Image: Tom Deierlein and a staffer with the Iraqi Assistance Center
Courtesy of Tom Deierlein
U.S. Army Capt. Tom Deierlein, right, worked with a representative of the Iraqi Assistance Center to determine where to distribute donated charity items.
Special to msnbc.com
updated 7/18/2007 6:02:08 AM ET 2007-07-18T10:02:08

Editor's note: Tom Deierlein wrote a series of  e-mail updates to his friends, family and colleagues after being called up by the U.S. Army and sent to Iraq. Here are the excerpts accompanying Part 3 of MSNBC.com's special report, Charity Begins at War.

DATE: May 4, 2006
TO: Friends, family and colleagues

SUBJECT: Greetings from Baghdad — One down and 51 weeks to go ... 

All,

Where do I start?

I left Fort Bragg and traveled for basically 48 straight hours. But, the good news is at the end of that two-day period I was already at my new home in Baghdad, FOB Loyalty. FOB is a Forward Operating Base, the 21st century name for a fortified, heavily defended camp. It is called being “inside the wire”; when you leave it is called going “outside the wire.” Those that rarely or never leave the FOB are called “Fobbits.” Those are support folks or senior-ranking military folks. In my role I leave the wire about five to six times a week for about five to seven hours. My job is to be out working with the local Iraqis to improve conditions and solve problems.

Accommodations
My room on a scale of 1-10, one being a tent in the desert and 10 being the Ramada Inn Romulus next to Detroit Airport, I give this a 5 or a 6. I basically live in a side room off an old auto-body shop with three other officers. I have a clean bed, a couple of wall lockers, and the room has air conditioning. In terms of the overall building, we have a bathroom with four private shower stalls, and a little bathroom with a couple of toilets. We also have a little kitchen with a microwave and electric heaters. Oh, and three or four industrial-sized refrigerators to keep our ample supply of water bottles. …

The mess hall is AWESOME. Some of the best food I have ever had. The selection is huge and no limits to portions. Better than any company/corporate cafeteria I have ever seen. There is a local Iraqi who has a little barbershop and cuts hair for $2. BTW, when you see my haircut it no longer seems like a bargain.

It does have a gym, not exactly New York Sports, but a nice facility. I have been working out each night to assist in my acclimation and continue to improve my overall fitness (now that my life depends on it).  ;)

My assignment
I am a Team Chief, and I am overall responsible for Sadr City, that is my sector. It is basically a slum of 2 million people in a (tiny) area. Check it out on Google Earth. It is almost 100 percent Shi’a and was the site of the all the violence and confrontation in 2004.

That is the bad news. The good news is that we have a truce with (cleric Muqtada) al-Sadr and his militia for the time being. It is a dangerous area, but aren’t they all? There are over $400 million in projects ongoing today in Sadr City and (they) vary from education and health, to economics and fuel (yes fuel!).  But, the real issues there remain very basic — water, sewage, trash and electricity. I work with all the various contractors and I am currently the main liaison for the coalition with the local government (City Council, if you will). I mentor and coach the mayor and his staff.

Needless to say I am very excited to have an opportunity to help these people in need, especially the poor, the children and the sick. They only have five real hospitals for 2 million people. As I have mentioned in previous e-mails, our goals are to have the Iraqis build up their infrastructure, capabilities, and most importantly have the capacity and capability to manage all these things on their own. No doubt there are some real significant challenges and major complex issues, but it is great to be a part of the birth of a new democracy.

Image: The members of Tom Deierlein's civil affairs company
Courtesy of Tom Deierlein
The members of Alpha Company, 414th Civil Affairs Battalion, posed for this photo at Forward Operating Base Loyalty in Baghdad in June 2006.

The risk
The biggest risks I face are the ones you hear about on the news: roadside bombs and suicide bombers. Those aren’t the only ones, obviously, but those are the primary. I have been outside the wire five times already and led my first mission just this morning. A bomb has gone off each day I have been here, including in my sector. I would share more about this topic but my Mom is on this list. …

The reality is that I have the right tools and planning support to stay VERY safe. As we say in sales, “It’s all about how you prepare for the meeting.” I am bright boy and will minimize my exposure. High-quality, accurate information is out there on how to avoid this risk and I will leverage those EVERY day before I leave the wire. Those who know me know the discipline I can exhibit and my love of processes, steps and order. This review of information will happen every time without exception. I promise (Mom).

