
My only complaint in this letter was that he didn't mention the greatest line of dialogue in the history of cinema (from Master and Commander:
Capt. Jack Aubrey: You want your children to grow up singing the "La Marseillaise?"