What can you send?
I really don’t need anything personally right now. But, if you want to, please think of inner-city children and what they need. Specifically, I need things in bulk. Ones and twos are nice and still appreciated, of course, but I need bunches of stuff if I am going to set up a distribution and do anything meaningful.

Here are some thoughts:

  • Baby/children’s clothes, plain, and simple is best. (Nothing with religious symbols or names.) Perhaps you can have a clothing drive at your local church or school, box it up and ship it here. I may even be able to send photos back.
  • Children’s vitamins (like Flintstones Chewables). Once again, quantity is key.
  • Soccer balls — yes, cliché, but the kids still want soccer balls here.
  • Frisbees, tennis balls, super balls, Nerf footballs, anything easy to toss out of a moving vehicle. Basic toys that any 5- to 12-year-old boy or girl would like.

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DATE: May 27, 2006

TO: Friends, family and colleagues

SUBJECT: Happy Memorial Day — One down and 11 months to go

Greetings. Time flies. I can’t believe how FAST the first month went. I hit the ground four weeks ago yesterday.

First and foremost, thanks to all who have already sent charity items. It will make a BIG difference for some children here. For any of the government aid items in stock we now have to give them to the Iraqis to give out so they are seen as providing for the people instead of us. Usually they steal some or all of it unless we check up and guarantee it gets to the needy. I will use the stuff you all are sending to give out on my own to the neediest and most poor of Sadr City. I will do my best to take pictures when possible, although to be blunt, people can be killed if seen cooperating or associating with the Coalition Forces in some parts of Sadr so I have to be careful.

We have already lost two men. One was a lawyer and IRR call-up like me. He got (injured) in the lung and was heading home — he didn’t make it. He left a wife and two small (children). The second was a veterinarian on his way to help a farmer with some goats. A few of the guys I trained with since November back at Fort Jackson had some close calls, but no one I know personally has been hurt yet.

Security issues, kidnappings, murders and sect violence
I roll down the street and see all kinds of people in all kinds of uniforms, with all kinds of weapons. Scary ... like the Wild West with automatic weapons. We pulled off the road May 9 to get out and to stop an Iraqi policeman from stealing fuel from a poor street vendor.

Overall, we have definitely found a groove and continue to improve every day. Having spent a month together we are all getting better at our jobs and helping each other get better at theirs.

I continue to work with the local politicians (District Council) and must admit to getting a bit frustrated already with them at times. All they do is complain and all they want to do is talk and talk with no solutions or goals. I will talk more about that in my next e-mail next month. But in the end we all want the same thing — quality services for the people of Sadr City. Also, they have a tough job. Not in my district but the one next to me, three of the District Council members were murdered and the chairman fled the country all in the last two weeks. It is a true shame because he was a great leader, excellent manager and a bit of a visionary. I need to spend a little more time studying up on Arab culture to find better ways to work with them and to have them want to work with me. I’ve bonded with some already, but a couple of the key players remain aloof since they have dealt with colonels and generals in the past and I am a lowly captain.

On the bright side of things we opened a new health clinic this week and also turned on 27 water compact units capable of providing 405,000 liters of fresh water EVERY day for Sadr City while we wait for the more permanent water network, which is coming slowly.

One day last week, I traveled to inspect five projects. We went to a hospital, two fire stations and a health clinic. A reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle came with us. She wrote an article and a blog about the trip. I want to get mad and disagree with her assessment, but the reality is that she is right, there is only three to four hours of electricity in many parts of the city, including Sadr. There is open sewage that flows on too many streets. There isn’t a reliable source of water for struggling families. There was gross mismanagement of many of the infrastructure and development projects. But, and this is a big but, it doesn’t mention how much worse it was BEFORE we ever got here. …

The issues are VERY complex and I hope that five to 10 years from now things will be running smoothly. Let’s not all forget the truly daunting task we have taken on here. Starting a democracy and rebuilding and nation is hard, it takes time. Look at Hamilton versus Jefferson, look at our own Civil War. Politics aside, we came here and we need to properly finish what we started. If we don’t show resolve here, then what signal does that send our potential future enemies?

Without getting on a soapbox, there are evil people in this world that wish Americans harm just because of who we are and what we stand for. I don’t know if we should have come here in the first place, I really don’t, but I do know we are here and more importantly, I know that I am here, so I am going to make a difference even if just a little bit at a time each and every day.

On the more mundane front
This week I am not eating any ice cream or sweets. My excuse of “I deserve an ice cream after that stressful mission” is running a little thin. I have been hitting the gym irregularly and even found a cigar smokers’ club every Saturday night on top of one of the buildings here at 2130 (9:30 p.m.). We even have a token liberal Democrat to argue with. I ended up having an economic theory and International Monetary Fund policies discussion with him last week in between our “What celebrity would you sleep with if your wife/husband gave you one get-out-of-jail-free card?” and “What is the best movie of all time?” chats.

I also finally got my own call sign — “ThunderCat6.” Not exactly “Maverick,” “Goose” or “Iceman,” but I like it.

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DATE: June 29, 2006

TO: Friends, family and colleagues

SUBJECT:302 Days Left — Happy Fourth of July 2006

All,

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to all who have sent supplies. I did my first two successful humanitarian aid drops using the goods I have been sent, and even better I have found a true philanthropist who can help me find the most needy. She is a wealthy Kurdish woman from an influential family in West Baghdad and she works with a dozen orphanages and tons of various charities. Six months ago she almost single-handedly stopped a corrupt sheikh who was using orphan boys for child labor and the girls for prostitution. Pretty good credentials.

Women in combat
I think this war has put the nail in the coffin on that hotly debated topic. I serve next to women every day and they perform admirably and just as well as the men. In terms of living arrangements, showers and sleeping quarters — we worked it out. In the case of my company, we even have them in the (Humvee) gunner position, the most dangerous and critical in the convoy. Here is an excerpt from my journal from my first few days in theater when the team we were replacing took us outside the wire for the very first time and we rode in their vehicles:

So much for women in combat, because my first gunner was introduced to me simply as “Dee.” … She looked mean, real mean. Junkyard dog mean. She had the look of a killer, a confident, cocky killer. She was pulling all her gear on and not doing much talking. I really didn’t know how I was going to react to women in combat. But, when it came, it was a non-event. I didn’t see Dee as a woman, I saw her as a soldier and something in the way she walked, she talked and clearly something in her eyes told me she was a warrior — not a girl, not a woman, a warrior. 

The gunner is the person who sits up in the turret and mans the mounted machine gun for the convoy. It is the most dangerous and most important position when and if we get into a fight. I dropped my weapon into the front right seat — the spot for the TC or truck commander, also called the vehicle commander (VC), not venture capitalist. Dee politely but firmly turned to me and told me to turn the weapon down, into the floor. “I don’t want you to shoot me during the trip, Sir. Muzzle down, please.” She quickly, expertly and almost nonchalantly grabbed it and spun it upside down. Damn!! I looked like an idiot. My first trip, trying to look competent and solid, and the gunner sees me make a rookie mistake.

The war
The real threats are not necessarily the Iraqi nationalist insurgents. The true current threats are the jihadists using Iraq as a frontline for their pan-Islamic war against the U.S. and the West in general and the growing (but increasingly fragmented) sectarian insurgent groups and militias seeking instability and working 24/7 to leave the new Iraqi government off balance, vulnerable and eventually unsuccessful. Once again, our job is not to control this new country; our job is to give them the capability and capacity to operate on their own, without US, so we can go home.  Plus there are a lot of Iranian and Syrian tourists visiting Sadr City these days ... Oops, did I say tourists? I meant terrorists.

A Civil Affairs team leader was going to attend a meeting at a government center 100 miles south of here and was shot in square in the chest by a sniper just as he stepped out of his vehicle. Armor plate stopped the round — no injury, not even a bruised chest — thank God for the body armor!! But as with many events that take place all around us each day, it serves as a warning that people are watching our every move and waiting for an opportunity to kill us.

A gunfight broke out the other day just outside our FOB, less than a quarter-mile away. No one even blinked, including me. Two days ago, I was sitting in an Iraqi government building downtown and a fire fight broke out across the street. (I was on the sixth floor.) No one even got up from their chair, except me. Strange, very strange.

Progress
I see progress every day — EVERY day. It is happening in little increments, but slowly and surely things are improving. The issue with the expectations of the U.S. is that we are applying our timelines and our expectations. In the Arab world, things move more slowly, and there are cultural, religious and social issues in play that the vast majority of people don’t understand.

One small example: It is dishonorable to say “I don’t know,” so it is difficult to know if someone truly understands a project or issues you need them to deal with. Also, time is a fluid thing here (which you all know drives me nuts!). There is an omnipresent saying, “enshala,” meaning “God willing”; it is really just a fatalistic built-in excuse not to get things done in time or to miss a meeting you promised to attend, or not do a task at all. It didn’t get done — oh well, God must not have wanted it done.

Another example: Most manual labor/work is VERY dishonorable — money does not have nearly the value that honor and respect do. Therefore, someone would rather have an office job that pays them $10 a day than pick up trash for $10 an hour, or $100 an hour for that matter.

If you spend 80 to 90 percent of your energy on planning and operations just staying alive, that only leaves you 10 to 20 percent to focus on actual work, improvements and projects. Oh, by the way, if there are outward signs of progress, the insurgents target and attack those installations and key locations. Or, they kill the key Iraqi people working there, or their families.

There are no good guys and bad guys. There are truly great Shi’as and also truly great Sunnis; there are evil Shi’a and evil Sunni. It is not black and white. Just the other day, after attending a meeting with an officer in my company, a leading community sheikh, Sunni imam and government leader, was shot three times on his way home. Why? He was effective. He was making a difference and helping with progress. He was a good man and will be missed by the people in his neighborhood. His crimes? Being effective, making a difference, refusing to cower to threats and intimidation tactics. There are still powerful and well-organized groups trying to prevent short- and long-term success.

Don’t get me wrong, I rarely disagree with the key facts in the articles I read, I simply disagree with the tone, analysis, opinions and conclusions. Keep in mind these are not Americans working on the sewer or electrical projects for profit, it is Iraqis. There are tribal issues, religious issues, corruption issues, outright theft issues …

Next time you hear someone at the café or dinner party say they want our troops home, you ask them what they really know about what is going on over here and what the consequences of leaving now would do for the long-term reputation and security of the United States. We as Americans need to think about the future and what message we are sending if we leave this half done.

It is too easy mentally to say you are against the war. Who isn’t against killing and Americans dying? I am — and there is one particular tall, thin, ugly American I know I don’t want to die. I simply ask people to expand their views and truly understand the issues, and engage in a true debate. That is what makes America great.

I am not trying to change anyone’s mind on the war — I am truly not, especially since I don’t have a fixed opinion and I am here. I am simply asking each person to truly understand the real issues, all the facts, and think through anticipated consequences and implications of premature withdrawal. (Although I must admit I say a little prayer each night that if they do draw down, my unit is earmarked for early departure.) ;-)

The new government has only been in place less than a month and already people are writing the obituary. Relax, be patient.

“I was taught that the way of progress is neither swift nor easy.”
— Marie Curie (1867-1934), Polish-born French chemist, Nobel Prize laureate

Life
I spent two hours by myself earlier this week cleaning both my 9mm Beretta and my M-4 rifle. It was surprisingly calming and quietly enjoyable. I found myself reflecting on how many different times and places I have found myself cleaning weapons over the years.  I certainly thought that part of my life was done — but for some strange reason I enjoyed it that day and took pride in taking the time to make each of them meticulously clean. I got them even cleaner than when I was originally issued them. 

I still find myself asking the question each day, “How did I end up back in the Army?” It is still a bit surreal for me from time to time. I still haven’t quite committed to being back in, even in a war zone, strange but true. I feel like this is some giant pause button and I can’t wait to hit play again in my real life.

In my free time at night, I am not pouring over SOPs (standard operating procedures) and Army manuals; instead, I am reading industry newsletters and attempting to stay connected back home. I have also watched the first three seasons of Seinfeld and almost every movie Clint Eastwood has ever made. You can get DVDs here for $2 or a collection of 20 movies for $20.

The heat isn’t so bad. I do really want to claim that I am dying out here in the 118-degree sun, but the reality is you simply have to drink a BOAT-load of water. When we leave on missions everyone brings with them two 2-liters bottles of water — frozen solid. They melt soon enough, believe me. By the end of a typical three- to four-hour mission, they are boiling hot. We have all heard the expression “We ran out of hot water”; well, now I know what it is like to run out of cold water. The water tanks cook in the midday sun and by 10 a.m. there is only very warm and hot water in the barracks, no cold. Also, when the wind blows, it feels exactly like when you open an oven to check your food and the air pushes into your face.

Feeling old
I just realized the other day that the class of 2006 that just graduated West Point last month wasn’t even born when I first entered in 1985. Ouch.

Projects
Young girl — We are working very hard to get a 4-year-old girl with a heart condition out west for surgery. I have my fingers crossed.

Baghdad water — This $21 million project is the first of many joint ventures that will be co-managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Amanat (municipal workers), in this case the Baghdad Water Authority division of the Amanat. For this project, we are hiring 10 contractors to work simultaneously in various sectors to put water networks in place, including main road lines up to and including piping/network connections into approximately 50,000 buildings. I was supposed to be simply observing at the most recent kick-off meeting, but I had to intervene because the two groups were arguing about $25,000 worth of material testing. It was ludicrous. I simply made everyone in the room realize how ridiculous it was to hold up and delay an important $21M infrastructure project over 25 grand.

When completed, it will provide water for 1 million people. …

Two items to add to the request list for this month — Old musical instruments and paint sets (coloring books are great). The woman I mentioned above goes to the orphanages and finds talented youngsters and she is trying to start a special art and music school just for them.

Clothes, school supplies and vitamins (generic are fine) are a big hit — keep them coming.

DATE: July 28, 2006
TO: Friends, family and colleagues

SUBJECT: 25% Done — Mid-Summer News from Baghdad

ALCON,

(That is military speak for All Concerned)

Still alive and kicking.

I have now been boots on ground for 13 weeks, or 92 days out of the required 365. We have been here long enough that people are actually already taking their mid-tour break.

This has been a rough month for the war. The month started off with the bombing of a crowded marketplace in Sadr City, killing more than 60 people and wounding even more. The hard part to deal with is that women and children shop in markets, so the person who planned and executed the bombing was clearly targeting women and children. I had been in that exact market only days earlier meeting vendors, talking to locals and collecting “atmospherics.” Unfortunately, that was only the first of a few market bombings this month in Sadr City, the latest this week also killing more than 30. Sadr City is a Shi’a and a Mahdi militia stronghold, so when the Sunnis want to strike back they plan attacks there.

I have lamented to my friends here that it is downright un-American to stand by and let innocent people get hurt. Isn’t that part of why we are here? We “roll up” and “detain” bad guys instead of killing them. We have to let them go if we don’t have enough witnesses and evidence. We are treating them as only criminals instead of combatants and granting them too many rights. This is war. I know that many times the insurgents just laugh as we arrest them knowing we are going to have to let them go. We are playing by a completely different set of rules. I recommend more teams proactively going after not just the big names and key leaders, but anyone that commits crimes.

On the Civil Affairs governance front, it has been a rough month as well. After the first market bombing, the Sadr District Council blamed and boycotted the American forces. That means they are not allowed to meet or talk to us. We basically ignored it for the first two weeks and kept showing up at meetings anyway. Then we conducted a few raids and captured some HVTs (high-valued targets), creating some collateral damage in the process, so they asked us nicely last week not to embarrass them — and so we honored the boycott.

It is a delicate little dance of position, power, influence and authority. The reason this was such a bad time for a boycott is that the Iraqis are working on the 2007 budget — this is actually GREAT news — not the Americans but the Iraqi Provincial Council working in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance is putting together budget for reconstruction projects. As small an accomplishment as this seems, it is actually a great sign of progress that the government is working and, more importantly, soliciting feedback and guidance at all levels prior to submitting projects and budgets, including local government where democracy starts and truly lives. 

Unfortunately, the Sadr (District) Council was caught flatfooted yet again, and with the boycott I couldn’t work and coach the people I needed to. I have attached the quick “Assessment Guide” I put together for them to use (translated into Arabic, obviously). This gives you a sense of where these folks are at. I am trying to tell them that the education committee chair needs to be the expert on all educational institutions and employees, the health committee members need to be expert on all the health facilities and staffing, etc.

But, in the last meeting prior to the boycott, they talked about furniture for the Council Hall for 25 minutes of a 90-minute meeting and failed to talk at all about how we should help the 2,000 dislocated Shi’a families sleeping in schools and in tents.  By the way, I am working on that issue.

The war strategy and recent news
Once again I feel that the military has been caught right in the middle of a game of political and media positioning. Everyone wants to do the right thing, and wants to help us get to the transition point, but they are afraid to admit that things aren’t going well or on track. Not me, I put status=RED on a bunch of things. I don’t have a career to worry about. 

Many people want us out of here — I understand that, I truly do.  But … in my opinion, we are far from ready to leave this place if we want to leave a stable, functioning democracy. I do not want to see more American soldiers die, but we simply have to finish (properly) what we started. Who knows, the end solution may not be a unified Iraq, but instead the three separate states everyone has been talking about, one Sunni, one Shi’a closely aligned with Iran, and one Kurdish in the north.

It is odd living under this microscope. Picture yourself personally and your company under the microscope every day, someone analyzing each move, highlighting each mistake. It would be tough. A friend of mine gave me a quote before I left that I carry with me each day:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly ... who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat.”
— Teddy Roosevelt

Here is another I am using for motivational purposes:

“The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
— Albert Einstein

I force my team to do things by the numbers EVERY DAY, things others have long since ditched or let slip. I still give a full-blown detailed Operations Order (OPORD) each night before a mission. I still push documenting and reviewing our evolving SOPs (standard operating procedures). The trick now is to keep up the vigilance, the alertness and the standards. There are two phrases we keep repeating before missions to remind ourselves: “Complacency kills” and “When you half step, it could be your last step.”

Morale and the media
I read an article this week in the Washington Post where one soldier felt that he was just waiting to get blown up. There are days that I can certainly empathize with him on that. I see it all the time right after a soldier, a friend gets killed, a unit or group feels it, and it gets harder for them to maintain a positive attitude. I haven’t been faced with any injuries or incidents so I can’t comment, but keeping a positive attitude is so important.

I find myself counting the days — look at the title of my e-mails — but each day I am still out there trying to get some things done. It is hard to continue day after day without seeing faster progress, or having little successes. But, when you look, truly look, they are out there. In my short 90 days the streets are cleaner, there is more fresh water, less sewage in the streets, and more electricity every day and the government is actually starting to work. There are also now two more planned health clinics going up in Sadr City, bringing the total for Sadr to seven within a year’s time.

Last Saturday, the Battalion I am assigned to lost a soldier to a roadside bomb. It cut him in half.  Members of my company were on a different mission, but diverted to the scene to help with security during the casevac (casualty evacuation). Some of our guys saw that soldier and have been deeply affected since.  It was bad the first couple of days, but you can sense it still lingering. It is natural to question your purpose and your resolve. But that is part of what makes a soldier special, the ability to shake off those horrors, the doubts and drive on with the mission assigned to us by the U.S. and our leaders.

When the unit we replaced lost two soldiers, it tore them apart. They basically stopped functioning for the last part of their tour and in the end it was rumored they were throwing Gatorade bottles filled with urine at cars that wouldn’t get out of the way fast enough — and this is a CIVIL AFFAIRS team, you know, winning the hearts and minds!

Those that have read my monthly updates know that like many U.S. citizens I have my doubts about how and why we ended up here, but you also know how committed I am as a soldier called to duty to doing this right and how much I believe in completing the mission here properly. As you drive through certain neighborhoods you see people smiling and waving, thanking us for being here. These folks have had tumultuous history by any standard. They deserve the right to be free. They deserve the right to be safe.

Women in combat, Part II
I stand by my original statements on the quality of all soldiers serving here. But, I may have jinxed us by speaking too early in the tour about no issues. Both our female soldiers were involved in a drinking and sexual misconduct incident. One involved a married man. Adultery in the military is still a jail-able offense.

Humanitarian aid
Thanks for all the packages — keep them coming. We went to an orphanage of 50 boys last week and dropped off a bunch of items including clothes, toys, vitamins, school supplies and of course soccer balls.

We need:  Clothes all children’s sizes, including teens (non-winter); shoes all sizes; children’s vitamins (generic in volume is best); toys; blankets; basic school supplies; coloring books and crayons; used musical instruments. Blankets are the newest addition to the list.

Mundane things
All in all I am doing quite well and remain excited about the challenge of helping the people of Sadr City. I am in the best shape of the last 10 years: My 2-mile is now well under 13 minutes, my 4-mile is well under 30 minutes, I can do 80 sit-ups in two minutes, I can even knock out a few pull-ups finally. I hit the gym two to three times a week.

I guess I have officially settled into a routine and I barely notice the fact that my barracks is located 100 meters from where they burn all the smelly trash. I am being as safe as I can — keep up the prayers, from the luck we have had so far they must be working.

DATE: Aug. 28, 2006

TO: Friends, family and colleagues

SUBJECT: Iraq — The Worst Heat Is Over — 33% Done

All,

The hottest part of the summer is officially winding down. I made it with only a single case of sunburn and not one serious heat injury to any of our troops. (We did have to administer a few IVs for people after we returned from a mission or two due to soldiers getting dizzy or cramped, but nothing too bad.) The needle stayed mostly in the high teens and hit 120+ on only a few days. But alas, since I am leaving in the spring, I have faced the hottest that Baghdad could dish out and I now scoff, mock and laugh in defiance of Mother Nature’s best this summer.

Well, time continues to fly. I am taking my mid-tour leave in 30 days. I will be in the States from 1-15 October. A few days in Atlanta with my wife, two days in D.C. (running a 10-mile race on Sunday the 8th), four days in NYC area and then back to Atlanta with Hiwot until I head back to Kuwait. I might even sneak down to Daytona Beach to check on my house (still up for sale) and play a round of golf.

August — slow month?
Well, this was an uninteresting month. I only left the wire a handful of times over the past 30 days. That included one 12-day stretch where I didn’t leave the FOB at all for various reasons. That made it much different than my typical four to five times per week since I first arrived. The Sadr City mayor even called me a few times to confirm I was coming to the weekly meeting. I am not sure if he missed me (the boycott is over) or he wanted to set me up in an ambush with his Mahdi buddies. Sick as it sounds, you actually miss getting out there each day. Now I know how the Fobbits feel.

When I finally did make it out back to the Government Center this week, there was a giant poster of Sadr hanging from the four-story building in the corner. When I say giant I am guessing 100 foot by 50 foot — HUGE! It covered the whole building. Just like the old ones of Saddam — not a good sign.

Tracking and reporting (9:1)
Another reason for slow progress here? I have found a large number of “staff and support” people who do a lot of tracking and reporting. I haven’t found a lot of people who execute and actually take action to make things happen. I have often heard the ratio when I first entered the military in the mid-‘80s, “for every soldier on the front line there are nine in the rear providing support.” I felt like I was in a bad “Who’s on First” skit while trying to find out who actually could help me get food, clothes and shelter for 2,000 homeless I had found in Sadr.

I found plenty of people who wanted me to fill out a spreadsheet, form or report and no one that could tell me what they actually did with that form or who it actually went to. I filled them all out — still waiting. I even got in trouble for e-mailing the division officer in charge of Humanitarian Aid. It is in his job description and part of his title on his business card, and even he didn’t know how to actually (get) access to the goods. That is what happens when you have 100 percent turnover in an organization every 12 months for three years. Things get lost in translation, no economies of learning.

Why I am SO HAPPY
I am very happy because of the new Battle for Baghdad. I am sure you have been reading about the increase in troops, including the extension of the 172nd Stryker Brigade to help clear out enclaves/areas of bad guys. I have no idea what the long-term effects will be, I really don’t. But, I am just happy to see that we are no longer sitting on the sidelines coaching the benchwarmers, pretending they are doing well and letting innocent people get killed.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
Well, I can now do 86 sit-ups in two minutes and I continue regular training for the 10-miler in October. I am still reluctant to discuss push-ups progress and even more reluctant to actually do them regularly to improve — maybe the two are related?

I leave you this month with two quotes:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

ATTITUDE
By Charles Swindoll

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.

“Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company ... a church ... a home.

“The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude ... I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.

“And so it is with you ... we are in charge of our attitudes.”

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

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